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What can be done to prevent youth radicalization?

A former CIA deputy director told PBS NewsHour Weekend on Saturday that a major concern for the U.S. is the possibility of radicalized young men with EU or American passports entering the country to carry out terrorist attacks like those committed in France this past week. Humera Khan, executive director of the anti-terrorism think tank Muflehun, joins Hari Sreenivasan to talk about what's being done to combat terrorist organization recruitment.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Yesterday, the former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency told us one of his biggest concerns is radicalized young men with E.U. or American passports entering the U.S. to commit terrorist acts like the ones in France this past week.

    That got us thinking. What's being to done to prevent them from being radicalized in the first place?

    For more about that, we are joined now from Washington by Humera Khan. She's the executive director of Muflehun, a think tank whose mission is to thwart terrorism. She's also an adviser to several government agencies, including the FBI.

    So what can be done to prevent the radicalization in the first place?

  • HUMERA KHAN, Executive Director, Muflehun:

    Well, for prevention, one of the most important things you have to deal with is raising awareness.

    People need to know what they're up against and actually raise barriers the to entry, so you don't have youth actually wanting to engage in it in the first place.

    For those people who are not caught through prevention, right, that they are — they have somehow already gone down the track, you actually have to start talking about interventions.

    And that is the case where someone has been exposed to the ideas, has not committed any criminal activity yet, right? So, they're not mobilized toward criminal activity.

    And then you actually have to have an intervention to stop them from going off to fight and committing an act of terrorism, and then actually really work with them specifically.

    And that's an individual process to get them to disengage from their thoughts psychologically, as well as from the actions.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So, what kind of interventions are you talking about? Do you have families, do you have members of the community intervening? What do they do?

  • HUMERA KHAN:

    The spectrum. It actually depends on the case.

    And intervention models have — are different depending on the country and also the neighborhood you're talking about.

    So, for example, in the U.S., we actually have models where you're running it through imams, right? The actual clergy themselves are engaged with providing counseling.

    And the counseling is not just for the individual, but also for family members, because, sometimes, in some cases, you actually have family dysfunction.

    In other countries, you actually have intervention programs which are run through family — the actual family itself. Others are run through different community centers, anyone who can actually have a trusted relationship with the person.

    There is an element of trust and there is an element of legitimacy, in terms of what they're saying. That person can do it. It could be a youth director.

    It could be a mentor. It could be — there's a lot of options available. It just depends on the case.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    This isn't a process — a process that happens overnight. I mean, many of these individuals, you hear about them for year after year kind of walking down that path.

    So, how do you intervene at just the right time?

  • HUMERA KHAN:

    Well, interventions are something which, the earlier you do it, the better off you are, because the further along that you leave someone and the ideas are developing without any check or balance or even a counterargument, the harder it is to pull them back.

    So, in the first times when you are actually seeing something shifting, the behavior is changing, their opinions are shifting, that's the place, that's ideal place that you want to do it, before you have to — because once the ideas are set, it is a lot harder to try and deconstruct them.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So, how do you combat, for example, the influence of social media these days, right?

    Is it possible to keep someone from watching YouTube videos of speeches that might be preaching something or joining a hashtag and celebrating a specific attack?

  • HUMERA KHAN:

    Well, social media is used to recruit, which also means that social media has the power to be used for an intervention to actually pull people back.

    That, in itself, is not enough, right? A hashtag is not — never going to be enough to change a person's mind. It's what else happens.

    And social media is — is actually a very interactive platform. And we have to use that interactivity across the full spectrum of — of tools out there to actually engage people to change their ideas.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Humera Khan of Muflehun, thanks so much for joining us.

  • HUMERA KHAN:

    Thank you very much for having me.

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