#Formers Educational Resource

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The journeys of former extremists
1. A guide to using the films in schools and colleges.
Watch the four films. Click on this link:


Key words #curriculum #extremism #teachers #criticalthinking
#safespaces #formers #Britishvalues #Ofsted
! The Leader – Nigel
! The Recruiter – Yasmin
! The Believer – Shahid
! The Accidental – Sammy
! Community advocate -Faizal
! Yazidi Activist – Rozin
Who better to hear from other than those who have been there and done that?
What insights can former extremists offer to us? Why should we listen to
those who have been part of violent extremist movements? The unique films
produced by ConnectFutures capture the journeys of former extremists and
political activists (Islamist and far right). There is a 10 minute video which
intertwines the stories of four former extremists and two political activists, and
also separate 4 minute videos of the testimonies of each of the four former
extremists in more detail.
The aim of the films is for people to listen to their voices and understand the
processes of radicalisation. The films are a preventative tool to help stop
people joining extremist groups. They are also a means of starting difficult
conversations about motivation, ideology, religion and identity. The films are
visually striking and draw power from personal experience. They provide
honest opinions and insights into those questions that the wider public and
even governments are often afraid to discuss openly.
One aim of the films is to show that ‘extremists’ come from a variety of
backgrounds, and there is no one pathway in or out. Also the films aim to
show that extremists are not all evil ignorant terrorists, but have noble
missions of saving their society or improving their world. The formers in these
films are articulate and well-intentioned. Hence the aim is to show that we all
could become vulnerable.
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2. Brief information on the four formers and two
community activists in the films
(Background information about the extremist organisations/causes is given at the end
of this guide)
Nigel – The Leader
Nigel, based in London, became a leading far-right activist from the age of 16,
having been recruited outside his school and being attracted to the anti-IRA
rhetoric. He joined the National Front in 1982 and during the 1990s he was a
national council member for the violent neo-Nazi group Combat 18. It cost
him his marriage: his wife, who despised the extreme political path her
husband chose, gave Nigel a “them or me” ultimatum. He chose the far right.
Nigel is now active in combatting extremism.
Yasmin – The Recruiter
Yasmin, originally from Derby, was a member of the banned group Al
Muhajiroun from 1996 to 2000. Her role was to recruit other women to join the
extremist organisation in their aim to create an Islamic State. Yasmin now
works to dissuade young people from joining extremist groups.
Shahid – The Believer
Shahid, based in Birmingham, was part of the Lynx street gang fighting
skinheads in the 1980’s. He travelled to Bosnia as an aid worker in the
1990’s, but soon joined the foreign fighters brigade of the Bosnian Army after
seeing the plight of the people, subsequently travelling to Afghanistan and
Kashmir. In 1998, he was arrested and tortured into signing a false confession
in Yemen and sentenced to 5 years in prison on charges of conspiring to carry
out terrorist attacks. He was released in 2003. He is now active in combating
racism, extremism and gang activity.
Sammy – The Accidental
Sammy is a 23 year old German who converted to Islam in 2007 when it
‘made his heart beat’, and he travelled to Syria in 2014. He thought he was
going to ‘help’ Muslims but on arrival in Syria was only given three options, all
of which involved using bombs or being on the frontline. He realised this was
just a terrorist organisation. With the help of his family, he escaped and has
now returned to Germany.
Rozin – Yazidi Activist
Rozin is a Yazidi activist, born in Iraqi Kurdistan but now living in Coventry.
She belongs to a Kurdish minority group, the Yazidis, an object of genocide
by ISIS. At aged 10, she fled Sinjar with her family after it was bombed by Al
Qaeda. Her global petition on change.org asking for Yazidi protection from
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ISIS was signed by nearly 300,000 people and was presented to the UK
parliament. Rozin is currently a university student studying law, human rights
and social justice and hopes to become a lawyer.
Faizal – Community Advocate
Faizal is a community activist who works with young Muslims. He currently
works as a photographer and filmmaker, designing projects that help young
Muslims explore and develop their identity here in the UK.
3. Teachers/Adults: Using the videos in the classroom
Firstly, depending on the previous learning experiences of the students, and
where these films fit in the curriculum, you may want to discuss the notions of
‘extremism’, ‘violent extremism’ and ‘radicalisation’ before the students view
the films. Or you may want to do this at the end or at a later stage.
Sometimes it may be better to start the discussion in small groups to enable
all views and feelings to be aired.
The choice of questions or topics, and language used to generate discussion,
obviously depends on the age of the students. At a session when some
secondary school students watched the films, and heard the personal
testimony of Shahid, the sorts of questions and comments that they raised
revolved around these areas:
• Joining up: Why did people join then, and why do people join now?
• Testimony and change: feeling amazed that people have put their
voices out; humbled by the bravery of the individuals, being able to
change their minds; interesting that they went to a place to make a
difference, but then the reality was different.
• Violence: Is the use of violence ever justified? Did the Former have a
background of violence? Was extremism more effective 20 years ago
or now? What is the impact?
• Complexity: Realisation that not all journeys are the same; is there a
false divide between being a freedom fighter and terrorist?
• Responsibility: Who has the responsibility for young people [not]
joining extremist groups? Parents or school? Is it not down to schools
to help you think before you make a decision? Or has the damage
already been done?
• Reintegration: What should happen to returning foreign fighters?
Should they be criminalised?
• Looking back: Did the Former have regrets? Did s/he wish they had
never seen the video, which ignited his anger and propelled him to go
and fight? Hence questions of fate, and whether events and actions
are preordained.
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Questions therefore which could be asked in class:
1. What stands out for you from the videos? What sentence, phrase,
2. Did anything surprise you?
3. Why do you think people join extremist movements? Is this the same
