We've interviewed Finnish experts on extremism, deradicalisation and resilience and gathered their thoughts about the best ways forward in order to prevent youth radicalisation.
On extremism and resilience
Soili Poijula is a licensed psychologist and psychotherapist. Our research assistant Essi Fonselius interviewed Soili in the summer of 2020.
Essi Fonselius: What is resilience and in what situations can it be useful?
Soili Poijula: Resilience is at least flexibility, sustainability and learning from experience. They are perhaps the most important factors in resilience. Resilience can be useful in sudden events and changes, but it can also be useful in challenging stages of life. There has been a growing interest in resilience and research at the level of the individual, family, work communities, organizations, and states as well. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, the word resilience has exploded. The phenomenon of resilience found in scientific research now and it seems to be giving people hope for how to cope positively in completely new situations.
EF: What are the things that affect the resilience of individuals and how does resilience develop?
SP: The resilience of an individual is affected by heredity and environment. Individual resilience factors range from genetic, physiological, and neurophysiological factors to stress tolerance and emotional regulation. Resilience skills develop from experiences such as the regulation of emotions, which develops in interaction with other people, ie the environment is more important than inheritance. That is what we think at the moment, at least.
Resilience development is a process, i.e. lessons are usually learned from experience if there are means and also support and help to cope with the challenges encountered. Individual resilience is affected by individual characteristics, personality traits, and learned skills, but resilience always requires an environment as well; that the child has at least one caring adult or an adult that can be called upon in the event of a problem or emergency. The environment that builds resilience includes a safe society and a high-quality school system - as fortunately in Finland. People, interaction, and networks are important in the development of resilience. It is important that a person belongs to a family and his or her own community and that he or she has good relationships with people of all ages and the skills to interact and interact with people of different ages. In general, resilience is affected by individual characteristics and environmental factors, both tangible and intangible.
EF: How can resilience be developed, especially in young people?
SP: For example, the resilience strengthening program for children and youth developed by Martin Seligman has a lot to do with strengthening emotional intelligence, social skills, morals, virtues, and human strengths identified as resilience factors. Developing resilience requires a great deal of disciplined practice, meaning that self-efficacy is strengthened when a person himself does things through which he learns skills that help him to survive and even succeed. The important thing is that there is someone who guides and shows a pattern on how to act and survive and encourage success. Resilience includes inward control, a sense of self-resilience, and of course, the ability to trust other people and ask for help and not as if you are alone in surviving here in life.
EF: How do different negative or traumatic events affect young people and how could young people be helped to cope with them?
SP: They are always more affected by the more traumatic events, losses and negative life events an individual has to face such as the so-called There have been reports of ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences -Study) studies. Finland has only recently become aware of this and is beginning to develop a trauma and resilience-aware approach in education, teaching and services for children and young people. The cumulative effect of events is always greater than the individual events themselves. It is said that in adolescence one problem is overcome by the young and that adolescence does not necessarily become a crisis for everyone. But if you accumulate more trauma, loss, negative life events, there is always a higher risk of a crisis or mental, social or physical health disorder. Accumulation as a risk factor In the United States, for example, it has been reported that a juvenile offender convicted for the first time in life history has at least six major traumas. In a way, it says that not anyone around but ends up on the path of crime, for example, but that it is more likely if there are a lot of negative events in life and a lack of security and care.
A variety of factors are needed to help young people. In general, however, the core issue, according to the young people themselves, is that when an adult would have noticed and intervened, cared. It would be necessary as someone who stops, asks, notices, cares and asks again. In general, even young people who are in very great difficulty are helped to cope by having memories of good adults who have provided them with security or clearly cared for them. This becomes apparent repeatedly when working with young people. But, of course, there are many other factors besides the fact that adults have a responsibility and an opportunity to help young people. For developmentally young people, peers are uniquely important. The more friends you rely on, the fewer adults you trust. Of course, it’s pretty crucial whether a young person gets good or bad influences from their friends and circle of friends - and whether he or she can’t internalize bad influences. Coping is affected by developing hobbies, being a skill that increases self-efficacy, and being socially popular and liked. Hobbies and belonging to a group support a child and a young person, even if he or she has great difficulties in his or her life; can protect pretty much when there is someone to hold on to and something to develop purposefully, alongside positive relationships.
