Radicalization of youth as a global challenge

The vilification of Saudi and Muslim youth continues to dominate the news in the United States

Samar Fatany
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The vilification of Saudi and Muslim youth continues to dominate the news in the United States. American Islamophobes and irresponsible individuals, such as Donald Trump and company, are on a mission to demonize all Saudi and Muslim youth labeling them potential threats to the West. This biased rhetoric is a distorted view of the real threat to the West, which is mostly homegrown and continues to threaten the global community.

Youth radicalism is an issue that has exasperated the global community with many young people deserting their families and abandoning a life of prosperity in the West to join Islamist militant groups. In the Middle East alone, ISIS has recruited 4,000 European fighters, both young men and young women, and has been able to radicalize many disgruntled youth in the region.


In September 2014, the UN Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee emphasized the increasing threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters. In April 2015, Peter Neumann, Director of the London-based International Centre for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence, stated that the foreign fighters joining ISIL were more diverse than any extremist population he had ever seen.

Addressing a meeting of the Security Council, held at UN Headquarters, Neumann, stated that “the group of youth radicals were so different that, for the first time, they included large numbers of women reaching up to 20 percent in some countries.”

Belgium remains on high alert following the November 2015 Paris attacks, which left 130 people dead and hundreds wounded. According to official police reports, around 500 Belgians may have gone as foreign fighters to Syria to join ISIS, which claimed the November attacks on the French capital. The police arrested 11 people in connection with the attacks in Paris. The investigations revealed that the attack was largely organized and coordinated from Belgium.

UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi, said in an interview with the UN News Center: “The international community has a tendency to blame young people for many problems, and until this perception is abandoned, radicalism will remain one of the world’s most pressing issues.”

In the Arab world, Mr. Alhendawi noted that employment and economic metrics push frustrated young people into the arms of recruiters for extremist groups who, with their promises of an ideological cause and generous pay, succeed in luring youth into their ranks.

“The average salary for ISIS fighters is three to four times higher than the average salary in the Middle East. You have a situation where the young person in the Middle East would need 16 visas to travel to 22 countries. So, no economic independence and no mobility,” he continued. “You have a situation in Syria today where the only vacancy for young people is to fight.”

While terrorists continue their killing spree, the international community is divided over issues related to religion, nationality or ethnicity and world leaders are fighting for supremacy and economic gains

Samar Fatany

Stricter laws

Western governments need to impose stricter laws to target the real perpetrators of terror who trade in lethal weapons of destruction and provide tactical training for terrorists to kill and destroy.

ISIS has obtained millions of dollars in new weaponry and is gaining more followers every day. The Financial Times reported that the group has issued annual reports of its successes since 2012, including bombings, assassinations and new recruits. The group claimed nearly 10,000 operations in Iraq in 2013 alone, with 1,000 assassinations and the use of 4,000 improvised explosive devices.

Jean-Paul Laborde, the head of the UN Counter-terrorism Executive Directorate (CTED), called for a multifaceted approach in preventing the spread of radicalism across borders as part of his mandate to identify best practices of Member States in countering terrorism. He stressed the importance of education in order to end the flames of incitement and extremism before they become too wild to control.

In Saudi Arabia, there are many programs to address the aspirations of young people and many initiatives to rehabilitate those who have been radicalized. There are also concerted efforts to end unemployment, address corruption and promote sports, arts, film and theater. In order to engage youth in fruitful activities, schools have introduced extracurricular activities to protect youth from being easy targets for terrorists. However, these programs remain weak and need more capable professionals to effectively implement them.

Unfortunately, all initiatives to build a global society conducive to dialogue, tolerance and moderation have failed to counter the terrorist campaign. While terrorists continue their killing spree, the international community is divided over issues related to religion, nationality or ethnicity and world leaders are fighting for supremacy and economic gains.

Global terrorism will continue to be a threat as long as extremists and Islamophobes indulge in their incitement against Muslim youth. Terrorism will destroy our societies if we allow anti-Muslim rhetoric to fuel terrorist designs to divide us and weaken our efforts to destroy them.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on Oct. 10, 2016.
Samar Fatany is a Chief Broadcaster in the English section at Jeddah Broadcasting Station. Over the past 28 years, she has introduced many news, cultural, and religious programs and has conducted several interviews with official delegations and prominent political personalities visiting the kingdom. Fatany has made significant contributions in the fields of public relations and social awareness in Saudi Arabia and has been involved in activities aiming at fighting extremism and enhancing women’s role in serving society. She has published three books: “Saudi Perceptions & Western Misconceptions,” “Saudi Women towards a new era” and “Saudi Challenges & Reforms.”

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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