Youth and Terrorism
The month of September always brings horrific memories of terrorist attack on September 11, 2001 when Islamic militants carried out suicide strikes on the twin towers of the World Trade in New York City. Notorious terrorist groups in Africa like Boko Haram of Nigeria and al-Shabaab of Somalia and al-Shabab militia of Mozambique have killed so many people, radicalized and recruited helpless young people and forced them to commit deplorable atrocities.
These terrorists carry out acts intended to cause death, bodily harm to civilians, “with the purpose to provoke a state of terror in the general public or in a group of persons or particular persons, intimidate a population or compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act” (UN Security Council Resolution 1566 (2004)). Saint John Paul ii in his address to young people, categorically states, “Terrorism is built on contempt for human life. For this reason, not only does it commit intolerable crimes, but because it resorts to terror as a political and military means it is itself a true crime against humanity” (Pope John Paul ii World Day of Peace 1 January 2002). Thus terrorism is an attack and a threat on human freedom, human dignity and human life. As such terrorism is morally reprehensible.
Types of terrorism
There are different types of terrorism. Some of them are: new terrorism like the September 11, 2001 aimed at mass destruction, state terrorism carried out by governments against perceived enemies, dissident terrorism carried out by non-state groups against governments or ethnic groups, religious or ideological terrorisms which is motivated by religious or ideological beliefs and gender-selective terrorism which targets a group of population like men or women and criminal terrorism motivated by the desire to make profit. With the advent of internet in place, terrorists are now exploiting modern technologies to recruit and radicalize young people. They also flight their propagandistic and extremist ideologies in order to incite acts of terrorism. Terrorist groups like Boko Haram and al-Shabaab are known of using the social media platforms to recruit young people, coordinate their operations and to raise funds for terrorist activities (ACCORD, Terrorism in Africa, June 24, 2019). Since many young people use social media, terrorist groups find it easy to reach out to them.
Consequences of terrorism on the youth
The consequences of terrorist attacks include: loss of human life, violation of human rights, destruction of economic infrastructure, sexual violence, displacement of families, migration and many others. Youth can suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Terrorism, like other forms of violence such as political violence and xenophobic attack on foreigners as in the case of South Africa, exposes young people to a culture of hate and violence. The present and future life of young people is threatened.
Fertile ground for terrorism
Terrorism is found among both the rich and poor states and among both democratic and autocratic countries. Nonetheless, terrorist propagandists find it a lot easier to recruit and radicalize youth from fragile environments. These environments are characterized by economic inequalities, youth unemployment, poverty, hunger, corruption, undemocratic and poor governance, ideological and political intolerance, violation of the rule of law and human rights, systematic discrimination based on ethnic and religious differences. Above all terrorists find safe havens in failed or weak states that fail to provide security to their borders and to their citzens. They also recruit young people from countries where criminal activities are tolerated, conflicts are not resolved and gangsters operate like quasi-governments. Recently United Nations observed an upsurge in violence underpinned by new forms terrorism based on “xenophobia, racism and other forms of intolerance” (United Nations Office on Drugs And Crime, 8 September 2022).
The Church cannot be indifferent
Pope Francis in Christus Vivit bemoans the different forms of violence experienced by the young people of today. Among other violent experiences, young people of today are exposed to wars at a tender age resulting in some of them being enlisted as child soldiers, recruited by armed criminal gangs, involved in drug trafficking and radicalized by terrorist organizations (CV.72). The Holy Father states, “ Many young people are taken in by ideologies, used and exploited as cannon fodder or a strike force to destroy, terrify or ridicule others” CV.73). The Holy Father acknowledges with sorrow that young people “become an easy target for the brutal and destructive strategies of political groups or economic powers” (CV.73). What then can the Church do?
The Church cannot be inured to these tragedies nor can she try to anaesthetize the young people by some distractions. The Church implores the society to be a mother who weeps, “so that in place of killing it can learn to give birth, to become a promise of life” (CV.75). In the spirit of a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission, the Church seeks to accompany young people and to exhort them to listen to the words of hope of Pope Francis in Christus Vivit, “Christ is alive and he wants you to be alive” (CV.1). The message of the Church today, like ever before is that young people should shun violence because human life is sacred and inviolable (EV.11). Already in 1965, the Fathers of Vatican Two made a passionate call to the young people with this exhortation, “Refuse to give free course to the instincts of violence and hatred which beget wars and all their train of miseries” (Message of the ii Vatican Council to Youth, 7 December 1965).
Journeying with the youth in countering and preventing terrorism
In journeying with the youth, it is important to consider key interventions for countering and prevention of terrorism and violent extremism. The following interventions are proposed:
- Peaceful conflict resolution to conflicts
- Peace education
- Promotion of a Strong youth ministry as a counter to all forms of violence
- Inclusive economic and development agenda
- Psychosocial support for survivors of terrorism
Peaceful resolution to conflicts
Terrorism as a means to address such issues can never be justified. Young people are called upon not to respond to such situations with violence. Saint John Paul ii states, “Terrorism is and will always be a manifestation of inhuman ferocity which, as such, will never be able to resolve the conflicts between human persons” (John Paul ii, General Audience of Wednesday 11 September 2002). Young people while they are often the victims of such situations, they would be wise to learn from Martin Luther Jr who said, “Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love…” (Martin Luther King Jr 1958).
