‘Teenagers can be radicalised by ISIS within a month,’ Cardinal Nichols warns teachers’ conference
The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, warned delegates at the Secondary Leaders’ Conference of the Catholic Association of Teachers, Schools and Colleges about the dangers ISIS recruiters pose to vulnerable secondary school students. He stated that “one month is all it takes to transform a dissatisfied and disorientated teenager into a terrorist”.
Cardinal Nichols based this alarming statement on his discussions with young people who had been invited to join ISIS. Children, typically aged 14 or 15, were being recruited at astonishing speed. “One said that it was clearly possible to bring a person to the point of being willing to leave all for the sake of their newfound cause, even to the point of embracing violence or suicide, within a four- or five-week period”.
A combination of many factors makes teenagers particularly vulnerable to jihadist recruiters including naivety, isolation, loss of shared values and easy access to the internet. Many ISIS recruits felt isolated by the modern world: they longed to be part of something greater and “may be finding life to be rather flat, functional and boring” said the Cardinal.
“It is to teenagers such as these that the call of a definitive, demanding faith, one which asks for a heroic sacrifice in a wide cause for victory … is cast as a true fulfillment of all the unfocused yearning within them,” he said.
Cardinal Nichols warned teachers that terrorist groups were targeting teenagers because they considered them to be “clean skins,” people whose life thus far left them “as yet unformed by substantive values”. Islamic terrorists were using the Internet to propose the existence of “a coherent, or at least seemingly coherent, whole”, offering vulnerable teenagers a narrative “which compels and captivates.”
The ability to relate to teenagers can obviously be put to good use, but “it is also the skill of the recruiters of violence” Cardinal Nichols said. To combat the threat of radicalisation, Catholic educators must have the courage to propose an authentic Christian purpose to their young students that is just as captivating as the false narrative of the terrorists.This Christian vision would include the cultivation of a relationship with Jesus and the development of a sense of Christian vocation.
.“The degree to which you achieve this, as many of you do, is the degree to which our schools will never be sending into the world ‘clean skins’ ready to be seduced by a corrupt and inhuman ideology, or by any other lesser versions of violence and degrading inhumanity that stalk our streets and our world today,” he concluded.
To counter the rise of Islamic extremism in schools, the UK Government is insisting that such “British values” as tolerance, freedom and respect for the rule of law are taught from an early age.