Co-authored by: Joao Felipe Scarpelini, Youth Advisor, Office of the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia Youth in Peace-Building Post-Brussels
The recent devastation that occurred in Brussels has sparked mass reaction from around the world and will remain in the forefront of international attention for the days to come. While the scope and severity of these attacks on the city have yet to be fully understood, it is clear that this process will take time.
Many scholars have already begun to anticipate possible motivators for the multiple bombings in Brussels, yet their focus remain on just that: causes. Few have initiated a fruitful discussion on how to reconcile this wave of radicalism that has haunted the global community these past two decades.
It is clear that most of the terrorist attacks seen in the Western world were enacted by young individuals, but it not known whether young radicals were the initiators of the attack on Brussels.
The involvement of some young people -- especially young men, but increasingly also young women -- in extremist groups has led to a widespread portrayal of youth as a threat to peace and global security. Consequently, the depiction of youth in conflict is marked by a dichotomy: they are either portrayed as victims or perpetrators. The reality is much more nuanced. Increasing evidence shows that youth can and should play active and valuable roles in bringing peace and development. Yet, the potential contribution and inclusion of young people to effective peace-building has received little attention and support.
For instance in Somalia after decades of unrest, conflict and instability, the majority of Somali youth have grown up experiencing conflict, natural disaster, and poverty. Avenues for youth to obtain an education and gainful employment opportunities are limited and opportunities to engage politically, economically, or socially remain low or non-existent. These exclusions create frustration and demoralization among many young people that sometimes are pushed into violence and radicalization. Although widely known and referred to, many people do not know that Al-Shaabab, a jihadist terrorist group that operates in East Africa (especially in Somalia), can be translated to "The Youth".
Countries like Britain and Norway have already recognized and begun to address this issue of youth radicalization, which they assume to result from social exclusion. In fact, the young people as a whole are at the most risk of social exclusion in Europe. Loosely defined as a general lack or inaccessibility to accumulate social capital through formal channels in social, cultural, and political processes, social exclusion can lead to desolating long-term effects and distrust in institutions.
Just this past December, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security. This historic resolution urged UN Member States to create the political environment necessary engage young people in all levels of decision-making, understanding the crucial role they have in society and in countering violent extremism, while remembering the power young people wield to challenge and overthrow oppressive regimes. This could not have been more well-highlighted in the Arab Spring of 2011.
In Somalia, the United Nations has recently launched the UN Youth Strategy , which aims among other things to support and enhance young men and young women's participation in activities to prevent violent extremism, by prioritizing meaningful engagement mechanisms at the national level and engaging those hardest to reach. Only through multigenerational collaboration can the international community create a culture of peace, tolerance, intercultural and interreligious dialogue that involve youth and discourage their participation in acts of violence, terrorism, xenophobia and all forms of discrimination. Despite the important role young people have in various levels of society, including peacebuilding, they have been on the margins of policy attention. Yet, as much as people are outraged at the attack on Brussels-and rightly so-and are demanding answers, the solution has been in front of them all longer: engage the youth.
Placing youth empowerment at the core of all peace-building and development goals is essential. And although it may sound obvious, this aspect sometimes gets overlooked. Young people's leadership and roles in preventing and resolving conflict, violence and extremism are rich resources fundamental to achieving sustainable peace that is currently untapped. Youth can no longer be regarded only as a beneficiary or a target stakeholder group. We need to create the space, the trust and an enabling environment with and for young people. Young people must be given the opportunity to partner with the UN, governments, and civil society organizations, and to work hand in hand in the process towards peace.
Analyzing the social and political implications of this terror attack, like all the others, will only take us so far. Real remedies must include direct involvement with actors that can impact radicalism on the ground: young people. This not only includes governments in the Europe and North America, but authorities all around the world. Countries like Turkey and Somalia, and others that recently experienced acts of terrorism, need to be especially vigilant and attentive towards their youth.
Moving forward, a new dialogue on effective and localized solutions must be realized. These conversations must engage and empower young people to maximize their potential as agents of positive change.