Economic opportunity and education are necessary tools in halting spread of extremism among youth.
By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 13/05/13
Extremist groups are exploiting youth and poverty to grow their ranks. [AFP]
Extremist organisations in the Balkans are using a variety of factors to exploit poverty and youth in the effort to attract new members.
Security experts in the region say a lack of alternatives, a history of bloody conflicts, religion, social networks and the perception of solidarity all are effective tools in targeting young people. They add that the trend should be addressed through improved educational efforts, engagement by mainstream religious communities and continued monitoring of extremist groups by law enforcement agencies.
Xhavit Shala, of the Albanian Centre for National Security Studies, said Islamic extremists have been continuously trying to recruit young people and take control of the Islamic communities in Bulgaria, Bosnia, Sandjak, Macedonia, Kosovo and Albania.
Political, social and economic instability all contributed to the penetration of extremists in Albania, Shala said, along with the lack of proper state structures to manage the legal relations and the mutual obligations of the state and the religious communities. While the state has taken steps to improve institutions to monitor these groups, Shala said vigilance remains a necessity.
"Giving the children and the teenagers deformed knowledge on a religion, many times excluding other religions, conditioning it with economic assistance offered by organisations with suspicious origin and financing, makes this contingent of children easy to manipulate and use for illegal actions and a serious threat for the religious tolerance in Albania," Shala said.
The Mufti of Tirana, Ylli Gurra, told SETimes that the Islamic community believes in operating within the state's legal framework and that the international community of Muslims is not allowed by God and prophets "to fall into extremism."
"We also transmit the divine message within the real frames of religion and not through the personal taste of someone or some people, and focus on the services that produce positive things, that produce social peace, that transmit love between people and give hope for a more prosperous future," he said.
Gurra acknowledged that some members of the community are lured by extremist messages.
"We see that the big flow of the virtual pressure, cybernetic pressure everywhere in the world, produces time by time waves of religious colouring which slip to extremism," Gurra said, adding that such interactions can lead people to escalate their views beyond their own religious life and into their "objection related to the management of the state from the governing structures."
Experts say religious community leaders can play an essential role in curtailing the growth of extremist groups. [AFP]
"Within these [frameworks], in cases, time and certain places, also the recruitment of a part of the young people to participate in 'holy' wars represents concern," Gurra said.
Shala said extremist groups start recruiting by emphasizing religious identity above national identity, which represents a threat to security.
"The factory that produces the raw material for these groups should be closed, and this factory is poverty. The reduction of poverty and programmes for the employment of the young people will reduce the raw material for extremist organisations," Shala said, adding that religious community leaders should identify and isolate extremist groups as part of their official responsibilities.
Shala said religious communities should be aware of leaders whose studies were financed by suspicious NGOs that are identified as supporters of extremist groups.
"They should take measures that the preparation of the staff of the religious communities be realized within the country and in line with the traditional religious belief," Shala said.
Abit Hoxha, of the Kosovo Centre for Security Studies, said extremist groups use two methods, proactive and reactive. Proactive recruiting is more stable, more spiritual and more consistent, while reactive recruiting is related to any development that might be exploited.
Hoxha said recruitment in Kosovo is based on the proactive idea of belief as a common interest.
"In principle, there are some ways to make the recruitments: Political possibilities, making their voice heard and becoming a factor, different social networks, and the impact of a person in a group, meaning recruitment of someone because he is part of a group based on the ideology, the belief," Hoxha said.
Ramadan Ilazi, director of the Kosovo Institute for Peace, told SETimes that extremist groups target marginalised young people, the unemployed and those without proper education.
"Religious radical groups offer these young people access to a social network, change of identity and integration, joint goods and solidarity. Islamic organizations also use tactics of the moral shock to attract the new sympathizers and members," Ilazi said.
Experts say Islamists are not nationalists, and therefore see themselves as one. [AFP]
He also said that because Islamists are not nationalists, they are able to see themselves as one, and in this context Muslims in Kosovo have increased sympathy for the problems of the Muslims around the world.
Hoxha said governments must avoid the temptation to seek a quick fix to the problem and must instead employ broad approaches that emphasize inclusion.
"The governments need to systematically work on education and cultural level besides economic opportunities for the youth in the region," he said.
Isidora Stakic of the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, said the main mobilisation strategy of Serbian right-wing extremists is grounded in the instrumentalisation of economic and political crisis.
Stakic said extremists target groups that are most affected by this crisis.
"An important factor contributing to the young people turning to extremist groups is a specific subculture of violence, common for post-conflict societies, which celebrates those most violent and in which the authority is determined by physical strength," Stakic told SETimes, adding that the majority of the citizens of Serbia believe that the poor economic situation is the main cause of violence.
Stakic said Serbia should address the issue by focusing on the prevention of nationalism, systematically promoting social pluralism and equality of all social groups and placing emphasis on human rights education and preventing historical revisionism.
What steps should governments and religious communities take to prevent extremist groups from targeting young people? Share your thoughts in the comments section.