Heikki Mikkola is an expert on (anti) violence and has worked as a project manager for the Radinet project. The RADINET project (2016-2018) developed an organization-based, nationwide model for supporting radicalized individuals who want to break free from violent extremist thinking and action. Our research assistant Essi Fonselius interviewed Heikki in the summer of 2020.
Essi Fonselius: What factors have led people to join various extremist movements?
Heikki Mikkola: There is no single and clear profile, but if we talk about these young people who were in love with some extremist movement, there was often a background of school bullying. Bullying is not the only explanatory factor, but it is nevertheless a sensitive place if one cannot find one’s own social group and then there is a risk of falling in love with such movements. After all, extremist movements are happy to take all kinds of people with them and promise support and security, which in practice it is not, if you ask what it was like to be in motion. It has a fertile ground when one goes to a lonely person to promise anything between earth and sky. Most also had the reason that they had studied these worlds of ideas in depth and had a certain kind of fascination in that direction. School bullying is certainly not the only factor, but there were also those who had a social circle, but those districts engaged in these extremism. Social deprivation also does not, in my opinion, explain joining extremism, but involved people from so-called good families and, if we talk about adults, well-off people.
EF: What are the factors that have led people to want to break away from extremism?
HM: Almost as a rule, whether you are involved in the far right or a religious extremist movement, they are disappointed with the ways in which they were originally promised. These organizations are like cult movements, where the word of leaders is absolute and must be blindly followed. They also involve measures of violence that need to be taken and do not fit into everyone’s world of thought. Many have said that they were tired of that activity, they felt it was somehow intellectually poor and had started to process things again and think. There was such spiritual growth.
EF: What kind of process is disengagement from extremism and what kind of support do people need for it?
HM: It’s a demanding process. I have always stressed that joining the extremist movement is easy, almost behind the one-click Internet. But then once you join, there are very absolute rules and if you decide to resign, then the resigning person can be subjected to violent measures in favor of the movement. This, in turn, causes some of the resigners to have had to relocate. There are even cases where the divorce has had to seek police protection and a new identity. Many who have been involved in extremism 24/7 have also become detached from normal life. Many do not have housing, many have missed education, have not applied for a profession and may not have social security. Their so-called network of friends has also been made up of these extremist people, so they are often left alone and have no social network after leaving the movement. Radinet's work also provided mainly intellectual support, and in some cases people were involved, for example, helping to apply for a training place, going to the office and so on. There is no one formula for helping, but that spiritual support was probably the most important part of it. It was important to support them once they had made that decision and to be involved along the way in supporting them.
EF: How should people who are not yet radicalized but who show an interest in a particular extremist ideology or movement be helped?
HM: We had quite a few of these people, let’s talk about minors. We had young people between the ages of 14 and 16 who were concerned, mostly carers, but could also be, for example, a youth worker or someone who had an employment relationship with a young person. They contacted us and then arranged a time for the office. These young people most often came with a guardian or guardians and had a world of ideas that they had fallen in love with. We had a discussion about that world of ideas. Even the employee had to be aware of those worlds of ideas and be familiar with them on some level in order to be able to challenge and question that thinking. This challenge of thinking was one way, but there were also concrete things. For example, day trips were made with the young man. It was discussed what other hobbies the young person has and someone said that he is interested in fishing, for example. Then we took part in small-scale excursions to come up with other content for that thinking.
Elise Sailas is a consulting psychologist for language and cultural groups in the city of Vantaa and regularly works at two schools as a school psychologist. Essi Fonselius, our research assistant, interviewed Elise in the summer of 2020.
Essi Fonselius: Are polarization, radicalization or similar phenomena visible in schools?
Elise Sailas: I work on the side of basic education, so there shows up to some extent. When you think about the age of young people in primary education, these phenomena are probably more clearly seen in secondary school, but yes, there is such black-and-white thinking in the speeches of high school students as well. There have also been a few cases of violent radicalism, but they may not have gone as far as violence or the threat of violence, but there has been some visible thinking about it.
EF: Are such phenomena being discussed in schools?