Peaceful resolution to conflicts remains the best way to achieve positive peace. In this endeavor it is the duty of the Church to continue engaging state actors on issues that impact negatively on the lives of people and especially on the youth. Pope Francis sets out clearly, “God’s name is peace. The one who calls upon God’s name to justify terrorism, violence and war does not follow God’s path. War in the name of religion becomes a war against religion itself. With firm resolve, therefore, let us reiterate that violence and terrorism are opposed to an authentic religious spirit” (Pope Francis, World Day Prayer for Peace, Assisi, 20 September 2016).
Calling upon young people to seek the path of peace does not give license to those who are benefiting from the unjust structures to have a free reign. Pope Francis criticizes such a misconception, “Peace in society cannot be understood as pacification or the mere absence of violence resulting from the domination of one part of society over others” (EG 218). Peace rather requires equitable distribution of wealth that those enjoying privileges at the expense of the poor joyfully renounce those privileges in order to build a just and equitable society. Peace requires integral positive development. Pope Paul makes this exhortation, “If you want peace work for justice” (Pope Paul VI).
Young people are not passive recipients of peace. Pope Francis challenges them not to be bystanders. Let them be like Jesus who was involved (CV.174). Inspired by the synodal spirit of communion, participation and mission young people need to participate in initiatives aimed at peace-building. They are called upon to be peace practitioners. They should know that as children of God, Christ invites them to be peace makers (Mt 5:9). Pope Francis further calls young people to be fearless missionaries. They should be missionaries wherever they are and in whatever company they find themselves: in their neighborhoods, in schools or sports or social life (CV 177). Let them, therefore be missionaries who preach the gospel of life and peace.
Peace education for young people should be taught in the families, schools, parishes, colleges and universities. In Catholic schools a curriculum which encompasses peace education should be designed and be taught. Young people ought to be involved in Commissions for justice and peace. Youth animators, as journeying partners, should be well prepared in their knowledge of social teachings of the Church.
Young people should be taught to guard against fundamentalist doctrines which spur hatred against other religious groupings. Human life is sacred and should never be destroyed as a means to achieve some religious or political goal. Terrorism inspired by one’s own religious convictions cannot be justified. St John Paul ii says that it is an exploitation of both God and his people (John Paul ii, World Day of Peace 1 January 2002).
Promotion of a Strong youth ministry as a counter to all forms of violence
A strong youth ministry need the support of all members of the Church. The Holy Father wants the youth to be the agents of youth ministry (CV 203). Such a youth ministry, as Pope Francis puts it, should allow outreach and growth (CV 209). The youth ministry will sow seeds of peace and justice in the young people. It should encompasses activities which empower young people in areas of economic development and social justice. Let that youth ministry promote ongoing formation in youth catechesis and evangelization. The youth need to be involved in pastoral care. Given that the number of child headed families is growing, a pastoral care which is compassionate to the less privileged is needed. The youth ministry should help young people to actively participate in sacramental life. Youth ministry requires animators who have the “ability to discern pathways where others only see walls, to recognize potential where others see only peril” (CV 67).
An Inclusive economic and development agenda
It is imperative for every government to have an inclusive economic and development agenda that works against terrorist efforts to radicalize and recruit young people. It has been observed that terrorist organizations find it a lot easier to recruit and radicalize youth from impoverished communities than those from thriving economies. While the terrorists themselves might be rich and well educated, they are more likely to use poor people to accomplish their agenda. The Church can do well to continue to engage governments and impress on them to put in place mechanisms that bring to an end to poverty, hunger, youth unemployment and other deprivations. In 2015 the United Nations Member States adopted what they called the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development aimed at ensuring that there is peace and prosperity in the world. They then came up with 17 Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) aimed at ending poverty, hunger and “improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth” (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs). This Agenda has been viewed as a positive counter to terrorism committed on the basis of xenophobia, racism, religious and ideological intolerance. It would be desirable, if all our countries prioritize young people in their endeavor to achieve the 17 SDGs. Young people should take active participation in the economic development of their country.
Psychosocial support for survivors of terrorism
Survivors of terrorist attack like survivors of political violence and xenophobic attack need psychosocial care. Terrorist attacks are not always anticipated, but when they do occur survivors need psychosocial care. The question is how do we support those affected by terrorist attack? How are survivors of terrorism helped to recover after the attack? How do we promote resilience in those affected? How do we help survivors to cope? Thus it is important to have a national policy on psychosocial post-disaster preparedness. Training should be given to psychosocial helpers and to the community. Young people can be trained to provide psychosocial support to other young people who survived terrorist attack.
Terrorism is a threat to human life. It is a threat to the society at large and to the young people in particular. The Church like a mother weeps and accompanies the youth in these trials and tribulations. She exhorts them to desist from being used by terrorists who seek to use them as pawns and to turn them against their own people. She invites the youth to be missionaries of peace. The Church implores governments to address causes of terrorism and to put in place mechanisms for psychosocial support for survivors of terrorism.