As children grow and become more independent, it is not unusual for them to take risks, explore new things and push boundaries. Teenage years are often a time when young people will be searching for answers to questions about identity, faith and belonging, as well as looking for adventure and excitement.
This can mean that they are particularly vulnerable to extremist groups, who may claim to offer answers, as well as identity and a strong social network. And because they know young people are vulnerable, extremist groups often target them using the internet and social media to spread their ideology. There have been a number of tragic examples where young people have been misled by extremist groups, with some travelling to Syria for terrorist purposes and others becoming involved in hate crimes against minority groups.
At Alec Reed Academy we play a hugely important role in helping build the resilience of young people against all forms of harm, and preparing them for life in modern Britain. We provide a safe space for pupils to debate topical or contested issues, and help them build the resilience and critical thinking skills that they will need to be able to challenge extremist arguments.
British Values at Alec Reed Academy
The DfE have recently reinforced the need “to create and enforce a clear and rigorous expectation on all schools to promote the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.”
The Government has published departmental advice for schools on meeting the requirement to actively promote ‘fundamental British values’. At Alec Reed Academy these values are reinforced regularly.
Understanding the threat of extremism
The greatest current challenge comes from the global rise of Islamist extremism. We see this in the violence of Al Qa’ida (AQ) and Daesh (also referred to as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL], Islamic State or IS) like the appalling attacks in Tunisia in June 2015 which took the lives of 38 people, 30 of them British. As of January 2016, it is estimated that more than 800 UK citizens have now travelled to join terrorist groups operating in Syria and Iraq. Worryingly we have seen examples of women, children and families buying into Daesh’s extremist narrative and travelling to live under their brutal regime. Islamist extremists have also inspired the overwhelming majority of over 40 terrorist plots which have been disrupted since the London bombings of 2005.
Islamist extremism is not the only threat, as seen by the vicious actions of a number of extreme right-wing and neo-Nazi groups. In 2013 Mohammed Saleem, an 82-year-old British Muslim from Birmingham, was murdered by Pavlo Lapshyn, an extreme right-wing fanatic, who went on to bomb mosques in Walsall, Wolverhampton and Tipton. In January 2015, Zack Davies attempted to murder Dr Sarandev Bhambra in a racially-motivated attack in a supermarket in North Wales, and was sentenced to life in prison. He had claimed the attack was “revenge for Lee Rigby”, and extreme right-wing publications were found at his home. The government is determined that such violence, and the Islamophobia that underpins it, will be defeated and the perpetrators brought to justice.
What is extremism?
Extremism is the vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. We also regard calls for the death of members of our armed forces as extremist.
Source: Counter Extremism Strategy – October 2015
What is terrorism?
Terrorism is defined as action designed to influence the government, intimidate the public, and done for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause, that endangers or causes serious violence or harm to people, property, or seriously disrupts or interferes with an electronic system.
We all know that teenage years are a time of great change for young people. Some teenagers can be solitary, quick to anger or distrusting of authority.
Possible warning signs of radicalisation include:
Attitudes and opinions
- Argumentativeness or aggression, and an unwillingness to listen to/consider points of view which contradict their own
- Refusal to engage with, or being abusive to, peers who are different to themselves. This behaviour could be based upon race, religion, gender or sexuality
- Susceptibility to conspiracy theories and a feeling of persecution
Changes in behaviour and peer group
- Distancing themselves from friends and peer groups, both online and offline
- A significant change of appearance/clothing and/or behaviour
- Rejection of activities they used to enjoy
- Excessive time spent online or on mobile phones, and secretiveness or reluctance to discuss what they are doing
- Changes in online identity, including social media profile image or name. Some will even have two parallel online profiles, one their ‘normal’ or old self, the other an extremist identity, often using another name or alias.
Support for extremist ideologies and groups
- Expressions of sympathy with the ideology of extremist groups or a justification of their actions
- Expressions of sympathy or understanding for other young people who have joined or attempted to join these groups
- Accessing extremist material online, including violent extremist websites, especially those with a social networking element (e.g. Facebook, Twitter)
- Possessing or accessing other forms of extremist literature
- Being in contact with extremist recruiters
- Joining or seeking to join extremist organisations
Who can help?
If your child/friend has not committed a criminal offence you should not be worried that you will get them into trouble by speaking to the police or local authority. They will discuss your concerns with you and suggest how they can best protect them. Some local authorities have dedicated officers who work on preventing extremism and they will be able to provide specialist support and advice. They might suggest referral to the ‘Channel programme’. Channel is a voluntary government funded programme which aims to safeguard children and adults from being drawn into terrorist activity.
If you think a child is in immediate danger or see or hear something that may be terrorist related, trust your instincts and call 999 or the confidential Anti-Terrorist Hotline on 0800 789 321.
Great Additional Resources
- The FREE Initiative has produced a series of short films to showcase the tactics and methods taken by those tackling far-right extremism across Europe. This includes police, youth workers, former extremists and survivors of violent extremism (http://thefreeinitiative.com/films). The site also includes: Resources on the problem of far-right extremism, Interactive graphics on responding to far-right extremism, ‘How-to’ guides to manage specific challenges, Case studies of innovative initiatives to counter far-right extremism, Film series showcasing stories of those on the front line
- Families Against Stress and Trauma (FAST) is a UK based organisation that was created to help families affected by a loved one travelling to Syria and Iraq. They provide support to families and individuals because they understand the pain and distress it caused to those left behind. Their website includes a video that pupils have responded well to in discussing the current humanitarian crisis and other aspects of the Syria/ Iraq conflict (www.familiesmatter.org.uk).
- Abdullah-X is a counter-narrative cartoon and YouTube channel aimed at unpicking the teachings of Islamist extremist preachers and which explores some of the mistaken reasons why young people have been drawn into terrorist activity (https://www.youtube.com/user/abdullahx).