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Young Jordanians launch counter terrorism project at Paris UNESCO HQ

$2m two-year project aims at putting youth from Arab region at forefront of violent extremism prevention

By Camille Dupire - Apr 25,2018 - Last updated at Apr 25,2018

Jordanians Sami Hourani and Saddam Sayyaleh pose for a photo with Jordanian Ambassador to Paris Makram Queisi (centre) in Paris, on Tuesday (Photo courtesy of Saddam Sayyaleh)

AMMAN — Two Jordanian activists on Tuesday took the stage at the Paris UNESCO headquarters to launch a regional project aimed at combating violent extremism through youth empowerment along with young people from Libya, Morocco and Tunisia.

Funded by the UN Counterterrorism Centre and Canada, the $2 million “Prevention of Violent Extremism through Youth Empowerment in Jordan, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia” project will run for two years with the aim of “putting youth on the forefront of countering violent extremism in the Arab region”, according to UNESCO Assistant Director General for Social and Human Sciences Nada Al Nashif.

“This project is a vital move towards engaging youth in the prevention of violent extremism, an issue that disproportionately affects young people throughout the Arab region,” she said at the launching ceremony, held in the presence of Jordanian Saddam Sayyaleh, founder of Jerash social initiative ILearn took part in a group presentation with Moroccan Loubna Bensalah, Hayfah Mansouri from Tunisia and Nada Feituri, where they briefed the audience on the various projects they implemented in their respective countries to build peace, foster tolerance and social cohesion among different communities and prevent violent extremism.

“As a young Jordanian coming from outside Amman, I understand the struggles young people face in their daily life. Tackling such issues is crucial and bringing key stakeholders to help young people is a key in preventing violence and extremism which is a great danger to those who have lost hope,” Sayyaleh told the audience, citing ILearn’s role in creating safe spaces for young Jordanians where they can develop skills that contribute to their success. 

“These young people are extraordinary in the sense that they are creatively seeking new ways to prevent violence and consolidate peace across the globe, in devastated and conflict-affected societies as well as in those enjoying relative peace,” he continued, stressing that, while young people may account for the majority of those engaged in extremist violence, “a minor proportion is involved in violence”. 

“The project, which adopts an inclusive, multi-dimensional approach by combining issues such as youth, education, culture, and communication and information, started from the principle that any lasting solution must put youth at the forefront of countering violent extremism,” Al Nashif said, noting that more than 8,000 young women, men and key practitioners will be trained through activities such as conflict-sensitive reporting, capacity building programmes for religious authorities to develop prevention of violent extremism (PVE) initiatives, countering online hate speech and creating new media spaces to disseminate alternative narratives by and for youth.

Commenting on the importance of the project, UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay said: “UNESCO is among the most active in promoting dialogue among cultures and fighting violent extremism. This project shows the extent of our institution’s engagement in the UN's Youth, Peace and Security agenda.”

She noted that UNESCO will work closely with local partners such as ministries of youth, education, labour and ICT, as well as civil society organisations including youth, educational and cultural networks, local religious leaders and universities. The project will also include partnership with the private sector, especially the tech industry.

Two youths from Libya and Tunisia went on to share their personal experience being affected by violent extremism and their involvement in peacebuilding and social change, before conducting a joint interview with Azoulay and UN Counterterrorism Office Under Secretary General Vladimir Voronkov.

“The primary outcome of this project is to create an environment where young people are empowered, heard and engaged as change makers in their communities,” a statement by UNESCO said, noting that it also aims at “mainstreaming PVE through formal, non-formal and informal education”. 

Ultimately, the regional project intends to mobilise media professionals and online youth communities to combat radicalisation and online hate speech through trainings and the development of national and regional online campaigns.

Jordanian Sami Hourani later took the stage, alongside Maha Sano from Morocco, to provide an insight into the potential benefits from the project. 

The project comes as one of UNESCO’s many PVE programmes which call for forms of “soft power” to prevent a threat driven by distorted interpretations of culture, hatred and ignorance. 

“No one is born a violent extremist, they are made and fueled. Disarming the process of radicalisation must begin with human rights and the rule of law, with dialogue across all boundary lines, by empowering all young women and men, and by starting as early as possible, on the benches of schools,” the UNESCO website said.

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