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‘Strong Cities’ celebrates achievements as ministry mulls allocations for local anti-violence project

By JT - Dec 03,2018 - Last updated at Dec 03,2018

The Strong Cities Network aims to empower local communities to formulate their own solutions to extremism and violence. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs recently announced it was studying whether to allocate funds for the project (Photo courtesy of the Strong Cities Network)

AMMAN — The Ministry of Municipal Affairs has announced it is studying the possibility of allocating funds in its budget to support and sustain the Strong Cities Network’s (SCN) community prevention projects on countering violence and extremism in society.

As SCN officials showcased their achievements in Zarqa, Karak and Irbid, two years into the programme, Spokesperson for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs Rakez Al Khalayleh told The Jordan Times in exclusive remarks on Thursday that the main concern remains the issue of “sustainability”.

The results are "impressive", he said, which is why the ministry is looking to invest in the local community and these projects, according to the Khalayleh.

"It is a chance for us to encourage local community participation in the violence prevention effort."

Voicing appreciation for Denmark’s generous funding throughout the past two years, the ministry is currently looking beyond including local networks in its budgets, for each municipality to develop a nation-wide working module, he said.

The preventative approach to combating extremism and violence is "unfortunately" a novel idea long overdue, Head of Policy and Research at SCN Jonathan Birdwell told the Jordan Times. 

"Strong security measures are important, yet soft, pre-emptive measures may lessen the need for tight security settings," Birdwell said.

The importance of the SCN lies in the "empowerment of local municipalities to coordinate efforts with the civil society. Not only to help reduce violence rates overall, but also to reduce the costs of doing so and bridge the confidence gap between the local community and official municipality representatives".

"Youth are key to solving [various] national and international challenges [not only violent extremism]," said Adam Ravnkilde, regional preventing and countering extremism and radicalisation coordinator with the Danish ministry of foreign affairs.

Jordan has had “remarkable achievements with its local frameworks in regards to preventing violent extremism locally, impressively, within a very short period of time”.

“We must never forget that the youth are, perhaps, the most important element to engage in any such effort [to combat violent extremism]. By actively involving youths in the preventive effort, society will move towards becoming a safe space for all," Ravnkilde added.

The difference between SCN and other initiatives tackling the early stages of violence and extremism is crucial, said Khadije Nasser, senior regional manager at SCN. 

“We stand firmly by our view on empowering partnerships between facilitative municipalities, the civil society and local communities, through building local approaches to local challenges", she explained.

The SCN calls such modules “community prevention networks”.

These networks receive "general and specific capacity-building trainings and partake in brainstorming sessions" to define their local problems and enabling factors of violence. After diagnosis and identification of these factors and issues, they devise "mechanisms to propose and implement solutions".

"At the beginning we faced some challenges,” Nasser elaborated.

“The idea that municipalities can actually contribute to the prevention of violent extremism locally was obscure to most of the parties involved in the process. We had to follow an educational approach within the municipalities, to uncover and unleash the visionary individuals who wanted to realise change and do more with the backing of local mayors, officials and the support of the state and its ministries, including the Directorate for Countering Violent Extremism."

The Karak Community Prevention Network presented several creative solutions to address the issue.

From awareness videos on the importance of sheltering children from violence, to collaborative signatures from public figures as a commitment to work towards a community without violence, much potential remain untapped, SCN executives said.

In Irbid, the local community prevention network showcased a mural that was sketched by hundreds of locals to send a clear message to counter the culture of violence.

Art, too, and culture, is a very effective instrument, Nasser and Birdwell concurred.

Meanwhile, the community prevention network from Zarqa took another approach to the problem.

They published a manual to serve as a guide for the municipality and other members of the effort, tackling the conceptual aspects of the violence and extremism. The guide, through the several chapters it featured, defined violence and extremism, identified the root causes and outlined an action-plan for eliminating the causes.

Out of over 120 municipalities worldwide, SCN is working with Jordan and Lebanon as pioneers in a pilot project that is already "paying off", Zarqa municipality officials reaffirmed.  

Although a preventative programme needs time to realise its full potential, officials and executives underline that — for a variety of reasons — the upcoming years can bring about so much change and fruitful results, Birdwell believes.

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