Education in the Prevention of Violent Extremism and Radicalization Within the Tunisian Youth

L’Éducation dans la Prévention du Phénomène d’Extrémisme Violent et de Radicalisation au Sein de la Jeunesse Tunisienne

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First of all, how should we define radicalization? Radicalization refers to a social and moral disruption process. This leads an individual to the adoption of a new vision of society, and new behaviors that, in the end, break the social pact. The European Union gives another definition according to which radicalization is the adoption process, by an individual, of a radical ideology in which violence is advocated in order to reach a specific objective.  

The first challenge quality education is facing today, I believe, is to help young people develop the behaviours and skills that go hand in hand with what might be called “the democratic spirit”. Koïchiro Matsuura, Former Director General of UNESCO from 1999 to 2009.


First of all, how should we define radicalization? Radicalization refers to a social and moral disruption process. This leads an individual to the adoption of a new vision of society, and new behaviors that, in the end, break the social pact. The European Union gives another definition according to which radicalization is the adoption process, by an individual, of a radical ideology in which violence is advocated in order to reach a specific objective.  

Radicalization can be considered through different factors: political, socio-economical, cultural, or even geographical. Also, as it is not a recent phenomenon, radicalization trends, methods and models evolve, more or less showcasing one or several factors. This is why the government’s response must continuously be adapted.

It is important to differentiate the notion of radicalization from those of extremism and violent extremism. An individual can be considered an extremist if they strongly believe to detain the truth and they could tend to be willing to impose it. They are characterized by a lack of open-mindedness towards people who do not share the same vision.  According to Mohammed Ashraf, extremism is a “relative phenomenon”. He added that the problem of extremism is not its reformative potential, but its violent potential. Indeed, his words make a perfect link with the notion of violent extremism, previously mentioned. An individual falls into the violent extremism side as soon as he promotes the use of violence in favor of his beliefs and convictions.

A large number of studies emphasize the fact that radicalized persons are going through a trust crisis towards the government and society in general, from which they feel marginalized. Thus, it raises the question of inclusion. Inclusion can refer to the creation of an environment that respects each individual according to the principle of equity, which allows these people to access the same opportunities. According to a previous report published by Maghreb Economic Forum, the perception of inclusion by the youth is based on six different indicators: education, employment, civic engagement, political participation, social acceptance, and religion. Education is the one we will be focusing on through this work.

It is important to remember that fighting against violent extremism and radicalization is not sufficient. What is needed is to prevent it. Violent and radical extremism is not innate. It is acquired due to false interpretations and perceptions, hatred, and ignorance. The prevention process should start as soon as possible in order to sensibilize the youth to those risks. This is why we decided to discuss education’s role in realizing that goal. Of course, education is not the principal reason nor the principal solution to these phenomena. However,  it has a role to play in the prevention of them.

The Current Tunisian Education System 

The Tunisian education system is subject to controversial debates and is going through a crisis. What could clearly illustrate it is the way its quality worsened through the years. Drop-out rates, a lagging position compared to other countries, and a trend that favors the upper social classes are some of the indicators that prove the importance of the crisis.

Through the different interviews conducted as part of the work, several flaws of the system came out frequently. At the top of the list, there is the lack of equal opportunity, followed by the quality of the course content and infrastructures, and the bad integration of the system into the economy.  The budget is also strongly considered as a barrier to the good functioning of the system.

Let us come into details concerning these different points. Then, we will explain their link with the issue of radicalization of the youth in Tunisia.

First of all, what is at stake when we talk about equal opportunity? It refers to a situation in which individuals, in our case, the youth, are on equal terms towards access to education. But it is not the case. Sahim Jaafar says that a large panel of the Tunisian population is still marginalized. The lack of quality, inclusion and equity in education explains why some people do not consider school as playing the role of a “social elevator”. It reflects the existing lack of trust from the Tunisian society toward educational institutions.

The poor quality of the educational offer favored the emergence and the development of private courses, which benefit the ones whose parents can afford them. Private education as well as the “pilot” structures also contribute to widening the inequalities gap.

