Transforming Young People Through Deep Dialogue to Prevent Violent Extremism

From the age of 17, Abdi (not his real name) was radicalized and recruited into violent extremism. A young boy from Kenya, he started his journey to join an extremist group active in Iraq and Syria, DAESH. His first attempt to join the group failed. Still determined to join what he misconstrued as ‘jihad’, he embarked on a second expedition to a nearby country, Somalia. Authorities arrested him before he could join a terrorist group.

His detention affected his family. His mother was stigmatized and discriminated by her community after his arrest. Constantly accused and reminded of neglecting her son and allowing him to join a terrorist group, the situation forced her to relocate.

After spending 4 years in detention, Abdi was release to rejoin his family. Abdi and his recruiter, Juma (also not his real name), were immediately enrolled in the Deep Dialogue program of the Building Resilience Against Violent Extremism (BRAVE) movement supported by Arigatou International and the GNRC members in Kenya. During this program, Abdi and Juma learnt the true meaning of Jihad and related Islamic concepts and teachings. Abdi now blames his joining of outlawed groups to peer influence, youth vulnerability, ignorance and idleness. He now agrees that he misunderstood Islam, and if given an opportunity would discourage other young people against joining violent extremist groups, and rethink their actions and furthermore, seek more knowledge on Islam.

Abdi, now a reformed 23-year-old youth, appreciates the Deep Dialogue program for helping him understand Islam better, and discerned the misused Islamic concepts by extremist groups to cause harm to others. He is now on a full university education scholarship secured by GNRC members in Kenya, pursuing a degree in Business and Information Technology in one of the leading universities in Kenya.

Abdi is just one of the thousands of young people in the Horn of Africa region whose lives have been blighted by violent extremism. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) report on Journey to Extremism in Africa: Drivers, Incentives and the Tipping Point for Recruitment  paints a grim picture for Africa, Middle East and Asia if prevention is not prioritized. UNDP, which supports the BRAVE program, urges States to support such remarkable programs to realize peace and stability in the region.

Modest interfaith programs to help faith communities can have significant impact in the lives of children and young people. Abdi is testimony to this effort, and the BRAVE’s Deep Dialogue program is an effective method to achieve peace and prevent further violence.

The GNRC Panama Declaration on Ending Violence Against Children includes prevention of violent extremism, gang violence and organized crime as core part of what Arigatou International strives. In partnership with the Kenyan Government and local GNRC Networks, Arigatou International has directly reached to thousands of children who would have followed on Abdi’s path.

The BRAVE Movement is an initiative of the faith leaders in Kenya led by the GNRC and a number of partners in support of the Government of Kenya’s initiatives in preventing and countering violent extremism. These efforts have contributed to preventing violent extremism initiatives in the Eastern and Horn of Africa region by equipping young people and faith leaders with knowledge and skills to prevent and counter violent extremism.

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