A survey of students at eight Quebec CEGEPs publishedTuesday has led to some surprising conclusions about what makes youthsvulnerable to radicalization — and what may shield them from it.
For one, the youths most supportive of violence did notfit the profile we are used to hearing from police or politicians: It turns outQuebecers and second-generation immigrants are more likely to turn to violentsolutions than first-generation immigrants.
What’s more, religion — and religious or spiritualpractice — can protect youths from becoming radicalized to violence, the surveysuggests, upending our common notions of religiously motivated youths joiningDaesh or other jihadi groups.
Students who said they had no religion tended to supportviolent radicalization more than those who said they are Christian or Muslim.
“It goes against our pre-conceived notions — this is nota problem with immigrants or religion but one that can affect us all,” saidchild psychiatrist Cécile Rousseau, who is also the director of SHERPA, theuniversity research centre of the CIUSSS West-Centre Montreal, which conductedthe survey in association with the federation of Quebec CEGEPs.
“It shakes up ourideas and tells us to look at the problem differently … But it’s easier now totalk about sex than to talk about religion.”
In all, some 1,894 full-time students were surveyed inthis first phase of the study at eight CEGEPs: Jonquière, André-Laurendeau,Maisonneuve, Montmorency, Rosemont, Sainte-Foy, Saint-Laurent and Vanier.
They were asked various questions about their socialadaptation, their support for radicalization and their mental health. Forexample:
*To what extent do their friends represent a variety ofethnic or religious backgrounds?
*Did they experience anxiety or depression?
*To what extent did they support the use of violence at aprotest to defend their group’s rights?
The results show that radicalization is a very marginalproblem, Rousseau said.
That said, one of the most important factors leading tosupport for radicalization, seems to be the presence of adverse lifeexperiences — including violence, experienced personally or at home, anddiscrimination.
While the study found most students were “comfortable” attheir CEGEPs, 25 per cent said they had heard hateful or denigrating commentsabout their national, ethnic or religious group.
When these experiences lead to distress and depression,it can make youths more susceptible to being radicalized, Rousseau said at anews conference at Collège de Rosemont, one of the eight CEGEPs.
Some 20 per cent of respondents reported being seriouslyanxious or depressed.
Strong identification with a group, however, can go bothways — leading to or away from radicalization. Under normal circumstances, ayoung person will be less likely to engage in violence if he or she has thesupport of family, friends or a whole group of people with whom he or sheidentifies.
But if there is perceived discrimination or violencetoward that group, that sense of belonging can lead someone to choose moreviolent responses, Rousseau explained.
Pierre Tremblay, the director of the federation of QuebecCEGEPs, said after years of government-imposed budget cuts, these resultsshould prove the need for more psychosocial resources for CEGEP students whomay be distressed or depressed.
CEGEPs are more than just classes and teachers, he said,and have to provide environments where students feel respected.
Rousseau suggested these new findings should also changeour way of thinking about youth radicalization.
In Quebec we have avoided the rise of extreme right-winggroups now seen in Europe. But these groups are present and responsible for asmany hate crimes as religious extremists, Rousseau said — we should be watchingboth.
Given that religious or spiritual practice can be a balmfor those who have experienced violence or discrimination, and who mightotherwise turn to violence themselves, perhaps we should rethink the place ofreligion in schools, she added.
“But that is a very delicate issue,” Rousseau said. “Ifwe establish prayer spaces it could be good for some but throw fuel on the fireof (others who are against them) and increase inter-group tension.”
The study is one of several research initiatives to haveemerged in the last year, after at least 18 youths left or attempted to leaveQuebec for the Middle East in 2015 to join terrorist groups, or engaged inviolent extremism here.
Eleven were students at Collège de Maisonneuve.
The research team hopes to expand the study to moreCEGEPs in Quebec, and repeat the study over time to see how attitudes towardradicalization evolve.
Asked if there may have been a selection bias in thestudy — that those who don’t support radicalization were more likely toparticipate — Rousseau said yes.
But there seemed to be biases on both sides: One studentwas angry about the questionnaire, because he felt it suggested that those withmore radical ideas were psychologically deranged.
Another said it was obvious the questionnaire was biasedin favour of religious people and “Religion makes me puke!” she wrote.
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