ES: We have had student care training days for several years and there have been violent radicalization on several occasions. Teachers of history and social studies in particular have said that in their lessons students would be very keen to discuss these issues and teachers feel a certain inadequacy both in terms of time and in terms of how these issues should be addressed. But teachers have pointed out that there would be a great need to discuss these issues.
EF: Do you have any thoughts on how it would be good to discuss such things with young people?
ES: When you think about how multicultural the environment is in Vantaa and almost all the schools in Vantaa, I think it gives a really good starting point for such a discussion. Certainly a wide range of perspectives and opinions would emerge and authentic discussions would emerge, but that would require time and restraint as well as group management so that a wide range of opinions could emerge. I could imagine that in a situation like this, a single teacher might experience inadequacy and I think a pair of teachers working on these issues would be really good. The other thing, however, is whether there is a possibility for that.
EF: What challenges or concerns do young people have today?
ES: Very diverse. If we think of high school, then the students are adolescents, those in a sensitive stage of growth, who have their own turmoil and, in connection with that, black-and-white thinking much more than in later life. On the other hand, young people have a great need to reflect on their own thoughts and experiences with peers and adults. Efforts should be made to respond to this. I must also say that nowadays the performance pressures are quite high even in high school. The performance pressures that used to be in high school have now flowed into high school and students are really required to have a lot of self-reliance and independent study. There will be a feeling that students will be more clearly divided into who gets into high school and which high school, and then again at those who may, so to speak, give up when other secondary study options are not valued as much. When it comes to radicalization, black-and-white thinking, and whether a young person sees opportunities for themselves, I think the most important task of school staff, whether they are teachers or student care workers, is to maintain students ’hope. That even if the studies did not go well, even if they had become rude, it is nevertheless possible to cooperate and help the young person move forward.
EF: How do you recognize that a young person needs help or support?
ES: At school, students are under the watchful eye of adults all the time and can't really get into their own conditions during the school day, but of course adults don't get to know what students think and talk to, and there is social media of their kind. discussions. This is probably influenced by trust and how much the students themselves dare to speak and how much the students bring to the school staff the things they have seen and heard. In some schools, I think it works really well that students are confident that they can come and talk to school adults about worries about schoolmates, whether they’ve heard or seen something at school or in some conversations, and that’s how they get caught up in those things. In addition, it would be important to be able to investigate different conflict situations in peace, and when different conflict situations are explored, it is possible to find out which thinking patterns and motives cause and motivate that activity and not just focus on what has been done. At the same time, the student's self-reflection could develop and the better he / she understands his / her own behavior, the better he / she may understand other different action options. However, this takes time and restraint.
EF: How could the well-being of young people be better supported in schools?
ES: Performance pressures and performance targets are quite high in schools, a large number of things should be taught in a short period of time and different learners should be taken into account. I think there should be more time for interaction, along with both teachers and student care workers. In addition, collaboration is really important so that if a student is concerned, then teachers would come boldly to talk to the student care staff and then be able to think about those things together. Certainly there is no magic wand, but the interaction is in a significant part that everyone feels involved and can always come and talk to the adults in the school, whatever those worries were. It is also important to know where to get that help and support from outside the school. The school's resources are not always enough and then there are other parties with whom cooperation can take place.
Marjaana Martínez de Pinillo is an expert in the field of education and training in the city of Helsinki and she works as a trainer in the "I see, you see" program. Our research assistant Essi Fonselius interviewed Marjaana in the summer of 2020.
Essi Fonselius: Would you first tell me about the "I see, you see" program?
Marjaana Martínez de Pinillo: The "I see, you see" program was introduced in Finland in 2015. I have been involved since 2017 and at the moment I train instructors of the course and in the past I have been to different grade levels in schools to guide these courses. The structure of the "I see, you see" program includes six actual meetings, each built around some sort of storytelling structure, and the seventh time is a review. During the meetings, different skills are practiced, such as negotiation skills, active listening, emotion recognition, and these are tied to different topics. Among other things, we have topics related to social studies, such as responsible and ethical consumption. In addition, we have a municipal council exercise where, for example, we think about democracy skills. We also have one theme, justice, which considers, for example, how resources are distributed on the planet, what it can mean and how much it can affect its own situation. In addition, the course teaches team skills and uses voting as a democratic tool for resolving issues. We also have themes suitable for the mother tongue, such as, news, advertisements, source criticality and sometime.