Sofien Jaballah talks about the existence of dominance from a certain social class over another. The dominance is possible by the acquisition of a certain level of cultural capital which is a major concept in the sociology of education. It refers to the cultural resources that individuals have acquired and can mobilize. Knowing how to speak French, and having books at home, are some cultural capital examples that can be the source of inequalities between the different social classes. If we think about textbooks fully written in French, we can imagine how important that barrier is for those who are not comfortable with the French language. It raises the issue of the textbooks which should be, according to Ms.Gharbi Ikbal, subject to modifications. Their content should be updated and reduced and should include “live together” notions.  Sofien Jaballah adds that the learning method applied in Tunisia must be revised. He summarizes his idea by this expression: “learning without understanding”. His statement reaches the one from Gharbi Ikbal. Indeed, she argues that it would clearly be more efficient to develop an educational approach based on comprehension rather than on learning “by heart”. As they both claim, it would allow teachers to develop and strengthen the critical spirit of the students.

Regarding the budget issue, M.Hamadi emphasizes the fact that more than 90% of the budget of the Ministry of Education goes to pay the salaries. In 2020, the Minister himself declared that the budget was not sufficient to cover the minimum needs of the educational sector. He added that the increase in the budget between 2020 and 2021 corresponds to the 3% rise in salaries. It is in this context that a reform of the allocation of the budget would allow useful support to all the necessary investments in favor of education for example the adaptation of the content of the textbooks, as mentioned above. These comments were echoed in a report published in 2018 by the World Bank on world development. This report states that school enrollment is not a synonym for great learning. Wise investments are in that case a crucial point in order to reach a good quality of education.

The last point that we will discuss concerning the weaknesses of the educational system is its lack of integration into the national economy. This statement mainly refers to the increasing phenomenon of unemployed graduates. It refers to the situation in which Tunisian graduates cannot find any job despite the attainment of one or several diplomas.These different previously mentioned weaknesses are barriers to the social inclusion of the Tunisian youth. The trust crisis towards educational institutions coupled with a feeling of being marginalized creates a favorable environment for the development of extremist ideologies. Indeed, it is what the Aarhus model explains. According to it, each discrimination, human or institutional, favors the emergence of radicalization. This inspiring model, based on a “soft” method of prevention, could be applied in Tunisia. In that case, education seems to be an essential element of a good prevention strategy.

The Necessity of an Educational Program for Better Use of Social Media

Media, especially social media, tend to play an increasingly important role in many different fields. Their popularity among the young generations keeps getting bigger. Even if it is not a recent phenomenon, social media are full of innovation, and new trends frequently emerge, which stimulate their users. While social media can bring positive inputs, they can have some negative effects on whoever uses them without the distance needed for the analysis of the shared information, photo, or video.  These past few years, the diffusion of fake news on social media has been the subject of several controversies around the world, for example during the elections period. The necessity to have a critical spirit, capable of distinguishing the truth from the false, is crucial. And especially for younger generations.

According to Ms.Gharbi Ikbal, social media are a sort of virtual school that participates in building the imaginary and in shaping consciences. Indeed, the internet has no borders. All information, from wherever it comes, can be seen, forwarded,  and commented on all around the world. Again, this is obviously not a negative point if used in a proper manner.

Now, what is the link with our subject? First of all, it is important to ascertain that, on an international scale, Islam is the first religion in terms of published content on social media, especially Instagram, Youtube, and more recently, TikTok. These platforms represent the perfect opportunity for individuals who want to share extremist discourses. This issue is the one that pushed Lotfi Hamadi to develop, within his association called Wallah We Can, a project named “Club Media”. The idea is to make children learn how to analyze various sources of different information, to compare them, in order to develop their sense of curiosity and their critical spirit. The goal is to fight against the “simplification” effect of social media because it reduces, in fine, the effort made by the youth for comprehension.

This “simplification effect” can be found in religious content concerning Islam. Indeed, we can observe a tendency to reduce religion to some questions organized around what is halal and what is haram, between what is lawful and what is unlawful. According to Benjamin Hodayé, a French historian, this trend is mostly influenced by the Salafist and Islamist movements. Moreover, the consequence of it all is that it neglects spirituality and self-reflection but gives importance to some guidelines that should make an individual become a “good Muslim”, eliminating any sense of critical thinking. The makers of such content are exploiting the fact that social media users are looking for simple and short ones. The subjects that we commonly find are, for example, relationships, Islamic scarf, or death. In fact, most of the content refers to daily life in order to promote what could be defined as a “Muslim way of life”.