for all types of extremism?
4. What techniques do radicalisers use to persuade people into their
5. Could you be tempted to join? What would stop you?
6. What were the triggers for stepping away from extremism? Can people
change? Can they really ever be ‘formers’?
7. Can we ‘forgive’ Nigel, in that, unlike Sammy, he was actually involved
in violent acts?
8. Are those that join extremist groups so really different from us?
9. If you thought that someone you knew was starting to be radicalised, to
join up with an extremist group, what would you do? What should a
teacher do?
10. How could schools make all students resilient to extremism? What
creative ideas do you have?
You may want to show the films twice – once to get a general reaction and a
response to various questions, and then to ask students to focus on key
themes, such as all the different reasons why people join up (e.g. frustration,
lack of voice, feeling of exclusion, duty to help other Muslims, the holy war,
create a revolution, not being believed, seeking justice, becoming God’s
representative, the social side etc). You may want to extract and highlight
certain quotations, for example:
• “In Syria I was given three options “drive by car into humans..(with)
bombs,..second was to fight on the front line and third was to fight with a
bomb belt”
• “Once a Nazi, always a Nazi”
• “We wanted to create a revolution, we wanted to make history..this was the
first organisation where women were becoming activists”
• “I’d still describe myself as an Islamist”
• The British people have been so helpful in my campaign…you have to tell the
government again and again what you want
• We feel that we need to be consulted/..the Muslims over the last years have
not been consulted (by Government)
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4. Curriculum Links
The films could be used as part of various aspects of curriculum.
History: examination of conflict or propaganda; links to Hitler, the Holocaust,
other genocides. Questions of who narrates history, whose stories prevail.
People wanting to create history, start a revolution.
SMSC and PSHE: stereotyping and the spread of racism or hatred
Citizenship: Eliciting students’ creative ideas on how the sense of mission in
these extremists and in young people could be channeled into something
positive (this was suggested by some of the former extremists).
Link to Fundamental British Values: values of respect, tolerance, rule of
law, liberty, democracy, freedom of speech can all be touched upon.
• Freedom of speech: Difference between freedom of speech and hate
• Tolerance and liberty: Should you ever try to persuade anyone to
convert to your cause? Your political group? Your religion?
• Democracy and rule of law: how do you create social change without
violence? Is violence ever justified? How do you include everyone in
the political process, and hear minority views?
• Rights: What rights are being infringed in the pursuit of violent
Religious Education: The appeal of different religions; questions of
forgiveness and redemption. Should you try to change people’s religion? Is
missionary work in other countries justified? Holy wars; religious duties to
5. Background to the organisations and causes
espoused by the contributors to the films
The international armed conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) between
1992 and 1995 was part of the breakup of Yugoslavia. The multi-ethnic
Socialist Republic of BiH had passed a referendum for independence that
gained international recognition. This was rejected by the Bosnian Serbs, who
mobilised their forces inside BiH to secure Serb territory, spreading into war.
The war was characterized by bitter fighting, indiscriminate shelling of cities,
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ethnic cleansing of Muslims and systematic rape. Events such as the Siege
of Sarajevo and the Srebenica Massacre later became iconic of the conflict.
Combat 18 is an ultra right wing violent group. The ‘18’ represents Adolf
Hitler’s initials, and the group is linked to the Nazi Blut und Ehre (Blood and
Honour) organisation. They demand a white motherland. COMBAT 18
originally started in the early Nineties and was the first right-wing group in the
UK to take the state head-on, entirely rejecting conventional politics. The
group had promised a violent race war against “invading” immigrants and a
system which it believed had abandoned working-class “white” people. This
group is still very active and Nigel claims is trying to recruit teachers in
Birmingham. Those teachers who ‘fall under the spell’ of the far right are given
a simple guide to winning over pupils in their care. They are trained to ask
nationalistic questions in classrooms, then feign ignorance about the answers.
Al Muhajiroun (ALM) is a Salafist jihadist organisation, banned in 2010, and
now operating under different aliases. Michael Adebelajo, the man who killed
Fusilier Lee Rigby, attended ALM meetings and demos. It was founded in
1983 by Omar Bakri after an internal schism of the pan-Islamic organisation
Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), and with British born co-founder Anjem Choudary,
officially declaring it as an dependent organisation in 1996. Whereas HT
desired only to establish the Khilafah (the creation of an Islamic state under
sharia law) in Muslim countries, Bakri and Choudary wanted to establish it
worldwide by twinning Daw’ah (the call to Islam) and Jihad (struggle). ALM
has a long history of anti-Semitism, also preaching hatred of Sikhs and
Hindus, as well as gays. It is estimated that 18% of Islamist related terrorist
convictions are of ALM members, including the Royal Wootton Bassett bomb
Yazidis (or Yezidis) are a Kurdish speaking people who live principally in
northern Iraq. They now number approximately 700,000. They are mostly a
poor and oppressed people, but they have a rich spiritual tradition that they
contend is the world’s oldest, given the antiquity of their calendar which can
be traced back 6756. The population has dwindled considerably over the
course of the past century. Like other minority religions of the region, such as
the Druze and the Alawis, it is not possible to convert to Yazidism, only to be
born into it. Yazidis have for centuries been under constant attack from those
Muslims who claim that the Yazidi’s principal deity, Tawsy Melek, the
“Peacock Angel”, is Satan, and that the Yazidis are not “People of the Book”,
i.e., that they do not have a sacred revealed scripture like the Holy Bible or the
Koran at the centre of their religion. The Yazidis had been denounced as
infidels by Al-Qaeda in Iraq, a predecessor of Isis, which sanctioned their
indiscriminate killing. Since 2014, when the Yazidis were attacked by ISIS,
many thousands of Yazidi men have been murdered and thousands of Yazidi
women have been kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery.
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WATCH: Want to watch the five films? Click on this link:


The inspiration for the films came from a previous larger EU project called ‘Formers and Families’, where former
extremists and their family members were interviewed about their backgrounds. ConnectFutures provided the UK
sample, interviewing ten formers extremists and their families (3 Far Right and 7 Islamist)**. The aim of the project
was to establish whether there were patterns in the family backgrounds which would help understand vulnerability to
radicalisation. The project confirmed however that the routes into extremism were highly complex and individualized,
and that it was not possible to attribute responsibility specifically to families. Nonetheless, many insights emerged
from the research, about triggers for radicalisation and reasons for joining and leaving. For these former extremists,
neither school nor church/mosque seemed protective. We feel that their stories can be used by schools now to try to
surface controversial issues and build resilience.
*Crowdfunder: 92 amazing people raised just under £9,000 in March 2015 to enable the filming of individuals.
It builds upon ConnectFuture’s previous EU research project on UK Formers and Families of Violent Extremists
published in November 2015, but features different individuals.
The videos on this page are © 2017 by ConnectFutures. All rights reserved. In accessing the ConnectFuture fiims,
you agree that you may only download the content for your own personal non-commercial use. You may not, except
with our express written permission, distribute or commercially exploit the content. Nor may you transmit it or store it
in any other website or other form of electronic retrieval system.
No part may be modified or changed or exploited in any way used for derivative works, or offered for sale, or used to
construct any kind of database or mirrored at any other location without the express written permission of
ConnectFutures. Any unauthorised use of any material contained on this website may violate copyright laws and
subject the violator to legal judgment and penalties.

9/11: The Al Qaeda attacks on New York’s Twin Towers and the Pentagon in Washington on 11th September 2001, which triggered President George W Bush’s ‘War on Terror’ and the  wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

7/7: The co-ordinated bomb attacks on London by four young British men in the name of Al Qaeda, on 7th July 2005, which killed 52 people.

Al Qaeda: Terrorist group founded in 1988 by Osama Bin Laden, which committed the 9/11 attacks.

Islamic State (Daesh/IS/ISIS/ISIL): Terrorist group formed after the fall of Saddam Hussain in Iraq and the civil war in Syria. It is the most prominent recruiter of Westerners to its mission to establish its own state.

CONTEST & the ‘4 Ps’: The British Government’s Counter Terrorism strategy initiated in 2006, revised in 2011, consisting of 4 strands: Prepare, Protect, Prevent and Pursue.

Prevent: Aiming to stop (prevent) individuals from supporting terrorism or becoming terrorists.