What makes young people turn to extremism?

As 2017 comes towards its closure, it’s only natural to look back on the year’s events. Whilst we should count our blessings on some fronts, it’s with a feeling of incredible sadness that we remember those who have lost their lives due to acts of terrorism.

In May, when the news hit that the Manchester Arena had been targeted, the British public drew a sharp intake of breath. Previous terrorist attacks had been centred on London, the country’s capital and an obvious target. Now we were seeing terrorism occur outside the boundaries of what we’d become used to, not just geographically but demographically too. Ariana Grande had been a child star, greatly admired by the young people who had come in their thousands to see her live performance. The attack on the arena had been premeditated with this in mind. Out of the 22 people killed, six were under 18 and there were 170 children in the foyer who witnessed the attack.

Are we looking for somebody to blame?
When considering those who commit these dreadful crimes, our natural reaction turns to anger. We search for an explanation, some cause that drives these people to act with such evil, often laying the blame at the door of religion or brainwashing or an egocentric desire for fame or martyrdom. What we find most confusing is that the people committing these acts of violence - not just in the UK, but across Europe - are not citizens of another country, but people born and raised in the very countries they choose to attack.

In the TED Talk ‘What we don’t know about Europe’s Muslim kids and why we should care,’ Deeyah Khan talks in detail about her experience as a Muslim growing up in Norway, where, as a young female musician she struggled to be accepted by both her own community and the predominantly white non-Muslim society in which she was born. After being continually harassed and threatened, at the age of 17 she fled to London, but was quickly met with the same prejudices. Describing herself as feeling lost and falling apart, she eventually moved to the US, giving up her music career because of fear. In doing so, she made a pledge: to help other young people in Europe who feel trapped in a position between family and culture.

The gap between country and culture
As a film director, Deeyah Khan now uses her experience to generate awareness of the clash of cultures between Muslim parents who prioritise honour over their children's desire for freedom. She argues that we need to understand what is happening to fight the pull of extremism. Over the last few years she has spent her time interviewing convicted terrorists, Jihadis and former extremists to find out how and why they fell victim to extremist organisations and ideologies. In her own words, she describes meeting: “Not monsters, but broken people. People who were torn apart from trying to bridge the gaps between their families and the countries they were born in. People looking for a sense of significance, belonging and purpose.” She found that people were lured by extremist groups because their leaders promised them the things they needed: a voice, visibility, importance and a community that loves and accepts them. Sadly, many of these groups have their own agenda: to channel people’s vulnerabilities and frustrations towards violence.

How technology has enabled extremism
Former Islamist extremist, Maajid Nawaz, now a British activist and prominent critic of Islamism, cites similar reasons for being drawn into extremism. Born in Essex, he recalls the feeling of being divided between his Pakistani and British identities as an important factor in his struggle to find his own identity. In his TED Talk, he discusses his own journey into extremism at the age of 16 and now, how borderless technologies and digital activism have enabled extremist organisations to propagate their messages across the world, capitalising on communication channels that didn’t exist 20 years ago. Whilst the Internet has brought us freedom to harvest information, we also know that it’s the perfect tool to reach and influence young people sitting at home in their bedrooms. Exchanges take place under the radar and can go undetected. In becoming part of an online extremist group, young people feel they’ve become part of something in which they feel exclusive and privileged, and often feel more valued than they would in wider society.

What can we do as educators?
Those of us in the teaching profession will be familiar with the Prevent Duty, part of the overall counter-terrorism strategy which aims to reduce the terrorist threat to the UK by stopping people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. One of the key strategy objectives is to respond to the ideologies spread by extremists that it is not possible to be both Muslim and British, and that Muslims living in the UK should not participate in our democracy.

The Internet is one of key channels that extremist groups exploit to spread their messages. By publishing fake news and propaganda, they aim to influence and manipulate young people’s perceptions of themselves and the world, ultimately impregnating their theories behind the justification for extremism and terrorist behaviour.