Also, this type of simple information has great potential to influence young people looking for orientation and for a framed way of life. By adopting this “Muslim way of life”, the individuals will benefit from a sense of belonging and will consequently feel enhanced.

In that case, education can and must play a role in the fight against this social media trend. An educational program for the better use of these platforms would be extremely beneficial. As M.Mohamed Kerrou said, the young generations need to learn how to get informed, how to question themselves, and how to communicate. They must be sensitized to the dangers that exist through social media, for them to be aware of the importance of their good use.

Education and Culture 

This part deals with the idea of patriarchal culture through the notion of masculinity. Masculinity can be defined as norms, expectations, and social dynamics associated with the fact of “being a man”. In other words, masculinity refers to all the behaviors which are considered masculine characteristics. According to the definition given by Wall and Kristjanson, masculine ideals refer to force, heterosexuality, and low emotional sensitivity. Lotfi Hamadi and Sofien Jaballah gave similar statements about it. According to them, the institution of marriage is still strongly seen as an emancipatory solution, both for women and men. However, men are often subject to a certain social pressure concerning for example the obtention of a job that allows them to earn a sufficient amount of money to marry a woman.

Some studies established a link between masculinity and violent extremism and consequently with radicalization. In a report written by Aleksandra Dier and Gretchen Baldwin for the International Peace Institute, it is mentioned as an example that extremist groups frequently use “super masculine images” in their propaganda campaigns. These images promote the idea that becoming a strong and “terrifying” fighter can allow one to reach a good salary and have the possibility to get married.  A study of psychology demonstrated that aggressive behaviors can be observed among children, from a very young age. Moreover, these behavior traits tend to last through the years if no early action for prevention has been made. As David Willmer and Ronald Levant mention in their article published in 2011, the gender roles attribution concept has no biological sources. It is a concept that is socially and psychologically constructed, based on preconceived ideas.

We must consider that point as part of a situation in which access to working life comes later and later, due to the “diploma inflation” phenomenon coupled with unemployment and a rising living cost. As Mahdi Cherif said, they have to face the incapacity to reach a cultural path of life because of the late acquisition of independence and the material tools allowing it. This can be a source of strong frustration. M.Cherif also talked about certain misogyny traits that can appear among men. The increasing number of women who get jobs led to some ideas, which can be considered radical and extremist, according to which they “stole men’s place and works”. These ideas are the result of a certain level of frustration. It reminds me of the statements developed in a psychology book, titled “Clinical Psychology Review”. It is explained that a man who does not reach social expectations concerning masculinity can feel it as a personal failure. This feeling of having failed leads to the feeling of frustration mentioned above which can in a second time, make the man develop a negative spirit and violent behaviors. 

In that case, education could have the power to offer young men and women the opportunity to express their personalities more easily and concerning men, not only through traditional values associated with masculinity. However, it is more than necessary to treat this issue using a global approach to the promotion of gender equality and fighting against any kind of discrimination. Also, education should be seen as the opportunity to promote social and relations skills, aiming at modifying their perception and acceptance of social gender norms. Educational structures could also propose a prevention program aimed at students’ parents. The purpose of this program could be to accompany parents in developing a healthy environment for their kids at home, which would prevent the development of violence among children and teenagers.

Comparison with Morocco

“We should promote the example of a tolerant Islam”. These words have been pronounced by a 25-year-old student at the Bou Imania Koranic School of Fès. Its recent renovation is part of the Moroccan government’s objective of promoting a “moderated Islam”. 

In 2016, as part of this promotion policy, Morocco initiated an important reform of Islamic education. To start with, the name of the courses has changed from Islamic teaching to religious teaching. This modification, as slight as it looks, suppose the recognition of a certain religious plurality, in a country where Islam is the State religion. Textbooks also have been modified, to develop the critical spirit of the students, as well as to teach them tolerant and respectful values. These values appear now in the textbooks, drawing on hadiths and verses from the Quran.  Respect for the environment is also promoted, on the same terms as respect for neighbors.

