Today, seventy years after the end of the Second World War, extremism and radicalization of various sorts are rapidly becoming a serious problem in European countries. How is it possible that this is happening? Seeds of radical ideologies must fall on a fertile ground to bear their fruits. The extremist groups’ rhetoric is particularly attractive to those who experience an identity crisis and/or have a sense of injustice and resentment towards certain social groups, the establishment or their country.
Current targeted prevention efforts aimed at individuals that have radicalized or are identified as being at high risk to radicalize have many possible negative consequences: they can stigmatize minority groups and ‘individuals under suspicion’; they support negative stereotypes; they can produce martyrs and heroes of the radical movements; they may radicalize other members of the targeted group, giving them the impression that the state is against them; they stimulate polarization and division of the society, which generates xenophobia and extremism among majority members. Most importantly, targeted programs do not address the social-psychological origins of radicalization but only its outcomes and symptoms.
Therefore, the cycle of radicalization must be broken at its source by:
Creating a society which allows young individuals to thrive and to construe a positive identity within this society without resorting to extremist ideology irrespectively if they come from a religious and/or ethnic majority or minority
Breaking ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ divisions, which give birth to intergroup conflict
Empowering young people (including members of under-privileged groups) by providing them with practical knowledge on democratic means of defending and exercising their rights. These means can form a feasible alternative to violence
Promoting democracy and providing alternatives to extremist ideology
Stimulating critical thinking, to make individuals resilient to populist rhetoric of extremists
In this context, we decided to develop a curriculum aimed at preventing radicalization through stimulating (global) citizenship competency and relevant social and emotional skills. A curriculum which is suitable and beneficial for all young individuals, regardless of the type of violent ideology that may be attractive to them or whether or not they are at risk of radicalizing. Thus the curriculum can be seen both as a primary prevention program as well as a civic competence program. Since young adults are the ones most vulnerable to radicalization and extremism, we chose a youth-oriented approach in order to reach them before they radicalize. The outcome is unique, since the intervention is school-based, targeting the general population of secondary school students.