International experts gathered in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria have stressed the need to monitor extremist ideology and consolidate the efforts of Arab counter-terrorism research centres.
The 3rd International Conference on Fighting Extremism, hosted by the Library of Alexandria (Bibliotheca Alexandrina) from January 17th-19th, is part of a series of events and forums held by the library to combat extremist ideology.
The conference drew 300 participants from countries including Egypt, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Kuwait, UAE, Oman, Yemen, Syria, Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Bahrain, Lebanon, Iraq, Somalia and Djibouti.
During the three-day gathering, participants explored ways to strengthen relations between Arab research centres specialising in extremism.
They did this through forums that brought together various research centres, academics, clerics, politicians and diplomats to discuss how to confront extremism, said Rania Hassan, a member of the conference’s organising team.
The participants sought to gain a better understanding of the reasons and motives behind the spread of terrorism, and to identify successful ways of fighting it, she told Al-Mashareq.
"The diversity of the participants' specialisations significantly enriched the conference," she said.
Former Grand Mufti of Egypt, Sheikh Ali Gomaa, who survived an August assassination attempt that targeted him due to his anti-terrorism stance and his quest to promote moderation, was among the participants, Hassan said.
"The reason for this diversity in participants is attributable to the fact that extremism has become a worldwide phenomenon that requires concerted efforts and ideas to combat it effectively," Hassan said.
The topics discussed at the conference varied, she said, with one dialogue session devoted to "women and extremism, with focus on the pressures women face in the areas in which extremist groups have a presence".
Another session focused on the need for "raising awareness against extremism and terrorism through the law", Hassan said, while yet another discussed how the media should deal with extremism-related issues.
The relationship between religious diversity and extremism also was a topic of discussion, she added, while a session on youth entanglement in extremism was one of the most important sessions and drew the interest of all participants.
Healing sectarian divisions
The conference helped to define terrorism "and the ways in which it infiltrates the minds of the youth in particular", Bahrain's Isa Cultural Centre executive director, Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, told Al-Mashareq.
Extremist ideology seeks to exploit Islam to fuel sectarian prejudices, he said, noting that it has unfortunately succeeded in infiltrating some countries by creating social divisions that exploit these prejudices.
The current focus should therefore be on "defining terrorism and revealing and disseminating the truth about Islam", he said, adding that the religion has been distorted by those who promote extremist ideology.
Another issue of concern is the "incitement of sectarian strife in some countries by terrorists, which leads the youth who get caught up in the trap of extremist ideas to lose their sense of patriotism", Khalifa said.
Loss of loyalty to the homeland naturally leads young people to become loyal to the group or party that has brainwashed them, he added.
"This is where the role of government, private and community institutions comes in, to maintain the sense of loyalty and patriotism in a way that makes it serve as a deterrent to terrorism," he said.
The culture of citizenship
Promoting a culture of citizenship is one of the most important means of combating terrorist ideology and extremism, University of Baghdad lecturer Hamid Shehab told Al-Mashareq.
"Through citizenship, it is possible to promote the spirit of the law and legal awareness to uphold the country’s sovereignty, so as to block the extremist ideology," he said.
If this ideology is allowed to spread, he explained, it will be accompanied by "acts of subversion and terrorism".
The principle of citizenship and awareness of the law can be instilled in various ways, he said, including through educational institutions, the media and social media.
These principles also can be fostered through cultural activities, such as art, television, drama and cinema, he said.