Preventing and Transforming Violent Extremism – Mobilising Youth for Peace

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Download ‘La Prevention et la Transformation de l’Extremisme Violent’ Brochure

The Need

The impact of non-state armed groups and violent extremism affects hundreds of millions around the world, threatening to generate widespread instability, undermine social cohesion and economic development, and increase levels of militarization.

Fortunately, there  is increasing  evidence and acknowledgement, even from within security circles, that military and criminal justice responses are insufficient at best and counterproductive at worst to tackle the challenge, let alone contribute to prevention and transformation. While the gap in understanding how to counter extremism is closing, policy makers and practitioners still struggle to develop effective responses and bring them to scale.


Program Description and Methodology

IAHV addresses gaps in both the analysis and practice of countering violent extremism, broadening a focus on prevention and interdiction to include effective transformation of individuals, groups and wider conflict dynamics involved in or affected by radicalization.

Our programs transform attitudes, mindsets, well-being and behaviour, inspire and train participants to use nonviolent means to achieve legitimate needs, and mobilise them to become effective peacebuilders in their own communities.

Recognising that both external environmental and internal psychological factors are crucial in the prevention and transformation of violence and extremism, IAHV Peacebuilding programs focus, in particular, on personal and interpersonal aspects.

The challenge to prevent and counter violent extremism and reintegrate ex-combatants in society is enhanced by the fact that the individuals involved exhibit a diversity of social backgrounds, undergo different processes of radicalization and are influenced by various combinations of motivations. Our approach, based on universal values, and practical, nonreligious techniques and processes, provides flexible programming that applies across personality types, ideologies and contexts.

In many cases of war, violence and conflict, psycho-social factors—including anger, frustration, depression, pain, greed and intolerance—are either internalized, leading to addictions, depression and suicidal tendencies, or externalized, leading to aggression, violence and wars. Failure to address these powerful driving forces erodes the effectiveness of the massive efforts of mainstream peacebuilding. IAHV’s trainings are especially geared to allow deep inner negative emotions to be released through special breathing techniques.


Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (PCVE) for young people (ages 16 to 35, though this can be extended) at risk, in the earlier stages, or seeking re-entry from periods of radicalization (16 to 22 hours).

Youth Leadership Peacebuilding Training (YLPT) providing intensive training to empower and mobilise youth and young adults (ages 16 to 35, though this can be extended) as peace workers in their communities (7 to 10 days).

Rehabilitation & Reintegration of Ex-Combatants (REX), including current and former extremists as well as war veterans, into society (16 to 22 hours).

Healing, Resilience and Empowerment (HRE) training for survivors, relatives and affected communities (8 to 12 hours).

Ideally, each training program is supported by a tailored 3 to 12 month follow up period, in which participants engage in ongoing learning, and implement local peacebuilding projects guided by experienced peace workers.

For Whom?

Potential, Current and Former Extremists
Prisoner Populations
High-Risk and High Potential Youth
Survivors of Violence and Extremism
Refugee Communities and Host societies
Communities At Large

Integrative Approach

The strength of IAHV’s programmes lies in the integrative approach through which our trainers empower human beings, addressing different individual and relational aspects such as:


Broaden identity and diversified understanding of oneself
Foster self-esteem
Foster sense of belonging, counter social isolation
Foster positive inter-group contact through meetings/symbolic actions by “enemy others”
Prevent and reduce fear of multiculturalism
Prevent labelling and stigmatization, foster empathy and compassion
Reduce perception of discrimination, reducing sense of victimhood

Empowerment and responsibility

Address injustice, engage for action
Foster self-confidence
Stimulate acquaintance with positive role models
Moving from blame to taking responsibility
Strengthen action instead of reaction

Healing and emotional well-being

Release of negative emotions (anger, revenge, hatred, frustration, loss, depression, etc.)
Strengthen emotional resilience and coping capacity
Healing and release of trauma
Strengthen positive emotions
Increase sense of security, social trust
Reflections on the meaning of life

Mental training

Breaking destructive cognitive patterns, counter dichotomizing, black and white thinking
Foster broadened perception, open mindset
Contribute to critical thinking capacity, question, discuss radical ideas
Decrease worry and tension, increase inner peace and contentment

Physical Health and Stress Resilience

Deep stress release and strengthening stress resilience
Restoration of the neurobiological stress response system
Increase sense of well being

Providing an Alternative

Awareness raising and skills training on alternative strategy: the power and effectiveness of nonviolence
Develop an alternative community

By applying this comprehensive set of tools, IAHV Peacebuilding Programs relieve PTS and other acute stress related issues, as well as support participants to release and positively transform negative attitudes, emotions, behaviors and relationships. These results support individuals to develop interpersonally and inside communities, creating more inclusive relationships and greater community resilience to radicalization and violence. Such tools also integrate with and complement efforts of current peacebuilding initiatives, and we welcome collaboration with interested parties. Practical: The programmes are generally offered over several consecutive days, with sessions lasting 3 to 4 hours per day. Programmes take place indoors and require very little office equipment.