As teaching professionals, we can help prevent extremism through education, but also through the exchange of dialogue. PSHE lessons provide the perfect opportunity to do this. Young people should be encouraged to talk about how they use the Internet and how they evaluate and interpret the content they see. Conversations should include the understanding of how Internet content is produced, what people’s motivations are for producing particular content, and how students can make a valid judgement between what is, and what isn’t a credible source of information. These lessons can also prove invaluable for sharing experiences of content seen online that students may have felt upset by, or content they don’t understand and would like to discuss. It may also open the door for those being contacted by extremists, or who have researched extremism to seek help if they are feeling isolated.

Get up to speed on radicalisation awareness

If you’re in need of additional support on the subject of anti-radicalisation, the topical resources from E-safety Support have been designed to help all members of the school community (pupils, parents and staff) understand more about the issue of radicalisation and in particular the part the Internet plays in encouraging people to consider extremist views.

Resources available include classroom materials, a parent guide, a school checklist, school policy and CPD accredited staff training

Premium Plus members can access all the resources from their E-safety Support dashboard.
Free members can download the anti-radicalisation checklist and also preview the online training.

Written by E-safety Support on November 09, 2017 11:18

Prevent Duty - Close to boiling point

The implementation of Prevent has left some schools feeling ill equipped and in some cases close to boiling point, with the NUT recently calling for it to be scrapped.

Extremism PreventVery little guidance accompanied the launch of the Prevent Duty and as time marches on the, full challenges of the Prevent legislation are coming to light. It seems increasingly apparent that what is required is a fundamental shift in approach across the board. The backdrop to all of this could fuel the paranoia of almost anyone – getting to grips with how to accurately teach ‘British values’; murmurs that the Prevent strategy is effectively spying on children and ever-present sensitivities around racism.

What follows are some general thoughts, guidance and practical suggestions on how this hot topic can be tackled from an e-safety perspective. Equally important are the soft skills that wrap around this to really make a difference.

Open to Interpretation

Bearing in mind the Prevent strategy is in place to tackle all forms of radicalisation; from far right to far left and anything in-between deemed radical then using insulting or derogatory names or labels for another group should of course put up a red flag. But at what stage does it warrant a real concern?

This brings us to the use of the term ‘British values’ which you could argue could otherwise be described as 'decent values'. It is a really sound step to ensure that all school staff are completely ‘on the same page’ with their understanding. Seemingly a basic task but it can be a can of worms to agree exactly what ‘British values’ are. If schools limit guidance to the descriptive list issued by the government, they are lacking a richer tapestry of how that translates on the ground and online in practical terms. Coming to a determination needs to involve all staff, be communicated effectively and reviewed regularly.

Web Detectives

It is against the law to ask somebody to commit an act of terrorism, or incite somebody to commit a hate crime, or to demonstrate racism. This principal extends, of course, to the online environment.

Instead of the buck stopping with Internet service providers, Nicky Morgan announced new measures at the end of last year to make the censoring of Internet content in schools compulsory. School responsibility extends to protecting minors from pornography, cyberbullying and radicalisation. The robustness of filtering systems on school computers is now under scrutiny and Internet use is to be monitored.

Where there is a will there is a way so it is probably overly optimistic to rule out the radicals eventually finding a way around Ms. Morgan’s directive. This magnifies the need to focus on the general online savviness of students, beyond just the actual messages they are exposed to.

To achieve this, children have to be empowered to make sensible and objective decisions. They need to be able to do lots of things that many adults would not have a clue about. Illustrative examples include being able to use the Whois look up for domain registration, determine when and where a site was published and who is likely to be responsible for the content on the site. Then they need to be able to filter all of this and make a decision regarding whether the site is reliable, genuine or controversial.

With the huge range of mobile phones apps, our youngsters can have a private conversation with anybody virtually anywhere on the planet. When the child is no longer under the protection of the school filtering and monitoring systems, they are left vulnerable and this is where effective education takes over.

Across The Curriculum

As well as taking in knowledge, pupils must learn to challenge what is put before them; especially to critically evaluate the vast array of different media channels they are exposed to. A young person's education does not stop at the school gate, and they may well be able to access entirely uncensored web content elsewhere. By encouraging general awareness and wellbeing they will be better equipped to make objective decisions no matter where they are.

There is a balance to be aimed for, we need to get the point across but not scare children. Because we still value freedom of speech, we need to ensure children are challenging whether everything they read, view and see is true. This is a good topic for an assembly or classroom debate

Tolerance, respect and friendship need to be constant themes in PHSE. It is easy to make the media the scapegoat when something happens online. In reality, this boils down to inappropriate behaviour played out online. Therefore citizenship and PSHE lessons should build the foundations for good citizenship, with the hope pupils will take that skill online.

