Jordanian students aim to quell extremist ideology

By Mohammad Ghazal in Amman


A group of students at the University of Jordan launched an initiative on December 5th that aims to confront terrorism and violent extremism. [Photo courtesy of University of Jordan]

The University of Jordan has launched several recent initiatives that aim to propagate positive values among the kingdom's youth and quell the type of extremist ideology that can lead to acts of violence.

On December 5th, a group of students kicked off the "Athar" initiative to confront extremism and renounce bigotry and obscurantism among the youth.

"We live in a moderate and centrist society that is far removed from extremism and bigotry, and in which the values of tolerance, freedom and acceptance of others contribute towards its success," University of Jordan vice president for humanities faculties Ahmad Majdoubeh said during the launch ceremony.

The Athar initiative aims to discourage Jordanian youth from committing acts of violence, which destroys innocent lives and rends societies, students said.

It also seeks to "protect young people from social media warfare", said initiative chairman and university student Mohammed al-Nashash, noting that extremists often push their corrosive ideology via online platforms.

The initiative will employ "an electronic platform" that will be launched soon to respond to the ideology and "dark intentions" that extremists are trying to spread, particularly among children and young people, he told Al-Mashareq.

In mid-November, the university's Deanship of Student Affairs launched a separate initiative, "Youths Against Extremism and Terrorism", which focuses on the role of students in fighting and renouncing terrorism.

This initiative aims to tackle violent extremism, "be it ideological, destructive or in any other form that encourages warped ideas to spread among youths", said dean of student affairs Khaled al-Rawajfa.

A timeline will be set for sub-initiatives to be implemented over a one year period, he told Al-Mashareq, during which young people will meet each other in an environment that speaks to their generation.

Another objective is to attract outstanding students who have made high level regional and global achievements, he said, and to present them to their peers across campuses, which would allow for an exchange of ideas and talents.

Shared societal role

Universities play a key role in confronting terrorism and raising a generation of cultured and wise individuals, said Al- Balqa Applied University sociology professor Hussain al-Khuzaie.

"We always urge universities to play a bigger role in raising awareness among the younger generation, so as to thwart any brainwashing attempts by terrorist groups," he told Al-Mashareq.

Initiatives such as Athar and Youths Against Extremism and Terrorism are important in engaging young people and raising awareness, he said.

"It is not the sole responsibility of governments and families to confront terrorism, but also that of schools and universities," he added.

"It is very important for young people not to be idle," he said, stressing the importance of engaging them in meaningful dialogue to confront obscurantism, particularly as they heavily rely on social media in their daily interactions.

Focus on online activity

"We are subjected to an onslaught of ideas and concepts on a daily basis, and we come across people with different ways of thinking," said University of Jordan arts student Suzanna al-Qassous. "Some have extremist ideas."

This is why initiatives that raise awareness and help young people to be more discerning are so important, she told Al-Mashareq, as without this they are vulnerable to falling prey to extremist groups.

"These initiatives are not only important for students but also for universities, as it makes them closer and more involved with their students," she said.

Jordanian youth spend a lot of time surfing the Internet, said University of Jordan humanities student Omar Shawqi, adding that it is essential that counter-extremism campaigns focus on interactive online spaces.

"Many of us are exposed to a barrage of information, not all of which is correct," he told Al-Mashareq. "Some is made up, while some aims at corrupting young people's minds."

Continuous awareness campaigns and interaction with youth of all segments of society is crucial in curbing violent extremist ideology, Shawqi said.

The digital space is most often left unsupervised by parents, he added, "so awareness among youths is the first line of defence when it comes to confronting extremist ideas or groups that incite violence and chaos".

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