A Psycho-Social Peacebuilding Approach to CVE

It is understood that violent radicalization happens at the intersection of an enabling environment and a personal trajectory. Our programs focus explicitly on the personal and relational aspects involved, and to a lesser extent on social, political, or geopolitical aspects. Among the psycho-social drivers of violent extremism, as identified through research of best practices and approaches, IAHV Peacebuilding addresses in particular the following:


Frustration, sense of rejection, exclusion, isolation, humiliation
Feelings in general (wish to provoke, despair, fear, hopelessness)
Negative home/family background
Idealism and strong sense of justice
Fascination for violence and fights
Disbelief in alternatives
Identity questions or problems
Lack of a meaningful purpose of life
Search for simple ways to understand complex world


Negative or lack of positive personal experiences with certain groups of people
Interest in alcohol, drugs, certain music or other group-binding factors
Wish to belong to a group
Peer pressure
Connection to charismatic leader


Fear of multiculturalism or of certain groups of people
Us-them paradigms
Lack of brotherhood, sisterhood or belongingness to a community
Real and perceived injustice
Lack of trust in others / society


Rapid changes in society
Resentment against Western supremacy
Feelings of inequity and injustice on global level, and a sense of humiliation
Encroachment of modernity on “traditional” values
Highly symbolic conflicts on the global scene with broad repercussions


“I thought I would go to Heaven by killing. Now I know that Heaven is right here on Earth by loving.” Former Al Qaeda member imprisoned in India.

“I spent my whole life to destroy society. After doing the Prison SMART program, I want to spend the rest of my life contributing to society.” Prisoner, UK

“I learned to accept the situation, to live with it. I am able to forgive myself and to forgive my son now.” Mother of a foreign fighter, Antwerp

“I learned to be more in the present moment. I learned that instead of being stuck in the past, it is best to go through the pain and suffering in order to transform it into something better. It’s a real life training this program. It should be accessible to all communities.” Mother of two sons gone to Syria

“I always woke up 7 to 10 times a night the past 2 months, it was exhausting. Now I only wake up twice a night and using the breathing techniques, I’m able to go back to sleep quickly.” Survivor of Brussels airport attack 

“I loved the program and learned to live in the present and progress in the future with a calm mind and without judgment”. Sister of two brothers captured in Turkey on their way to Syria (no news from them since Sept 2015)

Case Studies

For many years, Assam has been a hotbed of militancy of varied kinds related to tensions between state authorities and the government, local people and immigrants, and among tribal groups.

In 2012, IAHV offered a one-month rehabilitation and reintegration training to 240 militants, many of whom belonged to different extremist groups from an early age.

Participants practiced physical exercises to release accumulated stress and gain energy; powerful breathing techniques to release trauma and negative emotions of anger, fear and revenge; relaxation and fun processes to increase life-supporting emotions; discussion and reflection to broaden their perception and sense of identity; and vocational training and training in organic farming to earn their living in a non-violent way.

100% of the participants felt their lives changed for the positive with many renouncing violence, taking up agriculture, and becoming willing to contribute to sustainable and peaceful development of their communities. Here are some of their comments after the program (names have been excluded for security reasons):

“My fight was for the people. So maybe I have no regrets. But I realized that violence is not the path. I am now determined to build a strong harmonious community. I want to go back and resolve conflicts in my region, now that I am at peace with myself.”

“It’s a new life for me. I find a lot of enthusiasm and determination to lead a new life. I had a lot of physical and mental strain but just after two days of doing the Sudarshan Kriya and other practices, I can sit on the ground, and sleep soundly at night. I have a new zest to live life.”

“Coming here, I feel a lot of belongingness and respect for others. It is because I was given the same respect and welcomed with belongingness. I now recognize the struggle I was going through mentally. It seems I have found a tool to solve my problems. I can now see a way ahead. I have some land back home. I would like to take up organic farming.”

The Naxalites, or Naxals, are a group of far-left, radical Communists in India, supportive of Maoist political ideologies and armed violence. What began as a revolutionary peasants movement in Naxalbari, West Bengal, 1967, evolved into an ongoing armed uprising of mostly tribal inhabitants. Militant activity became concentrated along state borders in an area known as the ‘Red Corridor’, which runs through West Bengal, Jharkhand, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Chattisgarh. Districts within this region are among the poorest in the country and have large indigenous tribal populations.

