Suffer the young

While driving through Perth last week, I listened to an interview with a University of Windsor academic who had studied the effects of a program offered on Canadian university campuses aimed at reducing sexual assault .  Her research, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that the training resulted in a significant decrease in rape and sexual assault among the women who took the course.

Predictably, there were those that said the program was the usual “blame the victim” approach and that it was men that needed to be taught that rape and sexual assault are wrong.  The researcher had an answer for the naysayers: the training men at university get has little effect.  She thinks that more effective instruction should be given to boys and young men before post-secondary education.  In other words, the earlier the better (see an article on the research here).

Why am I writing about sexual assault in a terrorism blog?  Because I think that the benefit gained by teaching the young about appropriate gender relations applies to radicalization as well.

There is a lot of talk these days in Canada about doing something to stop radicalization.  A number of  governments and municipalities are setting up deradicalization centres and radicalization hotlines, all intended to identify people heading down the pathway of violent radicalization and putting in mechanisms to deal with those at risk.

But what if these programs are the equivalent -i in some cases at least – of shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted?

In my experience, for any effort to convince people to abandon violent ideologies (or divert them from the sources of information in the first place) to have a good chance of success, it has to start young. Before university.  Maybe even before high school.

Some violent radicalization is facilitated by social media (but not all – this is a myth).  Kids have access to tons of material online.  And in this mix we have to acknowledge the thousands of violent extremist sites that are everywhere.  It is possible that younger and younger kids are viewing this dangerous content.

So, should we introduce some form of awareness in elementary schools?   A huge stigma would be the focus on young Canadian Muslims turning to violence.  This would not be an easy sell. And you thought the new Ontario sex education curriculum was controversial!

While I do know what the signs of violent Al Qaeda-inspired radicalization are (cheap plug – buy my book this fall), I do not know how to package this information for 12 year olds.  But that is probably where it has to start.

If we wait to late high school or early college/university to address the issue it will probably be too late.  We will likely see more and more people radicalize and then have to deal with the fallout of Canadians fighting for groups like ISIS or planning acts of terrorism here.

Anyone up for designing a radicalization module in civics class?

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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