MANILA — When the Marawi conflict started, Yassen Ala, who was in Turkey that time, could not believe that extremists have wreaked havoc in the Islamic City.
“I was born in Marawi, I have some relatives there. If my parents were there, I could not imagine what I’ll feel if they walk from Marawi to Iligan,” he said.
Ala, a youth leader, is among the many Muslims shocked by the sudden rise of violent extremism, particularly in the youth sector, although he mentioned that there were already signs that they are the most vulnerable to be recruited by terrorists.
“Some of these young recruits are orphans, their parents or close relatives killed due to conflict,” Ala said.
A deviating religious setting and the economic conditions of these conflict-affected areas also played important factors to the recruitment.
“They (youth) are not only orphans, they’ve been taught the extreme and incorrect interpretation of the religion and they are also (literally) hungry,” Ala said.
The causes of youth radicalization and the ways to counter it are part of the topics discussed in a three-day MasterPEACE Leadership Summit held in Davao City organized by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).
Around 80 youth leaders from all over the country participated in the summit, which aims to equip the youth with the knowledge of peace and peacebuilding initiatives.
In his welcome remarks, Deputy Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Nabil Tan urged the youth to involve themselves further in the peace process.
“After this MasterPEACE Summit, we are hoping that you can craft a master plan to help us on our peace initiatives,” Undersecretary Tan said.
With the root causes of violent extremism identified, Yassen Ala, who is also a delegate to the summit, believes that the youth should take a more active role in peacebuilding, particularly in ensuring that the message of peace is propagated on the ground.
“Aside from capacity-building and inclusion of Moro history in school’s curriculum, we are calling (on) the government to give us access to dialogue with our fellow youth in universities and other platforms, so we can prevent the spread of violent extremism,” Ala said.