Inter-faith dialogue on violent extremism draws youth leaders from Europe and Africa
The meeting brought together 40 youth leaders from 32 countries in Europe and Africa with the aim of sharing innovative youth-focused approaches on preventing violent extremism (PVE).
22 March 2017
On 21-23 February 2017, IPSS in collaboration with the African Union’s Citizens and Diaspora Organization (CIDO) and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), hosted an Intercontinental Youth Forum on the topic of “Inter-faith Dialogue on Violent Extremism (iDove)”. The meeting brought together 40 youth leaders from 32 countries in Europe and Africa with the aim of sharing innovative youth-focused approaches on preventing violent extremism (PVE).
The 40 participants, many of whom facilitate PVE projects and initiatives through art, academia, technology and social campaigns, were tasked with developing a framework that could be used to conceptualise, award and implement small-scale projects in Africa and Europe. These projects fall under iDove’s two-track approach to PVE, i) communication and virtual initiatives and ii) innovative community initiatives.
In addressing the youth, Amb. Jalel Chelba, CIDO Head of Division, applauded the 40 participants who were selected out of a pool of 4000 applications and further acknowledged the importance of the youth coming together to design contemporary, innovative and youth-friendly solutions in understanding radicalization and means to tackle violent extremism.
The first day of the Forum began with introductory remarks from Rev. Prof. Bosela Eale from the All African Conference of Churches (AACC); Dr. Amr Abdalla from IPSS and Julia Szilat from the International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development. Ms. Szilat noted the uniqueness of such a platform as it uses a faith and value-based culture of cooperation in a time where there is much negativity on the subject.
In a session titled ‘Perspectives on Violent Extremism’, Dr. Abdalla and Mr. Bjorn Ihler, an activist from Norway, shared their personal experiences on religion and right wing extremism. During the second session on ‘Deradicalisation Experiences - Stories from Egypt and Sweden’, Dr. Nageh Ibrahim, former leader of Al-jamā’ah al-islamiyah, shared his story of transformation from a violent extremist to an advocate for peace using Islam. His journey towards peace has seen many of the group’s members become rehabilitated and has been vital in trust building between them and state institutions. Robert Örell, Director of the EXIT project at the Swedish NGO Fryhuset, emphasized that, “the deradicalising process takes time, patience and resources as each individual case is unique”. Örell further stated that the term “deradicalisation” is not favoured due to its negative connotation. His work with EXIT helps individuals to disengage from violent extremism by helping them build a positive social identity.
Drawing upon the aforementioned insights and their own experiences and expertise, the 40 youth participants formed working groups through which key concepts, stakeholders, messaging and approaches were identified for the iDove small-scale projects.
The second day consisted of a session on ‘Good Practices - Tackling Extremism through Art’ during which art, symbols and alternative mediums of communication were identified as a double-edged sword that has been strategically used by violent extremist groups. One panellist, Sarah Elkhashab, shared her work, which uses animation to tackle sensitive topics on religion. Bjorn Ihler spoke about the power of storytelling as a means to countering misperceptions that can lead to extremist behaviour. He argued for the need “to learn to tell better stories about ourselves and others, and to share these stories”.
Day three began with an address by H.E. Adama Dieng, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide. Mr. Dieng stated that the solution for conflicts lies in youth organisations and platforms such as iDove. He further noted the increasing trend of polarization in society, and argued that it has led to mass human rights atrocities in the past. He also stressed the need to create cohesion, as violent extremists tend to manipulate polarization to further polarize societies. Such cycles therefore need to be broken by initiatives such as iDove.
Some of the frameworks presented by the youth leaders included linking start-up tech companies with community-based projects, capacity building projects for security actors and religious leaders on PVE, as well as the creation of various forms of ‘safe spaces’.