Identifying radicals: The four types of youth attracted to extremism
A volunteer outreach worker who aims to keep young people away from the allure of radicalization says there are essentially four types of youth who turn to religious extremism.
Kamran Bhatti says youth who become attracted to terrorist groups often start out as kids with common gripes against society who turn to extremism as a solution. He says identifying the early signs of radicalization is crucial to protecting them from extremism.
In the last week, four young Canadians have reportedly died while fighting for ISIS in Syria. They included 24-year-old John Maguire, a former University of Ottawa student who appeared in a video posted online last December encouraging attacks on Canadian soil, as well as three Somali-Canadian cousins from Edmonton who left for the Middle East in 2013.
Bhatti runs a youth empowerment program through a not-for-profit organization called North American Spiritual Revival. The program encourages young Muslims to work for change and peace and encourages volunteer work.
While the program is aimed at all youth, Bhatti finds that a lot of parents refer their kids to his program when they appear to be attracted to extremist views.
"What we've found over the years is that the program has helped to shift the thought trajectories of youth who were headed down the path of radical thought," he told CTV's Canada AM from Hamilton, Ont.
Bhatti has found that there are essentially four types of youth who are at risk of radicalization:
1) The mentally ill - The first category includes is people with mental health or addiction issues who become obsessed with Islam. This group would include Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, the man who shot a soldier on the steps of the Canadian War Memorial in Ottawa and then stormed the Parliament buildings. Bhatti says such individuals often need more that what his program can offer; they need to be treated by health care professionals.
2) The "flavour of the month" extremist - The second category comprises people who are drawn to extremism of any form. These people are often former anarchists, neo-Nazis, or environmentalist extremists, who are concerned with fighting the power – whatever that power might be. Bhatti says these people often try to convert to Islam because it's the new "flavour of the month." Typically, these youth lose interest in Islam after a little while and move on quickly.
3) The religious zealot - The third type is the religious zealot who believes that jihadism is required by their faith, and that they may need to die for their cause. Bhatti says these people have been more or less brainwashed and have adopted an “us vs. them” mentality. These youth are usually the farthest down the road to radicalization.
"For individuals like this, there is often nothing we can do and we require RCMP and law enforcement to do their jobs," says Bhatti.
4) The disgruntled youth - The fourth type is one that Bhatti most commonly deals with: youth who are frustrated with society and have an axe to grind. These kids are often immigrants who aren’t adapting to their new culture well, who have an employment grievance, or who are upset over something going on at home. These kids often become focused on injustices in the world in places such as Syria or Israel and begin to believe that violence is the best response, he says.
Bhatti says his program encourages these youth to channel their anger into creating change in their own communities.
"What we do with youth like that is we acknowledge that these grievances are valid. But what we try to steer them toward is the positive way to express that grievance. It's not through violence," he says.
The NASR program offers training on how to lobby government agencies for specific change and how to put across a positive message through the media.
The program's service model includes doing volunteer work, such as working for food pantries, handing out winter clothes to the homeless, and collecting food donations during Ramadan to give to the needy.
"The idea is we train them with practical life skills, plus we'll give them the opportunity to offer service and to have ownership of their community," says Bhatti.