Since the Internet is such a powerful tool being exploited by radical groups, all of the above helps equip children for when they are online. Even if schools have strict censorship, good citizenship extends outside of the classroom and will help keep youngsters safer on the Internet when they may not be so closely supervised.

Building Understanding

Focusing on prevention above cure, staff now need to consider pupils in light of their vulnerability to radicalisation with the same seriousness as exposure to drugs and alcohol.

Tackling any of this is not without its challenges. Teachers need to also be equipped in the skills required to engage effectively on highly sensitive topics. Specific training on anti-radicalisation alongside safeguarding for trainee teachers is inevitable.

Now could be a good time to evolve the value statements for your school, more closely reflecting the new duties and ‘British values’. Perhaps even look at including online behaviour and expectations in a new generation of policy documents. If the teachers in your school feel involved, they will feel a sense of ownership over implementing Prevent, making it easier for them to pass it on to those in their charge.

At E-safety Support we are delighted to have a suite of anti-radicalisation and Prevent training and resources. The resources have been developed with the help of e-safety consultant, Tim Pinto and are designed to help all members of the school community (pupils, parents and staff) understand more about the issue of radicalisation and in particular the part the Internet plays in encouraging people to consider extremist views.

Written by E-safety Support on April 14, 2016 09:08

The Pupil Voice

Recording incidents of extremism and radicalisation

The counter-terrorism and security bill was granted royal assent on 21 February 2015, which places a statutory duty on named organisations, including schools, to have due regard towards the need to prevent people being drawn into terrorism.

Ofsted inspects how schools carry out safeguarding and other duties, including the effectiveness of these arrangements to ensure all pupils are safe. This includes the approach in keeping pupils safe from the dangers of radicalisation and extremism, including what is done when suspected pupils are vulnerable.

The most important part of this security bill is ‘keeping pupils safe from the danger of radicalisation and extremism.’

With such a recent surge of activity and emphasis for schools to adopt and embed a prevent strategy within a very short space of time, senior leadership are struggling to educate themselves – let alone their staff and pupils. Educating staff and pupils is extremely important and as best practise prevails, educating through a whole school approach and zero tolerance policy is helping schools to raise awareness and identify incidents of extremism and radicalisation at it’s early stages.

But whilst waiting for education to filter through to schools and training to be delivered to schools on an ever changing and adapting problem, what can be done to strengthen the prevent strategy in a school.

Report and Record.

Providing pupils with a voice and a safe and secure way to report worries or concern’s directly to a school is the most important short-term measure that should be taken within a school. If not a face-to-face reporting route, a technological solution in which students can speak up, is vital in flushing out and raising awareness of incidents as and when they occur. Although students may not understand what extremism or radicalisation truly is, they certainly are at the forefront of these incidents whether they know it or not. By encouraging students to speak about what they see and hear in the community and at school, this may lead to a disclosure, which not only raises awareness but also can save lives.

Having a system in place in which teaching staff and non-teaching staff are able to report and record incidents, as and when they happen, is vital to ensure that any face-to-face disclosures from students can then be evidenced and monitored. Something as simple as a student sharing a personal video or talking about extremist activity in a class, if picked up and recorded by a member of staff, major incidents can be prevented from escalating immediately. Having a reporting system in place also ensures that you are meeting the requirements of Ofsted as part of the prevent agenda.

Sharing best practise within schools and amongst other schools within the community is key in the fight against extremism and radicalisation. Best practise currently being used in over 500 schools across the UK provide pupils with a technological reporting and evidencing platform and app, is through the introduction of tootoot.

www.tootoot.co.uk is a free resource and is the first safeguarding platform that provides your pupils with a safe voice to report incidents and worries directly to your school. Tootoot also allows your staff to record incidents off extremism, radicalisation and many other safeguarding incidents whilst providing SLT with a live dashboard of reports and disclosures as evidence for Ofsted.

To date over 98,000 pupils are protected by tootoot in schools across the UK. Find out more

Written by Michael Brennan on December 17, 2015 11:43

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