Tuesday, July 3, 2018

"Counter-radicalization; conversations that work- observations by Sri Lanka Unites"

     SLU at the “International Conference on Trends in Youth Radicalization in South Asia” 

In June this year, Sri Lanka Unites was honored to be given an opportunity to share lessons learnt from our work with youth peace building at the
“ International Conference on Trends in Youth Radicalization in South Asia”  organized by the Regional Center for Strategic Studies (RCSS) and Global partnership for the prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC). We thank RCSS, GPPAC and especially UNOY (United Network for Young Peace-builders) for giving us a platform to share our learnings.

Since the conference was on tends in youth radicalization, the following points were presented by Neluni Tillekeratne, Co-National Director of Sri Lanka Unites at this event as comments to support the conversation. The points which were raised on behalf of SLU at the event are elaborated in this blogpost.


Upon understanding reasons for youth radicalization, SLU tried and tested three catalysts for reconciliation.

The transformative process of a racist student is one which we have been studying for a while now, and we have invested a lot of time understanding what it really takes for a young person to reconcile along ethnic and religious lines. In Sri Lanka where the war ravaged across the country for three decades, it is not surprising that Reconciliation does not happen overnight. Based on our experience, there are numerous factors that we must be cautious about when designing modules on peace building for young people.

The following are three factors that facilitate counter-radicalization. Young people are less prone to be radicalized when the following three factors are experienced and understood 

1.      Closure through forgiving and being forgiven
It is extremely important for SLU to share this belief of ours with everyone because we do believe that forgiveness should be mainstreamed as a crucial pillar of youth reconciliation. SLU has been practicing this approach since 2007 and it is by far one of the most powerful turning points in a young person’s journey towards healing and reconciliation. In our experience, we see that forgiving another community for what they have done to your community, while simultaneously asking forgiveness for what your community has done to theirs in the past gives young people new hope and a blank slate to start with. Its easier said that done, requiring hours of very deep, reflective, emotional conversations, but it is possible.  SLU facilitates these conversations at events throughout the year.

In the context of Sinhalese and Tamil youth, after the war, we observed observed that the act of forgiveness becomes some sort of a “truce”, that the older generation failed to come to. However, the inclusion of forgiveness in as an approach to reconciliation does not by any means undervalue or ignore the need for conversations on justice, unanswered questions or addressing on-going grievances. Forgiveness is observed as a means of merging two groups of young people into agreement, giving them a platform off which they could launch to take up each others causes and do what they can to correct the faults and mistakes of the previous generation.

2.      The next most important factor is for young people is to understand the manner in which identity politics fuels conflict
We have observed that a vast majority of young people urgently need to learn how to read politics better and to understand for themselves, of the spill over of politics into religious and ethnic conflict.  We explain to young people how many atrocities and injustices in the past are rooted in the power struggles of politicians and not in the genuine hate of one community towards, another. This is also where we bring in an element if inter-generational dialogue where the older community explains the history of our conflict, by analyzing the role of politicians in brewing it. When young people come to understand the role of political influence in politics, it allows them to breakdown stereo types and prejudices that they hold against an entire group of people just because they mistrust politicians who represent this group.
(Original cartoonist unknown)

3.      The third factor is when they envision a future together and see the possibilities of shared economic prosperity

Reconciliation among youth is extremely different to how older people reconcile, based on our observations in Sri Lanka. We believe, the older generations looks at memorialization and the need for justice as a core-requirement for reconciliation while youth, especially the vast majority in rural areas, seek the assurance of security as they move into the future They question if their counter parts of the same age, of other ethnic/religious groups, could ensure and promise to never allow Sri Lanka to go back into a dark era of conflict We do believe that young people want to trust other young people, and this trust is where hope stems from. 

Racist young people of all religious and ethnic groups share their believes with us. Racist students fear that they are in competition with other racial/religious groups for economic success. They find reason to block the economic prosperity of others given their own insecurities for the future. The rising cost of living in Sri Lanka fuels young people, who in many instances are bread winners for their families, to find someone to blame. Politicians allow the blame to be transferred to other groups instead of to the government.  

When SLU was faced with this question, we tested out envisioning activities. After many years, we confirm that when young people envision a future where all proper and thrive, they are far less prone to radicalization. Once we show them the possibilities of a future with shared prosperity and encourage different groups to prosper by working together instead of against each other, their hope is renewed.

Written by
Neluni Tillekeratne
Co-National Director
June 2018

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