One student said in a classroom talk that the Holocaust was a fantasy; the other copied a bomb-making manual while his teacher was watching. These are clear signs of radicalisation. Both parents and schools are often late to take action or turn a blind eye.
These examples of radicalisation can be found in the report Ideals Adrift which was commissioned by the Dutch knowledge institute Forum. The researchers interviewed young radicals of between 16 and 25 years old. They included neo-Nazis, anarchists, Muslim fundamentalists and animal rights activists. Most of these young radicals had profiles on Hyves or other social networking sites, and were active on a number of forums.
According to criminologist Marion van San of the University of Utrecht they are totally different people who share a number of similarities. “They are showing citizenship. They are interested in the society in which they live, follow the news, and take part in debates and demonstrations. However, what is missing in all these young people, is an equilibrium which would prevent their ideas from going astray”.
Van San is one of the authors of the report Ideals Adrift. ”Young radicals had the basis for their ideas partly instilled at home”, she says. Racist remarks were never corrected or their parents used to be activists themselves. “And usually this type of family has a lot more problems. Radicalisation is just one of the problems in addition to absenteeism or the involvement of the childcare authorities”.
According to the scientist, parents have little or no idea of what their children are up to when they are surfing the internet. She cites the example of a neo-Nazi who got his information exclusively from extremist websites. He never studies historical material. “Such a person will become increasingly radical, until the moment he is being suspended from school or blocked from Hyves because he uploads a swastika to his profile”.
“Radicalisation is a slippery slope”, says Van San. “Parents often fail to pick up on the signals, or they choose to ignore them. And once their child has found a group of like-minded peers, it’s too late”. By that time, they have internalised enough arguments to stifle all arguments to the contrary, and a normal conversation will no longer be possible.
The criminologist believes that nearly everyone she interviewed for the report will sooner or later make headlines because of a violent crime. The mother of one of those interviewed actually said out loud she hoped the police would arrest her son.
Even now that the research has been published, Van San is still surprised about the results. About the ideas some young people embrace, but mostly about the inability of parents and teachers to discuss the issue. A 'reluctance to act', is what the researchers call it.
The teacher whose student stood in front of the class and said that the gas chambers never existed evaded a discussion. And a colleague did nothing when a young Muslim was copying a bomb-making manual. “And he was really up to something”, says Van San.
The researchers are yet to come up with a clear theory on how to prevent the radicalisation of young people, but they do have some suggestions to make to parents and teachers:
· As a school or a parent, don’t close your eyes to a child’s increasingly extreme ideas. Exclusion, punishment or simply ignoring a young person will only make him seek the company of like-minded peers.
· Timely talks and discussions are called for. Don’t be too quick to conclude: “Oh, it will pass”. At the same time, radical ideas and activism are part and parcel of being young and growing up.
· Try to provide information which can help counter extremist ideas.
· Try keeping an eye on which web sites a child visits most.
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