How do you counter the appeal of ISIS? For all its brutality, young people continue to make the journey to Syria and Iraq to join its ranks. Scott Atran, author of Talking to the Enemy and an expert on counter-radicalisation, believes he has the answer. Last week Atran addressed the UN Security Council during a special session on countering violent extremism and promoting peace.
Atran argued that there are powerful cultural forces behind ISIS. Many young people feel a deep dissatisfaction with society and find in ISIS adventure, comaraderie and a sense of belonging. Most attempts to dissuade young people from joining ISIS focus on the negative – the violence, savagery, and repression. For Atran this will not work. Stopping the growth of ISIS means offering an alternative – appealing to the idealism of youth and presenting a positive counter-narrative.
Young people also need to be empowered to effect change locally, in their own communities. Atran told the Security Council about our partner Aware Girls in Pakistan, as an example. Started by sisters Gulalai and Saba Ismail when they we just teenagers, Aware Girls is training young people to be peace activists and reach out to those most at risk of radicalisation.
Through work such as this, young people in organisations like Aware Girls, Action for Peace and Development in Burundi, or the Young Visionaries in Sri Lanka, are offering a powerful alternative to radicalisation.
You can watch Atran’s full address to the UN Security council below.