UAE hosts symposium on countering extremism and terrorism in education

The event is part of a larger struggle led by the UAE to use education and religious messaging as a way to confront terrorism in the region and the world.

Abu Dhabi. UAE (photo credit: WIKIMEDIA)
Abu Dhabi. UAE
(photo credit: WIKIMEDIA)
The Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research hosted a symposium in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday devoted to confronting the threats of extremism and terrorism.
“In light of the dangerous developments of extremism and terrorism, security countermeasures alone are no longer sufficient to eradicate these atrocities,” the ECSSR said in a press release.
The event is part of a larger struggle led by the UAE to use education and religious messaging as a way to confront terrorism in the region and the world. It has important ramifications because this struggle has led to the UAE and allies such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt confronting Qatar over allegations it supports Hamas and Hezbollah.
During the ECSSR event, Hussein bin Ibrahim Al Hammadi, minister of education of the UAE, said it is important for the education system to take a decisive stand against extremist groups.
“It goes without saying that the values, attitudes and ideas contained in all the stages of the education system of any society shape the future of this society and determine its position in the world,” he said, adding that this is important throughout the Arab world. This especially relates to “curricula concerning religion, to rid them of the impurities of extremism and terrorism,” he said.
According to tweets and quotes published by the organizers, the director-general of ECSSR noted that the region faces particular challenges because of the fast-paced developments today.
Although the symposium didn’t mention it specifically, extremist groups, such as ISIS, have used social media and technology to reach global audiences. They built upon what al-Qaida accomplished in the 1990s, pioneering distribution of propaganda materials and influencing young people.
“Our Arab nation and the whole world are going through difficult times,” Dr. Tarek Shawki, Egyptian minister of education and technical education, told the symposium.
Facing the challenge of “terrorism and extremism,” he urged the “appropriate upbringing of our children and providing them with innovative education that puts a stop to these phenomena once and for all.”
The minister of education of Bahrain, Dr. Majed bin Ali Al-Nuaimi, referenced the 2011 Arab Spring as a turning point, after which the terrorist and extremist threats “have been dealt with in a strategic manner.”
Bahrain was rocked by demonstrations in 2011, which were met with intervention by the Gulf Cooperation Council of neighboring countries such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and the UAE.
Other speakers discussed the importance of promoting coexistence and the need to include the role of women in the family and society.
Khalifa al Suwaidi of UAE University said that history teachers should reduce concentration on conflict and emphasize culture and civilization. “History lessons need to be purged of the impurities that aim to reduce the entire Arab nation’s history to battles, wars [and] coups.”
The sole woman who spoke, Dr. Karima al-Mazroui, executive director of the Abu Dhabi Educational Council, asserted that extremists had exploited educational materials to recruit. “Extremist groups have taken advantage of the education system to recruit followers through attempting to attract loyal teachers, producing the curriculum that supports their ideologies.”
Although the speakers mostly stressed broad generalizations such as “shifting from quantity to quality” and the constant refrain of opposing “extremism” while promoting tolerance and moderation, the overall message of the symposium is part of a larger cultural struggle in the region that is seeking to confront terrorism. Countries such as the UAE and Egypt have played a key role in recent years in recognizing that education is a key alongside standardizing religious messages.
This came after jihadist groups, such as ISIS and al-Qaida, were able to influence a generation in the region, as well as after the Muslim Brotherhood won elections in Egypt in 2012.
The UAE and particularly its foreign ministry officials have been encouraging Western countries to confront groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and also the funding and hosting of what they term “extremists.” This has included a break in diplomatic relations with Qatar, which began in June, and accusations that it supports terrorist groups such as Hamas.
Terminology is important for these states.
Richard Stengel, who served as US undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, noted in February 2017 that the Obama administration chose the term “violent extremism” rather than Islamist terrorism after consultations. “Our Islamic allies, the Jordanians, the Emiratis, the Egyptians, the Saudis believed that term [“Islamist”] unfairly vilified a whole religion.”
Using religion to confront extremism is a key aspect of what was stressed at the symposium.
Presenters spoke about the need to promote “true Islam” and rid curricula of “impurities” by building strong nationalist societies.
The recognition by these leading educators is that state systems, which tend to adapt slowly, need to recognize how terrorist groups were so successful in the past at gaining inroads in education.