Fighting ex­trem­ism in Daesh’s wake

Whether it is in Syria, Iraq or else­where, only by di­rectly con­fronting the ide­ol­ogy that has spread into peo­ple’s heads and homes can rad­i­cal­ism be de­feated

Gulf News - - Opinion -

ith Daesh (the self-pro­claimed Is­lamic State of Iraq and the Le­vant) in re­treat in north­ern and eastern Syria, ac­tivists are re­fo­cus­ing their ef­forts on counter-ex­trem­ism and es­tab­lish­ing de­rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion pro­grammes with the hope of eras­ing the mil­i­tants’ en­trenched ide­ol­ogy.

Even in places where Daesh was de­feated mil­i­tar­ily, civil so­ci­ety groups were con­fronted with “the ide­o­log­i­cal rem­nants of the group”, said Aghiad Al Kheder, a mem­ber of Sound and Pic­ture Or­gan­i­sa­tion, an op­po­si­tion-run me­dia net­work that cov­ers de­vel­op­ments in Raqqa and Deir Al Zour. The ac­tivist group is now spear­head­ing de­rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion ef­forts in for­mer Daesh ar­eas. In the process of con­quer­ing ter­ri­tory for its so­called ‘caliphate’ in Iraq and Syria, Daesh had also be­gun a wide­spread cam­paign to dis­sem­i­nate its ide­ol­ogy among the pop­u­la­tion liv­ing un­der its con­trol. In the course of its three-year rule, these ef­forts specif­i­cally tar­geted chil­dren and ado­les­cents, with Daesh schools, train­ing camps and a new cur­ricu­lum based on its way of think­ing.

A 2016 study by the Wash­ing­ton In­sti­tute for Near East Pol­icy that ex­am­ined Daesh text­books found that chil­dren were be­ing taught how mil­i­tants iden­tify “un­be­liev­ers” and what mea­sures should be taken against them. Even the study of math­e­mat­ics and chem­istry in­volved a Daesh twist. For ex­am­ple, one text­book in­cluded the ques­tion: ‘If the Is­lamic State [Daesh] has 275,220 he­roes in a bat­tle and the un­be­liev­ers have 356,230, who has more sol­diers?’

Daesh also spread its ide­ol­ogy among the broader pop­u­la­tion through var­i­ous pub­li­ca­tions and me­dia pro­duc­tions. This in­cluded weekly news­pa­pers such as Al Naba’a, the Al Bayan Ra­dio, which used to broad­cast in Daesh ter­ri­to­ries, and the no­to­ri­ous Dabiq mag­a­zine, which it tai­lored to­wards for­eign re­cruits. The mil­i­tant group’s ser­mons in mosques also es­poused a hard­line Salafist­ter­ror­ist in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Is­lam and en­cour­aged vi­o­lence against non­be­liev­ers.

So far, the most con­certed at­tempt at coun­ter­ing Daesh’s wide­spread dis­sem­i­na­tion of its ide­ol­ogy has taken place in Aleppo’s coun­try­side. Ac­tivists and Is­lamic schol­ars es­tab­lished the Syr­ian Counter Ex­trem­ism Cen­tre (SCEC) last month after hun­dreds of Daesh-af­fil­i­ated mil­i­tants and de­fec­tors flocked to op­po­si­tion-held ar­eas in north­ern Syria, ex­plained Hussain Nasser, the cen­tre’s di­rec­tor.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion “seeks to spread aware­ness and re­move ex­trem­ist ide­ol­ogy from the minds of Daesh mem­bers, while try­ing to pro­mote tol­er­ance in so­ci­ety,” Nasser told Syria Deeply. Such ef­forts in­clude cour­ses and work­shops de­liv­ered by SCEC staff, which in­cludes a di­verse group of ex­perts, such as me­dia pro­fes­sion­als, psy­chol­o­gists and spe­cial­ists in the field of Sharia, who pro­mote a mod­er­ate in­ter­pre­ta­tion of re­li­gious teach­ings.

The SCEC is funded “in­de­pen­dently”, through do­na­tions by ac­tivists, the Free Syr­ian Army (FSA) and other local civil so­ci­ety groups, ac­cord­ing to Nasser. It re­ceives no for­eign fund­ing. This fi­nan­cial gap has cre­ated sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges for the cen­tre, pri­mar­ily the lack of ex­pe­ri­enced spe­cial­ists. Lack of funds means the SCEC has to con­tend with hir­ing a lim­ited number of spe­cial­ists and “me­dia pro­fes­sion­als”. Nasser adds that more ex­pe­ri­enced spe­cial­ists are needed, es­pe­cially when deal­ing with hard­ened Isis [Daesh] loy­al­ists who have rad­i­cal ex­trem­ism ide­ol­ogy “planted in them”.

A ma­jor hur­dle

The SCEC has car­ried out one cam­paign tar­get­ing young men and women be­tween the ages of 18-26, and an­other tar­get­ing younger chil­dren. Dur­ing work­shops and sem­i­nars, ac­tivists work on “re­mind­ing these peo­ple of our so­cial val­ues and ... the neg­a­tive im­pact of ex­trem­ism in ev­ery­day life”, Al Kheder said. Be­cause its op­er­a­tions are largely ad hoc and spo­radic, the Sound and Pic­ture Or­gan­i­sa­tion can­not de­ter­mine their im­pact, but Al Kheder be­lieves it has been lim­ited — mainly be­cause of who is in charge of lib­er­ated ar­eas. For­mer Daesh strongholds in north­ern Syria, such as the city of Raqqa, are now un­der the con­trol of the United States­backed Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces. The Kur­dish-led force pro­hibits the pres­ence of or­gan­i­sa­tions that do not fall un­der its ju­ris­dic­tion, Al Kheder said, not­ing that such re­fusal is a ma­jor hur­dle to reach­ing all af­fected pop­u­la­tions.

It re­mains un­clear whether for­eign gov­ern­ments will fund local de­rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion ef­forts. But many, in­clud­ing France, the United King­dom, Den­mark, In­done­sia and Saudi Ara­bia have al­ready con­trib­uted sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial and lo­gis­ti­cal sup­port to sim­i­lar pro­grammes within their own coun­tries. De­spite these ef­forts, lit­tle is known about their suc­cess rate.

What is clear, how­ever, is that Daesh and Al Qaida’s broad in­flu­ence has made ex­trem­ism a ram­pant prob­lem that is likely to per­sist in Syria — and only by di­rectly con­fronting the ide­ol­ogy that has spread into peo­ple’s heads and homes can rad­i­cal­ism be erad­i­cated.

Sar­mad Al Ji­lane, found­ing mem­ber of the ac­tivist-run Raqqa is Be­ing Slaugh­tered Silently me­dia out­let, now works for the Sound and Pic­ture, an­other ac­tivist-run me­dia out­let.

Ra­machan­dra Babu/©Gulf News

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.