Preventing teenagers and children from becoming radicalized and becoming violent extremists can be as simple as encouraging them to exercise, researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) have found .
In recent studies conducted by the universities in the Southeast Punjab region of Pakistan, sport has been shown to build resilience against youth involvement in violent extremism, which is represented by acts of violence in support of an ideology, be it a religious one , social or political cause. It has also been found that violent extremist groups target children who are isolated, promising them a better life and a sense of community.
Youth radicalization is a significant problem in Pakistan, which has seen repeated reports of extremist groups targeting, manipulating and recruiting young people. South Punjab is more vulnerable to youth radicalization, the researchers argue, because of a lack of economic and educational opportunities, which means children can become isolated from social exclusion, discrimination, trauma and/or forced displacement.
The researchers found that sport promotes strength in a community by teaching children a wealth of positive values such as respect for others, teamwork, resilience, conflict resolution, fair play and problem solving. They also teach children honesty, respect, responsibility and trust and create a sense of belonging.
In addition, the study showed that exercise helps maintain better physical, mental and spiritual health and helps children reduce their anxiety and stress levels. In addition, the study showed that exercise reduced psychological symptoms in children exposed to trauma.
Preventing youth radicalization
In Australia and other Western societies such as the United States, there has been an increase in far-right groups targeting and radicalizing youth online.
Most recently, Australia’s Herald Sun reported on August 18 that Australia’s Home Secretary, Clare O’Neil, would tell the Australia-New Zealand Anti-Terrorism Committee youth summit that the country had recently seen a case involving a group of youth supporters of the Islamic State had used grooming techniques to radicalize minors in the schoolyard.
“They focused on the most vulnerable kids on the playground — loners, victims of bullying, kids struggling to fit in — and first employed those age-old tactics of flattery and friendship,” O’Niel said. “That soon turned into manipulation and coercion as they attempted to desensitize their victims by showing ever more graphic and violent Islamic State propaganda. Eventually they shared videos of decapitation.”
In an email to The Epoch Times, one of the UQAM researchers involved in the study, Umair Asif, said that since sports programs help build bonds and social bonds between young people, they are an ideal method to educate young people about discourage radicalization.
“These ties help prevent young people from engaging in negative activities and can prevent radicalization. It also helps different populations to understand each other and develop harmony,” Asif said. “Similarly, positive values of sport, such as sportsmanship, help young people to adopt positive values in daily life.”
Sport also contributes to the reintegration of radicalized people
The study used two non-profit organizations and two community-based social programs – The Swat Youth Front, the Kafka Welfare Organization, Parvaz e Aman Program (PeA) and Youth Adolescent Development – that focused on football, volleyball and cricket to promote peace in the war to encourage survivors.
The researchers found that teens who participated in the programs said they felt alone and neglected before participating and now feel they have meaning and matter in their lives. Many of the kids also said that being respected by their teammates helped them feel equal.
The study also showed that sport can help reintegrate people who are radicalised, marginalized or forcibly displaced.
“Sometimes young people become radicalized or involved in criminal activities due to social isolation. Sport also helps to overcome social isolation through friendship and bonding,” Asif said.
He noted that the concept has also succeeded in reintegrating child soldiers in Africa and integrating South Korean and reconciled North Korean children.
He said that since social ties can help discourage online recruitment, sports rehabilitation programs could also be used to not only reintegrate children coming out of juvenile detention into their communities, but also reintegrate adult criminals into society integrate.
“So it has a broad context,” Asif said.
Australian Government Response to Violent Extremism
In an email to The Epoch Times, a Home Office spokesman said sport partnerships are one of the ways the Australian government is promoting resilience and social cohesion within the community.
The government counters violent extremism through a variety of efforts. These efforts include building resilience within communities, rehabilitating and reintegrating violent extremists, launching online initiatives, and supporting the distraction of those at risk of radicalization.
“Intervention programs are a key activity to decouple individuals at risk of radicalizing into violent extremism,” they said. “The Living Safe Together Intervention Program is a framework designed to address all forms of violent extremism, including religiously and ideologically motivated violent extremism.”
“Programs implemented by states and territories under this framework will be implemented across the country to refer, assess and assist people at risk of radicalizing into violent extremism.”
The spokesman said the Australian government is also working with state and territorial authorities to counter violent extremism.
“Close partnerships between the Commonwealth, state and territory governments are central to Australia’s national approach to countering terrorism and violent extremism (CVE),” the spokesman said.
“The Australian Government is committed to protecting Australians from all forms of violent extremism.”
Youth radicalization a priority for the Australian government
The ministry spokesman also said the Australian government is focused on addressing significant and emerging threats to the community. Threats such as youth radicalization, particularly online, and the rise of nationalist and racist violent extremism.
To counter these threats, the government is taking several measures. These actions include the establishment of a CVE Center of Excellence for research, risk assessment and training, and a national rehabilitation and reintegration program for violent extremists in custody and the community.
The spokesman said the CVE center, which will be based at the Home Office, will drive national research and ensure frontline workers have access to the best training and tools to do their jobs.
Other actions taken include expanding the Living Safe Together intervention program to include regional and rural Australia, continuing efforts to counter online terror propaganda and providing a new CVE grant program.
The spokesman said the government is providing the grants program to “raise awareness and build community resilience to violent extremism.”