“These Young People Are Dying to Belong.”

Walking back from the grocery store, I listened to the newest episode of the great NPR podcast Invisibilia. When I returned to my desk and skimmed through the news, I saw just how apropos the episode is. A young Afghan man, a kid really at 17 years, apparently attacked people on a train near Würzburg in Germany, injuring 4, with a knife. Police are investigating, and have found a hand-drawn “ISIS flag;” already the attack is treated

by the police, public, and media like an IS terror attack

The Invisibilia episode is about “flipping the script,” about what psychologists call non-complementary behavior. Our default reaction, our natural instinct if you will, is to respond to something in the same manner: If someone is cold, we are cold in return. If someone is hostile towards us, we respond with hostility. We respond to violence with violence. Non-complimentary behavior works against that default behavior and often leads to surprising, positive results. Non-complementary behavior is at work when it comes to non-violent protests. In the first story on the podcast, the empathetic reaction of a group attacked by a would-be mugger leads to a peaceful resolution of the situation. 

Here comes the connection between the podcast and the headline: The main story of the Invisibilia episode comes from Aarhus, Denmark, where the police and city responded to the ‘radicalization’ of young Muslims and their disappearance to Syria not with repression and stigmatization, but by reaching out to the Muslim community and by offering the young people, including those returning from Syria, a place (back) in society through mentoring, social services and a chat over coffee. They flipped the “tough” law and order script and got positive results. You can read more about the story and listen to the episode here: How A Danish Town Helped Young Muslims Turn Away From ISIS.

The ‘flip the script’ response in this case certainly isn’t perfect (nor is the Aarhus police department perfect, probably) but this solution attempt to me seems more feasible and  in line with our democratic values than war, building walls, and banning people. This method also takes the wind out of the sails of ISIS and similar groups, who are using the desperation of young Muslims (of color) and our societal rejection as a powerful recruiting and propaganda tool. After all, as one of the police officers in the story says: These young people are dying to belong. 

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