Whilst throughout this module, we have emphasised a particular kind of understanding of extremism, but we have also tried to explore and unpack deeper values and shared different ways of listening to young people. It’s important not to position all young people as passive, groomed, manipulated etc, including those who become involved in violent extremist movements (and not all political violence is ‘extremist and extreme positions can sometimes be better understood as radical positions). Scott Atran in his book Talking to the Enemy: Faith Brotherhood and the (Un)making of Terrorists is critical of approaches that are based on counter-narratives. He argues that young people who joined organisations like ISIS did so because it tapped into their ‘sacred values’. They felt a sense of agency, purpose and connection, and rather than being passively recruited, many sought out ways of joining it. In a recent article, he suggests that counter-engagement that allows for re-framing and re-interpreting ‘sacred values’ is less likely to have the reactive backlash to counter-narratives, because ideologies are not ‘free floating ideas’ but bound up in embodied and embedded social, political, cultural, psychological etc conditions. They are not up for negotiation or trade off for material rewards. But symbolic exchange and recognition can be significant. But he also suggests that prevention work involves stopping violence promoting values from becoming ‘sacred values’.
Whilst we have focused on the characteristics of extremism, part of this journey aimed explore the deeper motivations and work with young people to find other non-violent ways for them to live a life of significance connected to their ‘sacred values’. The work of educators is to support young people in finding purpose, significance and agency, even through ‘sacred values’ whilst channeling them into more pro-social, even radical, outlets and cultivating their curiosity about the world.