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The youth bulge and radicalisation – implications for Norway

Statssekretær Morten Høglunds åpningstale på seminaret “The youth bulge and radicalisation – implications for Norway” på Litteraturhuset i Oslo 20. mai 2015.

Good morning

I would like to start by offering my deep condolences on the death of Ambassador Leif Holger Larsen, who was killed in a helicopter accident in Pakistan on May 8th. Many of you knew and worked with Leif and feel great sorrow at this tragic loss. Leif was an excellent diplomat, and he was strongly committed to strengthening the ties between Pakistan and Norway. He would have enjoyed today’s seminar and enriched our discussion with his sharp insights and valuable knowledge.

It is wonderful to see that so many have come to today’s seminar. A special welcome to Marc André Franche, UNDP Country Director in Pakistan.

The subject of today’s seminar, Youth and Radicalisation in Pakistan, is topical and – I should add – as topical in Norway as it is in Pakistan. The circumstances are very different of course, but radicalisation and violent extremism is a global problem.

Pakistan is experiencing a dramatic growth in its youth population. How the Pakistani authorities respond to this will be crucial for the future development of Pakistan.

It is an oversimplification to say that the poor and disadvantaged are likely to end up as terrorists, there is, however, a legitimate concern that disadvantaged young people are an easy recruitment target for violent groups.

The sense of unity and the struggle for a common cause – in worst case the jihad – can provide meaning for many whose future prospects are limited.

Today’s main speaker, Mr Franche, believes that we do not know enough about what pulls young people towards radicalisation. This lack of knowledge is preventing both Pakistan’s Government and civil society actors from developing and implementing strategies that could reduce the risk of radicalisation among the youth population. Decision makers do not have the information they need.

Norway is in a dialogue with UNDP in Pakistan on how to obtain better knowledge about what causes radicalisation, and I am particularly looking forward to Mr Franche’s analysis of youth and radicalisation. Norway hopes to play a constructive role, together with the UN, in facilitating activities and services for young people to counter the negative effects of radicalisation.

It is important for us that future initiatives offer the same opportunities to girls and young women as to the boys and young men. The gender dimension is often overlooked in this discussion.

Clear political leadership is critical. Pakistani authorities must safeguard freedom of speech, end discrimination and protect religious minorities. They must ensure that perpetrators of violent attacks are brought to justice. In a tolerant and open society, it is more difficult to radicalise youth and recruit to terrorism. 

Now a few words about what we are doing in Norway:

You will be aware that there are people from Norway who are fighters in Syria and elsewhere. There is a clear connection between violent extremism in Muslim countries and in Norway. It is therefore important not only to prevent radicalisation in Norway that can lead to violence, but also to find the best way of dealing with returning fighters.

Our Action Plan against Radicalisation and Violent Extremism was launched last summer. While we must bear in mind that the terrorist attack in Norway in 2011 was carried out by a right-wing ethnic Norwegian, we believe that the greatest current terrorist threat to Norway is from violent Islamists. We have drawn up a cross-cutting plan aimed at preventing all kinds of violent extremism, and not only jihadism. The action plan involves nine ministries and takes a comprehensive approach.

We also take part in the broader international work to combat radicalisation.

President Obama kick-started a global effort against radicalisation at the United Nations General Assembly last year. This was followed up with a summit in Washington in February. At that meeting, Norway’s Foreign Minister, Børge Brende, proposed holding a European meeting in Oslo to pursue the agenda in our region.

The meeting will take place on 4 and 5 June. The first day will be a youth conference. This is important, and it ties back to what I said at the beginning about Pakistan. Young people from all over Europe will meet in Oslo to discuss what they can do to prevent radicalisation. We have already seen that young people in Oslo want to do something about this issue. The ring of peace around the synagogue in February was an important example. So too is the rally against violent extremism organised by young Muslims in August last year.

The youth conference will be followed up by a meeting of European officials the next day. The aim is to bring new ideas and the key conclusions from Oslo to the UN General Assembly in September.

We have work to do in many arenas – in Pakistan, in Norway and in many other countries. It is all interlinked, and you can be sure that we are serious about preventing violent extremism, in Norway and elsewhere.

I wish you a successful seminar.

Thank you for your attention.


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