JAN Trust was shocked to our core some weeks ago, after liaising with a housing association about our Preventing Extremism workshops. We were told that they are not affected by extremism because they are all ‘white and middle class!’
“Seriously?”- That’s what we first thought. Do people actually believe that extremism is based on the colour of your skin and your economic background. Well as much as this upsets us, the answer is yes! Apparently some naïve people do.
Whilst this view is very naïve, this highlights to us that the issue of extremism is still shrouded in misconceptions. Unfortunately, this misconception is fueled by some media outlets who love to claim that extremism derives from a particular religion and ethnicity. But, are we really sure that we can limit the issue just to the colour of a person’s skin or to the economic background? For example, just a couple of years ago far-right movements featured Europe’s headlines once again, raising concerns about potentially violent groups in countries such as France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Ukraine. All of these groups have in common racial and hate filled beliefs against other – usually ‘non- white’ – communities.
Aren’t they extremists as well?
Moreover, I’m sure everyone recalls the atrocious attack which caused the death of 92 civilians in the Norwegian Island of Utøya which was conducted by the 32 years old Anders Breivik who was said to be a fundamentalist with a “deep hatred for multiculturalism and Muslims”. Isn’t he an extremist as well?
You can find extremism in all different forms in our country. We have experienced a rise of extreme right wing or neo Nazi groups, Britain First and English Defense League (EDL) just to mention some, with potentially dangerous implications to create a deeply divided society. These groups base their ideas on a presumed superiority above other races, which usually involves anti-immigration and anti-integration stances. Are they not extremist as well?
However, the worrying factor that makes all these groups stronger is that they are luring young people into their warped way of thinking. Through the internet for example, extremist groups can easily reach vulnerable young people who are feeling isolated, depressed or who are trying to build their identity. Youth can be fascinated from messages of hate through their social media profile and unconsciously become radicalised. Moreover, what is interesting to observe are the connections between far right movements with Islamic extremist groups, like ISIS. In fact, as long as ISIS continues its online propaganda to recruit new youth, far right extremists will do the same to fuel hate against them. It is like a cycle based on hate which will contribute to divide society and discourage community cohesion.
Furthermore, we have sadly heard about the misrepresentation of Muslim boys and girls in our schools. Two particular stories came to our attention last week; the first one came from the United States, where the 14 year old Ahmed Mohamed was arrested because he was believed to have brought a bomb in his school in Irving, Texas. It was later discovered that Ahmed has a keen interest for robots and engineering and that ‘the bomb’ was instead a homemade clock he built to impress his teachers. Another shocking story came from a school in Islington, London, where a boy was withdrawn from his French class and put into a ‘private’ room where he was questioned about his possible affiliation with ISIS. The reason itself of this ‘question time’ it’s very embarrassing. He simply mentioned the French word eco-terrorisme in a discussion about environmental problems.
This is why JAN Trust work it’s so important. JAN Trust has been researching on the issue of extremism and radicalisation for many years and we know about the various shapes these can assume. We have been researching the propaganda methods that extremists from any backgrounds use to recruit youth and the danger it entails. Therefore, based on this research, we have designed our ‘Preventing Extremism’ workshops which are addressed to students, teachers, parents and practitioners. With these workshops we aim to educate participants to a wider understanding of what extremism is and explore the various form of extremism in society. By the end of the session participants gain a good understanding of issues surrounding extremism and are able to prevent themselves, their peers and their children from becoming radicalised. What JAN Trust aims to achieve is community cohesion rather than isolation of one group instead of another.
Feedbacks from past participants included:
“Before I thought that extremism was just a Muslim issue, but now I know that extremism happens everywhere and anyone from any religion or ethnicity can be an extremist.”
“The media always portrays a negative view of Muslims, we are bombarded with the rhetoric that all Muslims are extremists – this plays into the far right rhetoric.”
“We were taught about misconceptions which is good because I didn’t know that extremism happened in every community.”