Since 2000, the issue of violent extremism has risen to the highest levels of national, regional, and global concern. While prevention is generally pursued through coercive hard power such as military-dominated peace support operations and surveillance, this has proven effective only to a certain extent. It has also come at a high cost, both financially and in terms of human lives.
Preventing violent extremism calls for a comprehensive approach which includes engaging with non-official actors, such as youth and women, and using soft power, for example: working through religious leaders, faith based organizations, and interfaith organizations. In this regard, the Interfaith Dialogue on Violent Extremism (iDove) project is a recent initiative being conducted by youth from Africa and Europe, which uses faith-based mechanisms to prevent radicalization and violent extremism. It is supported by Addis Ababa University’s Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS), the African Union (AU), and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), a German development agency.
The aim of the iDove program is to create a transcontinental platform that brings together youth and other stakeholders from Africa and Europe to deliberate and come up with relevant recommendations on how to prevent violent extremism.
In February 2017, a select group of African and European youth gathered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the first iDove youth forum. As outlined in the media advisory, some key objectives of the meeting were:
- To develop a strategy for the iDove project “based on principles and methods of interfaith dialogue on preventing violent extremism and de-radicalization;”
- To develop “concepts and mechanisms to support small-scale, youth-run projects to be implemented in Africa and Europe;
- To design “plans for a monitoring and evaluation system to monitor the implementation of the small-scale projects,” and for follow up meetings annually.
iDove targets violent extremism committed on both continents in the name of religion or nationalist ideologies. In an effort to bring these issues to light, the organizers invited de-radicalized former extremists to attend the February meeting: one from Africa and one from Europe. The first was Dr. Nageh Ibrahim, a former leader of Egypt’s Islamic Jihad, who spent twenty-four years in prison for his role in assassinating former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981, and who has since transformed into a staunch peace advocate in the name of Islam. The second was Robert Orell, a former white supremacist from Sweden, who also transformed over the years to become a strong voice for peaceful coexistence across national, racial, and religious lines. Their presence at the forum provided depth and substance to the possibilities for peace within and between religions, and other ideologies.
The meeting included youth from Africa and Europe between the ages of twenty and thirty-five, who had demonstrated interest in interfaith dialogue, de-radicalization, and preventing violent extremism. Many of them had had previously developed or participated in such projects, or conducted formal research on these topics. Forty youth were chosen from more than 4,000 applications received, with gender balance and geographic diversity being a priority.
iDove embraced the principle: “putting youth in the driver’s seat!” As such, the formulation of plans, their implementation, and the development and use of media were all conducted by the youth. The older iDove organizers played a supporting role, while the youth generated ideas for small-scale community media projects to prevent violent extremism in their own communities.
The vision and knowledge expressed by young people during the forum reflected their better understanding of how to win over the hearts and minds of youth in both continents, using tools and methods that were more effective than any that would have been developed by older generations working alone. Thus, iDove diverges significantly from the tried and failed approach of simply inviting youth to meetings and forums as passive learners and obedient audience members.
As youth during the forum actively engaged one another, a collective iDove identity quickly formed across religions, nationalities, and continents. The iDovers continue to actively interact on social media and several of them are currently working on small-scale projects, which range in terms of their target audience, techniques, and end goals. All of them aspire to reduce the incidence of violent extremism in their communities using interfaith modalities.
It is hoped that by persistently putting youth in the driver’s seat, we will see positive results not only in preventing violent extremism using interfaith processes, but also by building new and growing alliances between youth in Africa, Europe, and other continents. A meeting is scheduled for before the end of 2017, which will bring these youths back together to share their efforts and results. By sharing their work and success with others, it is hoped that the sustainability and replication of such projects will expand the impact of iDove.