What would you do if someone you know started spouting extremist beliefs? What if you heard them expressing more and more radical political or religious positions? They might not necessarily be advocating violence, or downloading bomb-making instructions onto their smartphone, but what if you thought they might be taking steps down that path (or encouraging others to do so)?

Do you talk to them? Should you tell a teacher or somebody in authority? Should you argue with them, or should you cut them off and ignore them? If they are inciting violence, then the answer might seem obvious – but what if they are just pushing the boundaries? And how do you decide which beliefs are ‘extremist’?

Roughly 5,000 foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria are European citizens. Most of them are in their twenties, and 3 out of 4 were encouraged to join violent extremist groups by their friends and peers. Sociologists argue that young people indoctrinated into extremist beliefs are often motivated by more than just ideology; other factors, such as belonging to a friendship group, are sometimes more important.

Want to learn more about some of the measures being taken to prevent the radicalisation of young Europeans? Check out our infographic below (click for a bigger version):


Is there anything young people themselves can do to stop radicalisation among their peers? To get a response, we spoke to Professor Lynn Davies from the Centre for International Education and Research (CIER) at the University of Birmingham in the UK. Professor Davies has written numerous books and articles about education and extremism, and works with young people to counter violent radicalisation in the classroom.

Professor Davies argues that young people should be encouraged to talk about extremist attitudes, and should develop the skills to debate and argue with these positions:

DaviesI think young people can play a part in countering extremism. It’s always going to be small-scale, but the training that we’re doing with young people is training in debating, argument, discussion, and developing a voice in the community and their school. And, very swiftly I think you can enable young people to have a voice, to state it, and to work for non-violent change.

So, it’s having the skills to campaign in a non-violent way to think about the changes that you want to make in your community. That way you’re enabling young people to meet those challenges. You can do that directly, or indirectly. There is some interesting work with young people making films about propaganda, for example. Or, as another example, we’ve been interviewing former extremists and making films about their experiences…

We had a comment sent in from Fernanda, arguing that young people can often feel trapped between two worlds. He experience is as a Portuguese child growing up in France, and she said there was a deep conflict between the values she learned from her family and the values she learned from school. The values she learned from school weren’t accepted at home, and her family values weren’t accepted at school, so she struggled to reconcile the two.

Is there an answer for how to help children caught between these competing systems of values, for example the values of their peers and the values they are taught by the society in which they live?

DaviesFernanda, I would say this is such an important area, and schools can do things. This is very common, not just in your experience, but across areas of migration, immigration, young people coming into a country and being, as you said, caught between two or more sets of values. The sort of work that I’m interested in is what’s called ‘value complexity’, and that’s working with young people to understand alternative values. You start with a controversial topic, and you discuss all the different value positions you could take around that, so that young people, and teachers and schools, are aware that there’s always more than one way of looking at something.

You need to put that with some sort of basis. It’s not about saying that all values are equally good and you just have to accept everything. That’s not helpful. But if you use something like a human rights base, then you can decide when it’s important to stick to a particular value and when it’s not, when you can simply agree to differ, accept diversity, accept different views. But she must accept there are a range of values, and decide what needs upholding, and what is okay to be changed.

Finally, we had a comment sent in from LG, arguing that the best way to prevent religious extremism in particular is to stop sending children to religious schools at a very early age. Should religious schools be banned?

DaviesIt’s a very difficult one. My view is that, in a plural society we probably have to permit religious schools but they should not be funded by the state… I do agree that segregated religious schools are one of the barriers to inclusion and integration. I think that religious schools, if they are permitted to exist, should be very, very closely monitored, scrutinised, and inspected, to ensure that the curriculum that’s in those schools is open, enabling a multiplicity of world-views and an appreciation of other religions and of secularism.

My great worry about some religious schools is that they don’t understand the need for a secular government, and they think equate secularism with atheism, and believe it is something to be ruled out. But I don’t think you can ban religious schools… They’re going to be there, but I think it’s about monitoring them and working with teachers to make them as open and flexible as you can make them.