However, it is interesting to see that Morocco is facing some issues and challenges in common with Tunisia. Infrastructures, classrooms size, or marginalized regions constitute significant obstacles that the country must overcome as it holds back the efficiency of the reform.  A profound reform must necessarily be accompanied by investments that will help shape the form of the changes, in order to, in the end, upgrade and maximize the expected results.

Conclusion and Opening on the Future of the Situation 

I found it interesting to start this paragraph by mentioning a reflection made by one of our interlocutors. While the Tunisian educational system presents some indisputable flaws, accusing it of all its weaknesses would draw attention away from some of its factors, such as finance, inequality, and unemployment. In a situation where the unemployment rate is very high among young graduates, where inequalities are increasingly visible, education rises as the only way to get a decent life. This statement creates a  competitive environment among students, increases the existing pressure on the educational system, and fosters the development of a parallel system of private courses and an increasing number of private schools. Transferring all the responsibilities to the educational system only deepens its weakness. He refers to the “Choc doctrine” from Naomi Klein, a theory according to which a national crisis can be used to get citizens’ attention away from controversial subjects. This theory can explain the success encountered by private schools and by private individual courses. Indeed, when in some speeches, the Ministry gives huge importance to analphabetism, the fear for the future of their children can push them to choose that option.

Educational issues must be analyzed by considering all the other variables, as mentioned above. Education should not be considered a principal source of extremism, violent or not, or radicalization. It rather is considered as having a strong potential for preventing these phenomena. Reforming education would be only possible within a global reform of the system. Preventing and immunizing against extremism and radicalization are the objectives that the government could reach by using education effectively. To this end, a clear political will is more than necessary to provide the material and financial means needed for the implementation of a solid prevention program. In other words, as Ms.Gharbi Ikbal said, it is necessary to think differently about school as the philosopher Edgar Morin prescripted: shaping critical spirit and modifying the pedagogical relation. Government must act for more cohesion at the national scale in order to counter extremists’ objectives of dividing society to better control it.  


  • Ashraf Mohammed, propos tenus lors du séminaire mixte Azhar-Idéo, 2017
  • Ben Salah Nizar, Barkati Nabil, « Tackling Youth Radicalization through Inclusion in Post-revolutionary Tunisia », Maghreb Economic Forum, 2021
  • Berke, D.S., Reidy, D.E., Zeichner, A., ”Masculinity, emotion regulation, and psychopathology: A critical review and integrated model”, Clinical Psychology Review, Volume 66, 2018, Pages 106-116
  • Berke, D. S., Reidy, D. E., Gentile, B., & Zeichner, A., “Masculine Discrepancy Stress, Emotion-Regulation Difficulties, and Intimate Partner Violence”, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 34(6), 2019, Pages 1163–1182 
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Brief Presentations of the Interlocutors 

Mohamed Kerrou

Mohamed Kerrou is a socio-anthropologist, who graduated in History and earned a Ph.D. in political sciences. He published several books, including the famous one titled “Jemna, l’oasis de la révolution”. He is also a permanent member of the “sciences, literature and arts” Academy, named Beit el Hikma.

Lotfi Hamadi

Lotfi Hamadi is the founder of the association called Wallah We Can which aims at ensuring and supporting five fundamental children’s rights: the right to education, health, personal fulfillment, and to physical and judicial protection. All of their projects are entrepreneurship-based. 

Gharbi Ikbal

Gharbi Ikbal is a university lecturer and Vice-President of the Tunisian League for the Defence of Academic and Creation Freedom (LTDAC). She is a specialist in gender studies as well as in anthropology.

Sahim Jaafar

Sahim Jaafar is an expert concerning the questions of local, economic, and social development. Especially in relation to gender issues in terms of equal opportunities for employment but also of youth, refugees, and migrants integration. 

Sofien Jaballah

Sofien Jaballah is a Ph.D. in social and religious sciences, sociologist, and lecturer at the University of Sfax and also a former consultant in violent extremism prevention. 

Mahdi Cherif

Mahdi Cherif is a university student in sociology and the co-founder of Fahmologia, a project that aims at promoting scientific studies and learning in Tunisia.

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