Although the motives that sparked the Arab Spring revolts are wildly different from the motives behind the recent anarchic violence in the UK, a common dominator is disillusioned youth, according to the Geneva-based NGO Interpeace which specializes in peace building. 

Interpeace began working with marginalized youth in Central America in 2007 and recently published a global strategy report, based on lessons learned, for Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere. 

“We were taken aback by the globalization of youth,” said Interpeace Director-General Scott Weber.  “Technology has enabled them to organize better and to better know what’s going on in the rest of the world”.  He calls it the Al-Jazeera revolution with young people discovering what’s going on in other countries.

Weber said his organization was alarmed by the ‘mano dura’ (iron fist) approach of the UK government that reduced the problem to one of criminality. “We want to insure that the undercurrent of marginalization is not lost in this discourse. These young people live in a parallel world from one where people have jobs.”

Interpeace is concerned that the kind of violence seen in the UK could spread in various forms elsewhere as already seen with the less violent unemployment riots in Spain and Greece, for example.  Weber warns that such protests often provide a breeding ground for anarchists and drug gangs coming from other countries. “We’re seeing Central American gangs tagging (spray painting) in Barcelona and Madrid, indicating ‘we control this area – keep out’.”  He believes the phenomenon is spreading elsewhere in Europe.

“If youth feel devalued in economies that cannot absorb more employment, whether in Africa or the UK, what are they going to do?  With the breakdown in family structure, educational structure, and barriers to employment … youth naturally look for other structures, gangs or organized movements where they can belong.”

Whether youth violence is the result of social, cultural, economic or political tensions, Weber believes the answer is to not treat young people as alien beings but to engage them and talk to them. “We need to listen to young people about their situation, their perceived problems, real or not, which cause them to feel alienated.”