What should young people do if their friends express extremist beliefs? Is there anything young people themselves can do to stop radicalisation among their peer groups? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Gavin Lynn

44 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

    • avatar

      as a young Jordanian who might face this problem any day, any time, the very first thing to do is to talk them through the situation, try to make them realize that the idea is not that bright nor smart, but its more dark and might be just a small inter-social matter, they need to fill up their time with more activities, then to inform someone who is close to them with this, to try to help, if necessary, you must inform the authorities on any suspicious behavior, e.g. if they booked a flight to Lebanon or Iraq! but the most important thing is to make him/her realize that they have people who loves them and care about them, and that they are not alone.

  1. avatar
    Rozalija Baricevic

    I would debate about the causes and consequences. That way I could learn more about the society we both live in.

  2. avatar
    Claudio Bartoletti

    why is it that i get a feeling that this could be a posting to get information about a person posting his comments, well i have no hidden agenda, firstly i would not have any problem him or her expressing their point of view on political issues in a negative form of manner, there are many politicians i dislike as is the case with every other person on this globe, however if the friend were to go fanatical and entice terrorism or such acts firsttly he would not be a friend of mine, secondly i would point this out to the relevant authoroties and let them handle it.

  3. avatar

    It think that most of these problems derive from cultural believes due to poverty, analphabetism that in many countries are involved. Only fighting social inequalities it’s possible to eradicate these problems both in the poor and rich countries

  4. avatar
    James McManama

    Honestly, I would stop talking to him – s/he would no longer be a “friend”. I should probably argue and try to convince the other person, but it’s so exhausting (especially if they’ve started on the conspiracy theories). Feels like banging your head against a brick wall.

  5. avatar
    Georgi Krestanov

    The truly extremist are the politics – whit Merkel ahead – dictators – who dont care what people think

  6. avatar
    Julia Hadjikyriacou

    You answered your own question. Article quote: “If they are inciting violence, then the answer might seem obvious – but what if they are just pushing the boundaries?” Freedom to push boundaries is a fundamental human right to freedom of choice and speech. Choosing to harm violates the fundamental human right to life and happiness. Is the EU seriously considering going there? Do you really want the EU to break apart by oppressing the people who in turn will hate you and refuse to be a part of the EU?

  7. avatar
    Bódis Kata

    The European Parliament had supported right extremist groups (neonazis) with almost 600.000 euros in 2015-16.
    The EP still has a leftist majority, my guess is that they want to make sure there are enough neonazis around causing trouble to scare ppl into reelecting the left.

  8. avatar
    Elie Awad

    I question how u call people extremist ,many voices rise in europe against the islamisation of Europe and the weakness of the european leaders but they call them extremist even if they are not ……..

    • avatar

      It might get a bit lonely for you – do you need a hug?

  9. avatar
    Francesco Haag Bellini

    I can handshake him! Is understandable why became so. Society was placed in extreme instability by the EU government. This is just the beginning of obvious reaction…

  10. avatar

    What would you do if your friend became an extremist?

    I just might do nothing and let it be. Eventually, he or she will pay the price for their decisions.

  11. avatar
    Denise Nash

    Imagine being a friend of this? Hahaha oh dear poor man must have lost his job bored baaaaawwwwwweew

  12. avatar
    Denise Nash

    Makers of your own demise if you leave . You can trade with aliens cos the worlds laughing at you

  13. avatar

    Well if he looks like the guy in the picture I would probably join him . looks like hes going to an England match .
    I don’t have any Muslim friends so the likelihood of one of them becoming an extremist is pretty low so unless the golf club suddenly start putting drugs in the beer I think I’m on pretty safe ground .
    To answer the question directly though , I would give plod the nod .

