Anti-radicalisation programmes are risking turning young Muslims towards extremism if they wrongly assume they are lacking role models, a report has warned.
In a review of mentoring programmes aimed at preventing youngsters from a path of radicalisation, experts have warned some “unintentionally” assume Muslims need role models and do not believe in democracy.
The report by think tank Rusi examined 27 projects, predominantly in Europe, and said only half had shown signs of success.
“In Western countries, in particular, mentorship programmes need to be cautious about the assumption that mental vulnerability is primarily associated with Islamist radicalisation rather than right-wing extremism,” the report’s author Emily Winterbotham, the director of the terrorism and conflict group at Rusi, said.
“The assumption young Muslims frequently struggle with their identity and are therefore more vulnerable to radical thoughts or influence by radical people needs to be viewed with caution.
“Similarly, mentoring schemes linked to the promotion of democracy and liberal values can give the impression that certain groups, namely young Muslims, are in particular need of role models or that they do not believe in democracy. These assumptions could have unintended negative consequences in terms of contributing to radicalisation processes.
“Also an over-emphasis on religion in mentorships can fail to address the full array of factors that contribute to radicalisation.”
She says there are concerns of a risk of stigmatising certain groups of youngsters to attend the programmes and those most at risk have not been put on the courses.
“During a process evaluation of preventing counter extremism programmes for young people in the UK, only a minority of practitioners felt that their intervention was effective in reaching those young people most at risk of becoming involved in violent extremism,” she said.
“None of the interviewees said that they had received referrals of young people who were considered already radicalised or indicated some involvement in violent extremism.”
It revealed the most successful cases were those who had self-referred themselves, however, in the UK there was a fear that some were using the Channel anti-radicalisation programme as a ‘get out of jail free card’.
The Channel programme offers youths an alternative to custody.
“Programmes are likely to be more successful if they only deal with individuals who come to them,” she added.
“If referrals come from a wider variety of sources, the intake and success rates will likely be lower.
“One issue that was insufficiently addressed in the literature was why individuals agree to participate in mentoring programmes and what impact this could have on programme effectiveness.
“Reportedly, the most difficult structural hurdle that the police must overcome when working within the UK’s Channel programme is that of informed consent and privacy. If mentoring is viewed as a ‘get out of jail free card’ with mentees agreeing to participate in order to avoid other forms of sanction, how does this impact effectiveness?”
The report concludes that it is “crucial” for mentors to understand the target group’s social setting.
It said good mentors are usually from the same areas of those they are helping and are aware of local issues.