UN grapples with violent extremism’s social media pull on youth

The rise of social media has rendered traditional government and religious institutions inadequate to address the growth of violent extremism

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The rise of social media has rendered traditional government and religious institutions inadequate to address the growing number of youth attracted to the message of violent extremism, a top United Nations official said Friday.

Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson said leaders must recognize the communications revolution taking place in today’s world in order to address the problem.

“Today’s young people are inherently better communicators. Just look at your children and grandchildren. They have unprecedented skills of networking. They have an almost unlimited access to information. We need a comprehensive approach to address their needs and aspirations,” Eliasson said.

“These extremist groups are systematically recruiting children and young people through social media and peer-to-peer networking. They use financial incentives, fear-mongering and coercion,” he added.

Eliasson made his remarks at a high-level conversation on children and youth affected by violent extremism, where politicians and academics from around the world grappled with how best to counter the extremists’ message.

Belgium’s Deputy Prime Minister Jan Jambon conceded his country had more foreign fighters per capita than any other country in Europe but seemed stumped on how best to address the issue.

“How is it possible that young people raised in our countries, get their heads spun around by terrorist organizations, causing death and destruction to countless innocent victims? Well ladies and gentlemen, as a minister, I ponder this question every day,” Jambon said.

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His main suggestion involved having intelligence services work together with teachers and social workers to identify extremism in its early stages and follow up on youngsters who have gone off track.

Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani maintained that extremism was “not inherent in a given religion or ideology,” but was rather caused by social, economic and political distortions that lead “some forces to interpret religion in this manner.”

He said Qatar employed “a strategy of inculcating our people with the spirit of tolerance, underscoring the importance of constructive dialogue and opening up to one another at the national and international levels,” in order to combat extremist views.

UN General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft said it was important to remember that young people are often the targets and victims of violent extremists’ acts.

“Regrettably, however, millions of other children and young people are also vulnerable to radicalization and to becoming violent extremists themselves, whether in Copenhagen or Cairo, in South Carolina or Syria,” he said.

Lykketoft, however, offered little in the way solutions instead praising the event as an important opportunity to better understand the subject.

“There is a great deal at stake and I believe we all have a great deal to learn,” he said.

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