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April 20, 2021

Universities trained to counter radicalisation among students


Halabja high school receives training © 2020, SPARK

Youth in Halabja, an isolated city close to the Iranian border in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, have struggled with radical, violent extremist ideas for many years. Since the Kurdistan region gained autonomy from the federal government in 1991, the city has been a hub for Jihadist and extreme radical groups.

In recent years, with Islamic State advancing in the area, university lecturers are witnessing polarisation among students. So it’s important that the community surrounding young people, such as teachers, parents and peers, are aware of the problem and find solutions to address the underlying issues – and drivers – such as unemployment and lack of opportunities. 

Two years ago, Dr. Nariman Abdullah Ali, Dean of the Humanities Science College at the University of Halabja, took his first training with SPARK to learn how to identify radicalising youth in his classroom. After several sessions, he and his colleagues quickly realised they had multiple cases in their classrooms.

Dr. Nariman Abdullah Ali © 2021, SPARK

“God sent me to fix the city of Halabja”, said one young student to a room full of his stunned peers. Shortly after the student’s outburst in the classroom, Dr. Naiman heard that this young man had been arrested. “It was not easy integrating this young man back into his society. Slowly after many sessions with many Mullahs (Islamic clerics) and a psychologist, we figured out that this young man did not have a healthy relationship with his family. After we talked to his family members and understood the background, we tried to help him in any way possible,” he said. 

After his release Dr. Nariman and his colleagues helped him to reintegrate and finish his education. After talking to the authorities to give him another chance, the university professors helped him see that being radical and violent is not the answer.

The referral guide, a 50-page manual by SPARK, enables teachers to identify and respond to violent ideas or ideologies in their students in the right way. The Networks of Change programme educates and trains parents, university lecturers, and high school teachers on the methods to resolve the cases of students in a healthy manner and promotes community values. Since 2018, over 100 teaching professionals and thousands of parents have been trained.

Dr. Kazhal Hussein Mohammed © 2021, SPARK

“For countering radicalisation, lecturers need to invest more time in getting to know their students, and be more involved. They need to hear their problems, and help them tackle them”, says Dr. Kazhal Hussein Mohammed, Head of Sociology at the University of Sulaimaniya. “In my opinion, we need to start from kindergarten to university.” Dr. Kazhal attended the training programme and works towards instilling values of coexistence in her students, to promote stability.

In the next year and a half Networks of Change will continue reaching out to university professors, but also to high school teachers and parents in order to train them how to identify and respond to early signals of youth radicalisation and violent extremism. Eventually, SPARK aims to build a strong network of adults surrounding vulnerable youth to disengage them from radicalisation and show them alternative, non-violent pathways.