Between October 18th and 21st, Rutgers University convened an international symposium, “Youth and the Allure of Terrorism: Identity, Recruitment and Public Diplomacy.” Sponsored by the Office of the New Brunswick Chancellor, Dr. Richard L. Edwards, on behalf of President Robert Barchi’s “First 100 Days Initiative of the Rutgers University Strategic Plan,” the symposium brought together internationally recognized religious leaders, academicians, and youth activists from around the world to discuss the conceptual, empirical and policy challenges in understanding the role of identity, gender, recruitment and political economy in the spread of terrorism in the contemporary world.
nvolving more than 60 participants and dozens of guests from the US and around the world, we knew that it would generate a tremendous amount of energy. Having attended many conference in which the enthusiasm dissipates soon after the participants return to their respective professional positions, we scheduled a Planning Session immediately following the close of the symposium. The outcome of the Planning Session was a multi-year project, “Youth and Combating Radical Extremism in the 21st Century.”
This was no ordinary academic conference. Rather than limiting ourselves to academics, we invited youth activists from a number of countries who are working against intolerance. We also invited Muslim, Jewish and Christian clerics and religious scholars to participate in an inter-faith dialogue.
The two part panel, which met Tuesday afternoon from 1 to 5 p.m., was entitled “Inter-Faith Roundtable on the Role of Religion in Combating Radical Extremism among Youth.”
All Roundtable participants agreed that religious leaders have failed to make religion relevant to large segments of the world’s youth. All decried the efforts of terrorist groups and many regimes in the Middle East to manipulate religion for sectarian ends which serve create instability and are designed to cover up state corruption, nepotism and the lack of social services.
The symposium also offered panels on identity issues which propel certain youth demographics to become attracted terrorist and radical extremist organizations such as Boko Haram and the so-called Islamic State (Dacsh), and a panel on recruitment which analyzed the patterns which characterize youth joining terrorist groups.
In light of the extremely repressive policies of terrorist organizations toward women, another panel examined the manner in which women are conceptualized and treated by such organizations. The brutality shown towards women, such as the Chibook female students in Nigeria and Yazidi and Christian women in Iraq and Syria, was the focus of a number of presentations. Panelists pointed to the lure of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking which terrorist groups use to recruit male fighters and the manner in which such groups generate dogma which they claim to be “Islamic” but which runs completely counter to the doctrine of Islam.
One of the themes emphasized in all three panels on identity, recruitment and the gender politics of terrorist organizations was the marginalization and insecurity felt by many male youth who join terrorist organizations and rarely include topics other than the sciences and math in their education. The lack of any encounter with the arts, social sciences or humanities fails to encourage any critical thinking.