We are currently testing the latest version of our program. We conduct an initial and final survey with research forms that include moral dilemmas, a Schwartz value meter, a cognitive empathy meter, and a resilience meter to collect information before and after the course. During the spring, we will also go to interview students, teachers and other staff.
EF: How can black and white thinking be prevented or combated?
MM: Black and white thinking is adaptive and a good thing, if you are getting under a car, for example, and have to act quickly, but as it becomes more common as a normal way of working, it can cause problems. For example, our course practices awareness of where black and white thinking has its roots and how it is a natural reaction. In addition, the course is used to identify emotions that may often lead to black and white behavior. On the other hand, we also have value-related exercises that aim to understand that people can interpret or say the same value in different ways. This helps us understand that we may have similar values, even though we have imagined that another person is the complete opposite of ourselves. In other words, through the expansion of the world of values and alternatives, as well as the identification of our own reactions, our program aims to see things from more different angles.
EF: By what means could the capacity for cooperation between young people be improved?
MM: Speaking on a general level, a good way to do this is to try to find something in common, and this is what we practice in our program through value and negotiation exercises and role-plays. These skills are then transferred to the real world, that is, if you feel that you are not getting along well with someone, then by what means can you find some common value base or, on the other hand, accept that such situations exist. All of our exercises support working together and I think that is the most important way this program can improve collaboration.
EF: What are the benefits of democracy education for young people?
MM: I think the most important thing is probably the experience of inclusion. Moreover, to realize that we can all have opportunities to influence both our own future and the affairs of society. Our program also teaches constructive ways to express opinions and thereby influence things. In addition to the experience of inclusion, it is important to note that everyone has a voice, not just the mainstream, and that a polyphonic society is possible.
EF: How could democracy skills be taught to young people?
MM: We’ve done it through stories and role-playing games like this that are taken to the societal level in the final discussion. For example, consider what decision-making is, how it happens, how things are negotiated and how to vote. The exercises in the program are kind of simulations.
EF: Why is it important for young people to learn such skills?
MM: I think it’s really important these days to be able to express yourself in a certain way if you’re even thinking about social media and what’s going on there. That’s where politicians might put something, which can have really long consequences, and that’s why it’s important to learn to express themselves constructively. These skills also prepare you for future studies and working life. Also in general, if we were not all so black and white, or at least recognized the situations in which, for example, we stereotyped people or things positively or negatively, then yes, it would promote general harmony in society. In addition, when the world is constantly changing and Finland is becoming much more culturally diverse than, for example, 30 years ago, I think it is really important to have a desire to understand other people's perspectives.
Veera Tuomala and Annukka Kurki are the project managers of the RadicalWeb project. RadicalWeb is a two-year project funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture, whose main target group is youth workers. The project will carry out a study focusing on online radicalization and the impact of the internet on radicalization. Our research assistant Essi Fonselius interviewed Veera and Annukka in the summer of 2020.
Essi Fonselius: How does extremist ideology or radicalization manifest itself in the online environment?
Veera Tuomala: The RadicalWeb study carried out last year focused only on Finnish-language online environments. In general, there was a noticeable phenomenon in which the network acts as a kind of echo chamber; there are people in different forums who think the same way and resonate with radical thoughts. There is a feeling that there would be a lot more people like this than there really is and that mindset would be mainstream.
Annukka Kurki: In this study, it was also pointed out that at present the content of jihadism related to Finland is not encountered very often. Security police and technology companies have taken tough action to move jihadist content behind encrypted pages. In 2019, researchers at the University of Helsinki, Leena Malkki and Matti Pohjonen, published a study entitled “Jihadist online communication and Finland”, which mapped jihadist online communication related to Finland. The study provides a good overview of the situation in Finland in terms of jihadist content.
EF: How does online extremism affect young people?
