Inkblot, a challenging extremism initiative of Boston University students that Parents for Peace worked with this spring, has produced a toolkit aimed at helping young people engage in a productive way with a peer who may be turning toward extremism. Though it focuses on the scenario of helping a friend, many of the strategies and suggestions contained in the guide are equally relevant for a parent or anyone else concerned that a loved one is involved in extremism.
Our shared approach is based on the understanding that the appeal of any form of extremism for many people lies in the illusion it presents of explaining and resolving all of their personal struggles:
“Extremist ideas and groups become something people value, love and feel proud of. It gives them a sense of purpose, meaning, and belonging. Your loved one may be dealing with an internal crisis that the extremists claim they alone can fix. Your goal is to be a friend to them, and hopefully help them see that they don’t have to cling to extremist ideologies in order to find validation and support.”
The toolkit tells us that “the pathway to radicalization is different for every person.” This is why family and friends are often in the best position to notice something is wrong. Their concerns arise organically – not by checking a list of supposed warning signs, but by noticing shifts in attitudes, associations, and actions.
The toolkit emphasizes a patient, calm, non-confrontational approach:
“Remember, you are trying to engage with your friend and figure out what’s going on with them, not make assumptions and judgments right away.”
“You don’t want to turn the conversation into an interrogation. You want to build trust and that means having a two-way conversation by sharing your own perspective and opening up about your own struggles, goals, and ideas.”
“Try to get them to share their own personal perspective and feelings. In doing so, you want to sympathize with and respect their thought process without rationalizing, validating or supporting their destructive behavior or ideas.”
It also suggests not going it alone:
“Talk to others who may share your concerns and help you connect with your friend. They can help you clarify how unusual your friend’s behaviors are, how long this has been going on, and what might have influenced these changes.”