Can Volunteering Abroad Deter Youth from Violence?

Written by  December 16, 2010

Can volunteer work in Afghanistan and Iraq deter young Canadian Muslims with a potential for "radicalization to violence" from engaging in jihadist violence? 

That's a pretty loaded question, but a British study that looked at homegrown radicalization among Muslim communities in Canada, France, Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK seems to think so. 

According to a report called The Edge of Violence, encouraging young Canadian Muslims who exhibit a risk of violent radicalization to volunteer abroad in Afghanistan and Iraq can "take the glamour out of the al-Qaeda narrative and increase appreciation of Western citizens for the rights granted in their own countries." It can also provide an outlet for rebellious tendencies and a need for adventure - minus the violence. (Read more about the study in this National Post article.)

Setting aside the study's investigation of Muslim radicals in Western countries and the many other conclusions drawn in the report, this particular suggestion is pretty interesting. (To be clear, the report does not try to discourage non-violent radicalization - in fact, it supports open discussion on radical viewpoints in a democratic society.)

Volunteering abroad, in nearly any context, is generally seen as a great way to expand a person's worldview by allowing us to see how other people live, but this report seems keen to wield this power towards a particular - albeit positive - end. Should volunteering abroad be used as a tool to influence the opinions and behaviours of local youth, in any context? And what importance is being placed on ensuring a fair give-and-take relationship for those on the receiving end of these volunteer programmes? 

What do you think? Should local volunteer abroad organizations target at-risk youth to discourage violent radicalization? Do you think it would be effective in any case? Let us know!

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Zalina Alvi

Zalina grew up in Toronto and began her career in journalism at the York University campus newspaper. Before joining Verge in 2010, she worked for a documentary festival, a non-profit organization and various magazines and newspapers. Zalina has had some eclectic travel experiences, including reporting for a newspaper on the island of Molokai in Hawaii.

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