Terrorist organizations thrive in a fragile environment plagued by societal neglect and poor services. Populations lose trust in government and become susceptible to extremist ideology, which promises to rectify injustice and reduce their suffering. Extremists work to promote discontent against the state, stir up ethnic and sectarian strife and highlight injustice and marginalization. This makes it easier to recruit youths to join terrorist movements.
Jordan was one of the first countries to join the fight against extremism. His Majesty King Abdullah II first publicized the Amman Message in 2005, which affirmed the fundamental values of Islam: mercy, mutual respect, tolerance, acceptance and freedom of religion. The Amman Message exposed lies of the extremists and provided a clear picture of Islam free of the distortions of extremists who claim to be Muslims.
In some cases, the extremists have made common cause with other malign actors, despite their contradictory objectives, but their mutual goal is to sow sedition and conflict among Muslims by spreading lies and misinterpreting religious texts.
We must focus on the true principles of religion and recognize that non-Muslim communities have lived in peace and security among Muslims since the dawn of Islam. We have churches and temples where our brothers practice their religion freely. Muslims did not destroy the churches, but respected and preserved them. Why, after 1,400 years, are extremists trying to demolish houses of worship and displace innocent citizens?
Terrorist threats have changed the traditional pattern of war and have exposed armies to the new challenge of hybrid warfare. One front of the war has shifted from battlefields to confrontations on social networking sites. Here, shady figures preach a violent ideology to seduce young people, and security forces respond with messages of their own to immunize potential recruits from the malign messaging of extremists.
The world was caught by surprise by the emergence of Daesh as a major player on social media. Its poisonous media machine deceived people with calls for “jihad” and “migration.” It deceived thousands of young people to join, despite the well-publicized crimes and atrocities carried out by its gangs.
Nevertheless, we in the Ifta Department of the Jordan Armed Forces have been on the front lines since the beginning of this ideological war. The Ifta Department is the highest religious authority in the Jordan Armed Forces. We began to expose terrorist lies on various platforms, media channels and social networking pages. We have also educated clerics and imams to specialize in countering radical thought.
Despite a massive media campaign to counter terrorists, most of these campaigns did not achieve their desired goals and sometimes made things worse. The issue is not the quantity of media messages, but the quality of their content and the strength of their arguments. We need qualified people armed with the right education in Islamic studies that enable them to expose terrorist deceptions based on cherry picking texts and distorting their meanings. The terrorist practice of amputating religious texts or selecting passages out of context is a great challenge that cannot be faced by nonspecialists.
It should be noted that the target audience of extremists has special characteristics that differ from the rest of society. Most of this audience prefers to go to mosques, listen to Friday sermons and practice religious rites as stated in the hadith. Therefore, counterterrorism messaging on regular media outlets often doesn’t reach these young people.
The Ifta Department has conducted extensive research on this phenomenon of extremism and has trained mosque imams to combat extremist thought and detect signs of radicalization early. By spreading the message of moderation and tolerance, we were able to protect our youth from slipping into extremism. We have also exposed the lies and allegations of extremists in social media and have reduced their footprint in cyberspace.
Technological development has made the world a small village and has helped people to appreciate other cultures. At the same time, the security threat has become greater because of the activity of extremists on social networking sites. Therefore, extremist ideology must be refuted on this important front, and young people must be immunized to resist toxic ideas.
This is a major responsibility for the clerics and imams of mosques all over the world, because extremism and terrorism are transnational and no one is safe from them. We must unite our efforts to combat extremist ideas, share intelligence and benefit from the experiences of friendly countries. I would like to emphisise that extremism is not limited to a specific religion, sect or gender. All ideologies have extremist individuals.
Brig. Gen. Dr. Majed Aldwarsha
Mufti of the Jordan Armed Forces