By Inge Vanfraechem
Over the last months, media have reported on the radicalised youngsters that have gone to Syria to fight Assad. Politicians are trying to find solutions to this phenomenon first by preventing youngsters from leaving through taking away their identity cards (in Belgium: Bonte, De Standaard 18/11/2014 and Jambon, De Standaard 24/11/2014) and passports. Second, the question is posed whether these youngsters should be allowed back into the country (in the UK: Cameron, De Standaard 14/11/2014).
Having followed up research on the possibilities of restorative justice and terrorism, especially for victims and their need for communication after a terrorist act has happened, I now wonder whether we can think of restorative approaches for these so-called terrorists as well? Liesbeth Homans has financed a project by vzw Motief in order to set up a training project with regard to ‘identity’ for these youngsters (De Standaard, 11/12/2014). In ALTERNATIVE we also study the importance of the concept of identity to understand why some people commit crimes or become involved in conflicts, such as the ones in Northern Ireland. Can we support youngsters in developing a ‘positive’ identity in which they choose to shy away from conflict and opt for a restorative approach? The experiences with street mediation in Norway show that youngsters can indeed develop a different understanding of what conflict is and can be, and how they can come to a dialogue rather than fighting away the conflict. That way, restorative approaches to conflict on an individual level come into the picture.
Should we as a society not try and understand why these youngsters feel marginalised and left out, rather than judge them for leaving? Can we think of ways of including them upon their return and offer them communication channels, rather than excluding them from our societies? In ALTERNATIVE, we try out and develop community approaches in which communication between different groups can be set up, e.g. through workshops (Serbia) or restorative trainings (Northern Ireland). This way, viable ways of living together, rather than excluding certain groups, are being discovered and restorative approaches on a community and societal level can offer inspiration in that regard.