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Promoting Youth Leadership

Zaid Al Rayes – Who is responsible?

Extremely Together’s Young Leader from Syria, who aims to create economic opportunities for the young to show alternatives violent extremism.

The 1st of April 2011 is etched in my mind. I was sitting at home watching the news of the Syrian revolution and communicating with about a dozen friends in Syria asking for the latest updates. My friend Ahmed rang me on Skype and said: “Zaid, Abdualla just passed away when he was leading a demonstration in Homs against the Assad Regime!”

Nobody can tell you how bad it is to lose someone who is very close to you. It creates a feeling of sheer helplessness of being unable to do something to save the life of your father, mother, son, daughter, or friend. The whole world witnessed similar stories of Syrian people being killed by a dictatorial regime. Syrian activists did their best to maintain this revolution as a civilian revolution and tried their best to protect it from being hijacked by violence and extremism. We were waiting for the international community to extend a helping hand and take responsibility for stopping the dictatorial regime killing innocent people. Instead, Syria has become a backstreet for infighting, score-settling, and in the chaos, extremism has prospered.

The first victims of this catastrophe are the Syrian people. The boy sitting safely at home, the only survivor of a family killed by a barrel bomb. The girl raped because her brother is a social activist. The neighbours wiped out by chemical weapons during a shopping trip to the fruit and vegetable market. The family rendered refugees because a militia has taken over their town. All of these are real stories about real people. Thousands of similar stories were documented over the last five years with no real action to prevent them or hold the perpetrators to account.

In such situations, sitting alone, hopeless, homeless, deeply broken and disappointed, it may be appealing to hear the voice of a stranger saying:

“Look brother, you are not alone any more. We will stand by your side and help you to fight the entire world who has turned its backed on you. Join us and we can help you get revenge and let them suffer the same.”

It is unsurprising that many are taken in by this call.

And in the West, there are thousands of people watching such tragic events daily on the news, feeling helpless in their inability to do anything to help these innocent people. When the best option available to you is donating to charity, and you feel that your government’s policies and diplomacy have made things worse rather than better, is it any wonder that people are attracted by tweets that say:

“Join the Jihad to help Syrian people”

This isn’t just happening in Syria. Conflicts in Iraq, Mali, Afghanistan, Yemen, Myanmar, Rwanda and so many other places on earth spark these conversations and these experiences for people all over the world who are driven to action, and who are exploited for their willingness to help.

Extremist ideas can only be challenged by human-rights ideas and not by force. More efforts should focus on how to protect youth from extreme thoughts through peer to peer negotiations and discussions.

There are two key solutions to all of this: First and foremost, we must pressure the international community to help those affected by conflict, end the disastrous wars perpetuating in the Middle East and other areas, and rebuild peace and stability. Secondly, and this is where Extremely Together must lead, we must offer something to young people around the world that is better than what the jihadists offer. Extremism stems from inequality and helplessness, so we must lead our generation to spread humanity, applying justice, equality and human rights to all, and offer immediate, tangible actions to engage young people to make the world a safer and more peaceful place.

Who is responsible for the problem? There’s a tricky question.

Who is responsible for the solution? We all are.