This conflict between Naxal insurgents and the Government of India (GOI) poses a grave threat to India’s peace and security. By 1980, disputing communist factions increased to 30 different militant groups with more than 30 000 official members. India’s Ministry of Home Affairs asserts that more than 6,000 civilians died in the crossfire, during more than 20 years of violent conflict.

Since 2002, IAHV’s sister organisation, Art of Living Foundation (AOL), has delivered peacebuilding programming to engage different layers of Naxalite society in order to develop a culture of sustainable peace. Trainers have been actively involved in providing trauma relief, healing and reconciliation programming as well as conflict resolution skills training throughout Naxal affected areas of India.

From 2002 to 2010, more than 500,000 people benefited from AOL trauma relief techniques. This resulted in restored peace and security in more than 1,000 villages in Naxal affected areas throughout 9 states. In addition, our team facilitated the rehabilitation of war-affected relationships through highly effective trauma relief programs for all actors engaged in Naxal related violent
conflict, including: Naxal militia cadre, members of the Central Reserve Police Force, tribal villagers caught in the crossfire of conflict, as well as tribal villagers living in Government Relief Camps who were forced to migrate from their villages as a result of the violent conflict.

AOL trainers facilitated the reintegration of ex-Naxal militia cadre into society, encouraging political participation and positive action. The implemented programs aimed to demilitarize minds, break down negative thought patterns and reconcile adversarial relationships thereby strengthening social cohesion and conflict resilience. Recurrence of violence was further prevented through human values based peace education that provided practical skills in conflict resolution and encouraged harmony in diversity. Results suggest that deeply embedded attitudes of hatred and fear dissipated and transformed into non-violent behavior.

This peace is largely sustained by selected AOL facilitators providing mediation between the GOI and ex-Naxal militants, facilitating high-level policy and peace agreement negotiations that seek a resolution to the ongoing Naxal insurgency.

Living in the ghettos of Panama City, the gang of Los Cicarios agreed to join IAHV’s program for rehabilitation and empowerment. Gang members grew up in very poor living conditions in slums where families struggled to put food on the table and the lack of affection and parental love was prevalent. It became natural for members to bond with each other and form a gang in order to help provide income for their families and security from rival gangs.
Often times, young members were forced into criminal activities against their will. Without proper education or parental support, their options were limited and many felt they had to comply. Violence, vandalism and robbery were an easier solution to get what they needed and to stay alive. Passing time in prison became a habit due to their ongoing illegal activities while venturing freely in the streets was not possible due to different gangs occupying different areas.
In 2008, IAHV’s sister organisation, Art of Living Foundation (AOL) was approached for a transformative solution to cyclical violence and crime. One full gang of 11 members joined a 20-month program, benefiting from intensive training and rehabilitation. Members, mostly youth, were disciplined into healthier habits including breathing techniques, yoga and practical life skills
to reinforce self-esteem, open up their mind to new futures, empower them with renewed purpose of life and initiate volunteer-based programs to encourage service-oriented activities.
In partnership with local organisations, AOL participated in providing mediation between different gangs in the area, creating more peace in the area. Before long, Los Cicarios was known in their slums as the “boys that breathe,” and for their service in orphanages, sharing the breathing techniques and yoga practices as well as for their mentorship to younger children. For this they became known as the “Youth for Change.” Members organised weekly meetings to discuss and exchange ideas and solutions, giving them a platform to release newly accumulated stresses and reconnect with their inner space of tranquility and peace.

“I have found the same belongingness of a group here, but it’s not for vandalism, it’s a group to help others that need it and were in the same situation as we were before,” remarked an exgang leader.

“I want to move forward, I want to know more, and to learn more things that I don’t know. That’s what I want for my future, to have a good family, to be able to help my mom and my grandma because they deserve it. I am sure I’ll be able to get out of the ghetto and many more of us are going to get out,” said another ex-gang member about his experience with AOL.

Describing their work with the orphans, one ex-gang member poignantly remarked: “We used to behave even worse than them. Now we’ve changed and we come to teach them that there can be a change. All of them deserve a chance just as we had too. One of us could have died with all these problems, we could have gone to jail, I don’t know, but if we can change and take advantage of that, I think everybody can do the same. We have to stretch out our hand to help other people who also deserve a chance. We can teach them to change as a person, and to shift their mind, to become a good person and not to fix things only with bullets but to see there are different ways.”

The conclusion of the war in Sri Lanka in May 2009 saw the displacement of over 275,000 people. Some of them who were serving in the erstwhile Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were placed under the custody and care of the government rehabilitation centers.

IAHV and Art of Living Sri Lanka delivered their rehabilitation programs to ex-LTTE combatants placed at the Boosa Prison and the rehabilitation centers in Omanthai and Maradamadu. The programs have helped more than 1800 ex-LTTE combatants to meaningfully reintegrate within mainstream society.

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