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Preventing Islamophobia while combating radicalisation of young people

There have been waves of young people from countries of Western Europe becoming fighters in various conflicts (in Kashmir, the Gulf and Bosnia among others) in the last decades, Professor Tahir Abbas of the Fatih University of Istanbul explained at the joint meeting of the No Hate Parliamentary Alliance and the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development on 23 June 2015 in Strasbourg.

Many of them were young Muslims, often with a migrant background. Today countries like France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom face a new generation of young people radicalising their ideas and joining fighters in Syria and other war sceneries in the region.

The phenomenon is increasingly intertwined with Islamophobia. Muslims are presented as a potential threat, with far-right and populist movements contributing to spreading this misconception. In turn, young Muslims feel increasingly isolated and overexposed. They often have difficult access to good work opportunities, especially in times of economic crisis. Some of them may turn to extreme and violent ideologies to find a purpose in their lives. Even though the numbers are tiny, the phenomenon has great visibility in the media and raises serious, perhaps disproportionate concern among the public.

How to prevent young people from turning to extremism and violence without stigmatising an entire community? Avoiding presenting Islam as a source of terrorism, combating segregation in schools and ensuring access to work and education for young people from a migrant background were some of the measures recommended by Mr Bernard De Vos, Ombudsman for Children’s Rights of the Federation Wallonia-Brussels, who also believed that communities can play a positive role in tackling social problems within them. Excessive reaction may lead to an escalation of violence, warned Mr Francesco Ragazzi of the University of Leiden: the role of police forces and of social workers should remain distinct, he believed, and soft anti-radicalisation measures, including partnerships between the police and the communities or the use of “counterdiscourse” in social media, should be preferred.

The participation of President Anne Brasseur, and the Deputy Secretary General Gabriella Battaini Dragoni, who underlined that the Council of Europe has raised awareness on Islamophobia for over a decade, confirmed the commitment of all the bodies of the Council of Europe to this theme.