VT: Young people are really vulnerable when they are exposed to various influences online. When media literacy may not be available, it leads to an inability to distinguish fact from fiction or propaganda. For example, when a young person feels that there is no place to be or no friends, the situation can lead to the young person finding a group online that provides a much-needed chat club and social contacts. This is one influential factor in which a young person may get lost in extremist groups. For young people, the feeling of belonging is important. If it cannot be found at home or school, the situation is favorable for extremists. Extremists are looking for such people.
In the RadicalWeb project, youth workers play an important role as our target group, as they have extensive contact with young people. We have had a few consultations with youth workers and everyone has been heard that there is an unfortunate amount of such movement. Youth workers are concerned about the situation.
AK: Hate speech produced by extremist movements and experiencing it is harmful to any young person, even if the young person is not involved in extremist movements. If a young person is discriminated against and hate speech because of their ethnic background or religion, it can be very detrimental to the development of the young person’s identity and sense of belonging to society.
Violent radicalization is always a complex process and is influenced by a number of different psychological, social and societal factors. The experience and marginalization of individual or community discrimination have been studied as factors that can also lead to radicalization. Studies talk about pulling and pushing factors.
EF: How can young people be supported so that this doesn’t have such a big impact?
AK: In the RadicalWeb project, our target group is youth workers and we emphasize increasing the skills of youth workers in supporting young people. We are in a good position in Finland when different parties have trained different professional groups. For example, THL has training for social workers and hospital staff, the University of Helsinki and the National Board of Education have training for the education sector and we train youth workers. We work closely with each other, which is important in developing multi-professional cooperation.
Youth workers have a key role to play in preventing this phenomenon and supporting young people; they meet young people in their spare time on a very low threshold. Youth workers are closely involved in the daily lives and lives of young people. Indeed, a very confidential relationship often develops between a youth worker and a young person, and this helps to talk about difficult issues and resolve them together.
Through training, youth workers aim to increase their understanding and knowledge of violent radicalization and extremism as a phenomenon in Finland and around the world. It is important to understand how young people encounter the phenomenon both online and offline. The aim is for youth workers to be able to detect possible signs of radicalization or extremism and to be able to intervene in a timely and preventive manner.
In training, we place a lot of emphasis on speaking out. We have received feedback from training youth workers that extremism has been perceived as a difficult topic to talk to young people. For this, ways have been sought to discuss the matter with the young person without the young person experiencing a sense of condemnation.
In one training, youth workers pointed out that far-right movement has increased among their youth. These youth workers did not know how to raise the issue with young people in a mediating way without the young people feeling condemned. Youth workers feared that questioning and discussing the issue could even push young people toward extremism. Because of these challenges, we will place increasing emphasis on the “speak-up” method in our training and work with, for example, the Batch Break Foundation, which has developed a workable method of dialogue. I have personally been involved in the Erasmus + program in Youth Work For Resilience training that, where we have been learning how to use this method and I have experienced it easy and effective.
VT: I agree that it is important to ask and be curious, but not in any way blame. An understanding and neutral method of “speaking in” is important so as not to stigmatize the young person and push harder towards extremism. Youth workers are in a good position, as their work involves an essentially open and constructive dialogue with young people.
In 2016-2018, Oussama Yousfi worked at the Radinet project, which developed a model to prevent violent extremism and support individuals in the deradicalisation process. The Radinet project had about 80 clients from both political and religious extremist ideologies. Oussama is currently working on the EXIT project supporting deradicalisation launched by the Deaconess Institute in the summer of 2020. Our research assistant Essi Fonselius interviewed Oussama in the summer of 2020.
Essi Fonselius: What factors can increase the risk of radicalization, especially among young people?
Oussama Yousfi: Young people are the most susceptible to radicalization, but there is no single root cause for radicalization. One could say that the more vulnerabilities a person has, the greater the likelihood that they may become radicalized. Researchers talk about the pulling and pushing factors in radicalization. Factors that push people towards radicalization include experiences of discrimination, inequality, and injustice. Factors that drive extremist action and radical thoughts include, for example, glorifying an ideal state or wanting to belong to a group and be accepted. These issues are especially important for young people.
