Radicalization is a serious problem with no one clear solution. As radicalization is a spectrum which continuously shifts with exposure to different content, ideologies or charismatic people, it’s a problem which can affect anyone. Nowadays, when the word radical is brought up, most immediately associate it with Islam, yet it’s important to remember that religious as well as political radicalization are universal problems which can be relevant to any member of society.
Scholars and radicalization experts agree that dealing with the growing issue of radicalization must be done from a prevention perspective. Radicalized individuals and extremists are much harder to work with in comparison to misguided youth. It’s therefore crucial to focus efforts on preventive measures and not on de-radicalizing measures which may prove ineffective.
Why Radicalization Prevention?
Effective radicalization prevention programs do not assume that the participants are radicals or in need of being corrected. Therefore, any participant can benefit from joining them, regardless of where they are positioned on the radicalization scale. The focus, instead, is on education, inspiration and motivation. The aim is to offer powerful alternative beliefs and answers as well as to evoke positive emotions which can replace any possible negative ones. This can feel a slowly growing void which, when unattended, can be filled with radical ideas provided from the internet, charismatic extremist leaders or other misguided individuals.
Radicalization Prevention through sports
One proven method, which is now used across Europe to prevent radicalization is sports. In many ways, team-based sports offer an alternative to what a potentially radical individual might be looking for. The main alternative offered by team sports is a positive group identity. In a team, everyone has a role and no one is left out. One’s background, education or past experiences do not matter at all, only a commitment to the team efforts. Being a member of a sports team provides a sense of purpose, a sense of belonging and a sense of being part of something greater with a worthwhile goal. Moreover, sports naturally involve physical activity which is proven to improve one’s mental health. The energy, which was once used to produce negative thoughts and emotions of anger, hate and resentment are now utilized elsewhere, for a positive purpose. Lastly, team sports often involve having a coach, an authority figure with valuable experience and a desire to make each team member better. It’s a person everyone can look up to knowing that they have the team’s best interest in mind.
Not In God’s Name’s programs as the perfect solution
The principles of radicalization prevention through sports are deeply rooted in the programs and projects produced by Not In God’s Name. Naturally, each project is different in its structure and therefore focuses on different aspects. For instance, NIGN’s school visits focus on meeting renowned role models who openly share their own stories. Regardless of their background, participants can find great inspiration in the dedication, hardwork and perseverance of these athletes. Throughout the visit, the class can interact, ask questions and receive answers which they may have never heard before. If before the school visit participants saw themselves as victims of the system or of the exclusive society, they now see a way for them to create their own path and rely on their own abilities.
The NIGN training programs, however, are more similar to the team sports principles mentioned above. Participants get to work out together (crossfit style), learn techniques directly from famous champion athletes and work in pairs with other participants whom they may not know. In between sessions of physical activity, the role models stop to have conversations about success, failure, motivation, religion and various other highly important topics. Slightly tired physically and mentally, the participants are more open and less resistant to the new ideas and are more curious to hear more. The workouts create a bond between them and the role model and the lessons they learn provides them with a new toolkit to success.
With a strong conviction that they are able to succeed, extreme ideologies cannot easily penetrate their minds. Confidence, motivation and hope create a strong resistance to violence, anger or fear and instead enable achieving success and becoming a contributing member of society.