  14. avatar
    Faddi Zsolt

    What is extremism? According to the contemporary European thinking extremism is everything what is not liberal. Only a Sith can think so. According to the Sith EU directives i am an extremist and I have many extremist friends.

    • avatar
      EU reform- proactive

      Good day & thank you for your kind invitation.

      The original question is based, restricted & reduced to a personal level, which is (normally) a private & confidential affair between friends & not for public consumption.

      If (paid) politicians would like to hear opinions & receive inputs from citizens- politicians should first come forward with political guidance & a framework- which has to be complaint to many other laws- not be the last ones, or “hide” behind citizens!

      Let’s hear politicians input first about possible legislation or additional condition when screening or restricting immigrants from specially Muslim countries as defined by the “Cairo Declaration” (CDHRI) – which materially deviates from “The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union”.

      Once the EU has taken an official stand & gave leadership on such issue- one can thereafter involve citizens in more serious discussions. We are not legislators having all the “tools” which normally are provided to politicians!


      I suggest & support a process to hear FIRST proposals from politicians. It has the advantage that citizens can gauge their good judgment & wisdom- not the other way around!

  15. avatar
    Isabelle Ancelet

    I will slang him, I will denounce him to his friends and relatives, I will take him his work, his house, his wife, his car and his dog, but also, I will show him how the life is beautiful when people like you, when you leave in peace with the others and when you respect the right to be glad. If after all of that, he always does not understand, I will send him away, because If I do not make that, he would be able to become a meurderer.

  16. avatar
    catherine benning

    Any friend who is secretly an extremist would not tell you or let you know as they would know ‘you’ well enough to be aware of what you may do should you find out.

    Family and friends who are close know full well who are likely extremists as they would have already divulged their desire to be a martyr. No matter what they tell you. Parents praise and adore their martyrs and are not ever going to fess up to it as that may end with them deported or jailed.

    It is a community of deception with good reason.

  17. avatar

    You mean like an europhile?? Europhilia has no known cure.. Yes the only help an europhile can get is a dose of democracy and freedom. This can help but has an unusual side effect , the europhile will ignor the people whom are trying to help and he will become uncontrollably complacent,not a good thing..
    The cure for europhilia is far away , but the desease is under control..!

  18. avatar

    We spend so much time putting people in boxes -We should condemn and fight extremism but parallel maybe sit back and re-examine the roots of what would lead a friend to become an extremist -I’m not making excuses but “hurting people often hurt other people as a result of their own pain. If a friend becomes an extremist , you can almost be certain that they have some unresolved issues inside. They have some major problems, anger, resentment, or some heartache they are trying to cope with or overcome. The last thing they need is for you (friend)to make matters worse by responding angrily -calling them names-I strongly believe your attitude as a friend could determine your friends chances of staying as an extremist or not -Relationships are very important for our accomplishments as a country’s,society or individual-Some of our challenges today need no military’s -rather a simple every man desicion –bringing out the best in people-Building People -empowering others-

  19. avatar
    eusebio manuel vestias pecurto

    The end extremism in European Union in the United States

  20. avatar
    Philip M.

    Hi. What I would do: engage with the person and try and show them their error and if they wouldn’t listen then I’d take someone with me and we’d both speak to the person and if they still didn’t listen then I’d make the problem known to the wider community. This answer I gave is in the Bible Scripture from over two-thousand years ago. It is a pity that so many people are uneducated in the very teachings that helped make much of the world a more compassionate place to exist. I’d suggest to said-person that they consider instead finding true peace in the loving God – who God really is – read about in the New Testament as opposed to fundamentalist ideologies or surface-level atheistic agendas. And I’d invite them along to some happy event or other in order to help them engage with joyful people so that they too could see that true happiness and community living is possible for anyone and everyone. Thanks.

  21. avatar
    Stupid is as stupid does

    If he is unable to listen to reason and comprehend being a decent human, it’s his life, let him fuck it up. Cut contact before he does something really stupid.

    One cannot reason with fanatics.

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