Uncertainty also contributes to radicalization. For example, most of those who left Finland for Syria were native Finns converted Muslims or second-generation immigrant youth, and many under 30 years of age. This change had taken place in their lives and did not receive the right kind of guidance or religious instruction. Nor did they have enough information about the political situation or local culture where they were going, nor about Islam. A really significant factor for them was that many of them had lived a not very religious life according to their own culture and after coming to faith, they wanted to make up for it and of course there are these recruiters on the internet who offer a shortcut to it. In other words, the lack of information is a major factor, and the same is really true of the far right and political radicalism. Especially when there were really many asylum seekers coming to Finland in 2013-2015 and they were involved in various possible crimes or threats when they came from these war and conflict areas, it increased fear and possibly bitterness among some young Finns. Many young people were outside society's services, for example, unemployed or homeless, and at the same time thirty asylum seekers came to Finland, all of whom found asylum, a daily allowance, a residence permit and so on. This was not the reality, but some media and far-right recruiters adopted such rhetoric. In other words, it was also due to uncertainty. These are the biggest factors in Finland, but they vary from country to country.
EF: Is it possible to identify the radicalization of a young person and, if so, from what factors?
OY: There is no one particular factor. For example, if the dress or behavior changes, then these factors can be addressed, but the surest way of all is to meet the person in the conversation and ask. Other common things that can be noticed by what both political and religious extremists do is that they try to separate people from their own inner circle and isolate them from their own support network. Many times a person who is getting radicalized spends less time with friends and family.
The deep fire of emotion towards these things is also one thing. People have a desire to share one of these thoughts as long as there is someone who listens impartially and does not judge or blame. Usually, these changes are noticed by people who have been in contact with the young person for a long time.
EF: How should young people be faced in situations like this?
OY: Usually, when a person gets radicalized or is getting radicalized, it’s about a person having a concern about something and wanting to influence it. However, the means have been confused in the way that violence and black and white thinking have come along. When a person is in such a situation and starts to seem to speak directly against that world of thought, the person quickly goes into a defensive position and does not open up. I think the most important thing is to make a connection, to keep in touch, and through that, to start building trust so that one can talk openly about those things. They can then be processed and possibly offered as alternatives. It is also important to neutralize that situation so that in the past other people have been in the same life situation and have survived it. Making connections, neutralizing the situation and building trust are important, and then you can start talking more about that ideology and doing change work.
Often a person who has belonged to an extremist movement is in an awkward life situation and outside of society. Even if it had not been so deeply in extremism, it has nevertheless affected human life. For this reason, helping a person with practical matters is important if, for example, they are homeless or without a job. This helps build and strengthen trust when a person sees that an employee or anyone who is now supporting is genuinely interested in things and helps rather than just talking.
EF: In what ways could radicalization be prevented?
OY: Prevention and its evaluation in connection with this theme is really difficult. Radicalization is a process and for everyone it starts a little differently, for example it may be more of an economic thing for one and an ideological or identity thing for another. But especially when it comes to preventive work that takes place before the radicalization process begins, then, in general, it is important to prevent polarization that there will be no such me-they confrontation. In addition to this, increasing knowledge about different cultures and religions is important. According to researchers, societies and countries with high levels of inequality and inequality and injustice are more prone to such extremes and black-and-white thinking. For this reason, it is important that young people have a similar equal and equal opportunity to grow, learn and realize themselves.
One important thing is also that young people should be heard, because these extremists offer the opportunity to be heard and to be important. If figuring out though, that the young write on Facebook or other social network migration contrary to the text and all of a sudden he has dozens or hundreds of likes or dozens of comments, so of course he knows that now I have come and I have heard important. Unfortunately, extremists do this and, for example, the far right currently has online recruiters in Finland. Especially since 2017-2018, it has been noticed that they have invested precisely in the recruitment of young people and even minors.
Prevention is a broad issue, but preventing inequality and increasing equality are important issues. It must also be very holistic, because this is a holistic matter and not just the task of the police or a particular authority, a particular organization or a religious community. This is also really influenced by journalists and decision-makers, for example, in the terminology used to talk about these phenomena in public. When decision-makers and the media use the terminology launched by extremist organizations, be they political or religious, they only reinforce that organization’s status and legitimacy. Then, when a young person hears that these organizations are being talked about in a certain way, it affects his or her perceptions of them.