By Dr. Mohammed Kaiseruddin
Teenagers average about 50 hours of screen time per week (more than seven hours a day!). Combine that staggering statistic with a report that ISIS’ extensive social media network carries at least 500 million messages a day through more than 46,000 Twitter accounts.” Now you can begin to understand the pressure and persuasion young people receive towards radicalization. This makes me thankful that more people from our community have not fallen prey to these lures.
The above statistics, and many more equally alarming, are provided in a comprehensive research report published by the Institute of Social policy and Understanding (ISPU). This report and a series of reports related to young Muslims are based on a two-day gathering of Muslim youth and youth leaders held last year. Participating in the gathering were two people who CIOGC works with: Habeeb Quadri and Iyad Alnachef. I am pleased to summarize some of the findings and recommendations of the report. Although the report does not provide statistics of radicalization within America, we know that ten people were arrested in Chicago over the past few years on charges of providing support to ISIS.
The report asserts that with spending so much time on the internet, the young people have become citizens of cyberspace. They need to establish and implement in their lives the rules of citizenship. The community will have to help. What this means is that the entire community – like it or not – will have to take cyber citizenship and understand the landscape and navigation for themselves as well their vulnerable off-springs.
There are innumerable benefits that cyberspace offers, obviously. Those are not to be discounted. However, the focus here is on the threats only, which are serious. Among them are promotion of and easy access to risky behaviors, such as drug and alcohol abuse, pornography, sexual abuse, violence and violent extremism.
The issues identified by the ISPU report are: raising awareness, critical consumption and digital literacy skills, deconstructing extremist narratives and positive online alternatives. It is very gratifying for us to note that CIOGC has been actively involved in all of these issues. Our “plugged into personal safety” workshops focused on creating awareness and safe use of internet. Our religious consultant Omer Mozaffar has been engaged in deconstructing extremist narratives and our youth consultant Iyad Alnachef is developing an online campaign to promote positive engagement projects for youth. They are supported by a clinical psychologist, Dr. Yasmeen Khan and clinical social worker, Aliyah Banister. A bystander training, aimed at spotting precursors to extremism, is developed by Dr. Bambade Shakoor-Abdullah.
Key recommendation of the ISPU report include concerted actions by the community to promote responsible digital citizenship, promoting education and awareness by a variety of means including Khutbahs, youth developed content, promoting positive Muslim stories, promoting parental and adult digital literacy and funding of positive youth development. These recommendations need our attention and deserve speedy implementation.