Fighting Violent extremism requires more than a communication strategy
In his plan to counter what he called khawarej (the outlaws) of Islam, Jordan's King Abdullah gave prominence to the role of communication in the battle for the heart soul and mind.
Item four of the seven-point plan the King laid out at the UN General Assembly Monday talked about amplifying the voice of moderate individuals.
“It is one of the greatest ironies of our time that extremist voices use advanced media to propagate ignorant ideas. We must not let our screens, airwaves, broadband and social media be monopolized by those who pose the greatest danger to our world. We too must populate our media, and more important, the minds of our young people, with the purity and power of moderation,” said the King.
The battle for the minds is not and should not be limited to the media, however.
In an excellent analysis, columnist Rami G. Khouri took to task those who have a narrow view of countering extremism without searching for its root causes.
In his article in Al Jazeera America, titled “Beware the hoax of countering violent extremism”, Khouri calls on the global community to search deeper into the role of governments in helping increase terrorism.
“Violent extremism, it turns out, is the consequence of policies of Western and Middle Eastern states, and radical changes by both are required to stem the problem,” he argues, explaining the ongoing violent extremism as “a desperate reaction to political and socioeconomic hopelessness at home and dehumanization from foreign armies”.
While his opinion has merit, it can be argued that the present crisis in Iraq and Syria is not the direct responsibility of either the Obama administration or of King Abdullah. Both were totally opposed to the Bush/Blair war on Iraq that gave birth to the current round of extremism.
The question facing us, therefore, is what can be done today to deal with what is clearly an existential threat to the entire region and a scourge that is being hatched by every group that has a problem or a grievance around the world.
When King Abdullah , in the first of the seven points, calls for the return to basics, it must be emphasised that the basics here should,not be limited to “deep values of love peace, justice and compassion." It should also include the basic rights of individuals and the needs for serious political and socioeconomic reforms.
If the current wave of extremism is in part the result of regional and international policies, return to basics will require a true commitment to the tenants of the universal declaration of human rights as the basis for governance.
Honoring the rights of the individual in true equality, irrespective of gender, ethnicity and religion, will go a long way in adjusting the current distorted view of governance that has become the hallmark of governance infrastructure.
Supporting women’s rights without ensuring their true equality in work and society is meaningless.
Providing work opportunities for the youth while giving college scholarships to individuals on privileged basis, irrespective of academic accomplishments, is not a formula that gives hope to successful youth who do not belong to the advantaged groups as designed by the ruling elite.
The fight against extremism, therefore, needs to begin at home with a total revamping of political and governance structures.
A review of educational curricula even in so-called moderate Arab countries will reveal the existence of plenty of Daesh belief deeply embedded in ministries of education, social affairs, religion and even culture.
Much can be done to counter extremism by using media and other instruments of influence in society.
But such effort will be truly worthless if it not done in parallel with a serious effort at political reform that aims at uprooting the radicalization within society.
A fair and effective governance mechanism that will ensure that all citizens have an equal role in deciding their own future is essential for such a process.
In this sense, media as instruments of enlightenment, education and raising awareness can play a key role in awakening our societies.
This process will ensure that the seven steps outlined by His Majesty can be effective in stemming the tide of extremism that is threatening the very existence of a modern, liberal and open society that respects the other while granting all citizens the right to fulfill their aspirations.