Toward a Comprehensive Arab Strategy to Fight Extremism
Bibliotheca Alexandrina: 3-5 January 2015
In his speech before the 25th Arab Summit in Kuwait during 25-26 March 2014, then Interim President of Egypt, Adly Mansour, called for a conference by the leaders of thought and intellect in the Arab World to prepare a comprehensive Arab strategy for fighting extremism. The Bibliotheca Alexandrina was appointed to organize this conference, in coordination with the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Within this context, a consultative mini-session was held on Thursday, 22 May 2014, in Cairo, attended by around forty Arabian intellectuals and representatives from the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Arab League. The session reviewed and analyzed the political, cultural, media-related, religious, and educational aspects of the phenomenon of extremism, and determined the main topics of the conference.
Under the auspices of Egyptian President Abdul Fattah El-Sisi, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina hosted the conference entitled “Toward a Comprehensive Arab Strategy to Fight Extremism”, during the period from 3 to 5 January 2015, with the participation of more than 250 intellectuals from the Arab World. The attendance reflected a rich Arab diversity, whether in political and intellectual affiliations, religious beliefs, or age and gender categories, and provided a role model in constructive dialogue based on respecting differences, creative diversity, and the acceptance of the other; which is what the interactive approach to Arab cultural issues should be, away from militancy and extremism, uncompromising thought, rejection of diversity, or exclusion. The Secretary-General of the Arab League, the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs representative, a number of religious and cultural organizations, and public figures participated in the inauguration of the conference.
The conference came in a defining moment in the Arab region that has been witnessing major challenges, perhaps the most prominent are the issue of liquidity, the restructuring of political systems after the revolutions witnessed by some countries, and the proliferation of extremist organizations throughout the Arab World. One of these organizations is ISIS; with its hideous crimes against humanity under the name of Islam. The voice of religious, doctrine, and political extremism and hatred is becoming louder and louder, leading to violence of all forms. The peoples of some countries have drifted into civil wars; old secular, tribal, and regional disputes have been resurrected, and doctrine, religious, and ethnic polarization has spread in a number of Arab societies which in itself is an omen of geographical division and a threat to the national identity that embraces all citizens no matter their differences or diversities.
After extensive dialogues in general and parallel sessions over the three days of the conference, the participants concluded that extremism is indeed a widespread phenomenon that continues to expand; a phenomenon that has been weighing down on human societies both in the past and in modern times. Among its diverse aspects, religious extremism is most prominent, accompanied with extremism and militancy in speech and the related violence, rejection of the other to the extent of expiation and total elimination. However, extremism is not limited to religion, but rather extends to the social, political, and cultural domains prevailed by polarization, unilateral thinking, monism, the fake sense of superiority, the delusion of possessing the absolute truth, and wars with the opposite that diminish common grounds between citizens, political powers, and intellectual currents.
The participants believe that there are many reasons for extremism, the most important being:
Education and social upbringing that are based on superiority, rejection, demeaning of the other, a setback in critical thinking, and absence of the culture of partaking.
Extremist religious speeches that are based on mistaken interpretations that are against true Islam and all other religions that maintain the noble spiritual values embracing compassion, mercy, and tolerance and rejecting intolerance and hatred.
Poverty, illiteracy, and ignorance; the threesome that make their owners drift toward mutilated religious speeches and fatwas, false interpretations, narrow-minded views, and an environment that is hostile toward the culture of difference. In many cases, women are the first victims of extremism, due to faltering cultural and social development in Arab societies.
The feeling of oppression due to the double standards in international relations toward Arab and Muslim issues, in the forefront of which is the continued Israeli occupation of Palestine and other Arab lands, with the continued failure on part of the international community to take a decisive stance and stand in the face of Zionist extremism.
The increase in the role of active forces—whether countries or groups—in increasing extremism, allocating financial and human resources for fueling violence in Arab societies with the purpose of serving their interests on the one side, and weakening Arab states, severing their ties, and obstructing their march toward progress on the other.
The absent influence of leaders and symbols of thought capable of continuing the march of their forefathers; the pioneers of enlightenment in the Arab world who provided inspiring contributions that succeeded in mixing originality with contemporaneity, modernizing Arab societies without taking them away from their cultural roots. The setback in modernization was coupled with an increase in speech that was intellectually rigid, religiously fanatic, politically tyrannical, and socially isolated.
The spread of many local and regional media platforms that broadcast speeches inciting extremism and hatred, offending moderate religious thought, and ignoring the higher spiritual values that are common in all religions.
The negative effects of traditions and social customs and cultural values that have produced cultural and social distortions that feed the voices of superiority against all that is different and ignite sectarian, ethnic, and doctrine conflicts.
The discussions that took place throughout the conference led to specific recommendations focusing on the main themes through which extremism can be fought, as follows:
First: Religious Speech
Religious establishments must confront certain concepts that are promoted in society, especially among youth, namely; the mutilated interpretations for Jihad, apostasy, and women status; the call for changing the current status through violence; and renouncing the state of law and institutions.
Opening the doors for judgment and the authentic knowledge of Sharia, acknowledging the historical perspective of legislation and its evolution to conform to the requirements of the current era, reviving the renewing efforts of pioneers of Islam thought, conforming to human rights charters, and enriching the culture of religious scholars and clergy with modern knowledge and enlightened thought.
Reviewing the laws, statutes, and administrative practices to promote free thought and creativity throughout society, alleviate obstacles to freedom of opinion, and respond to attempts to impose intellectual guardianship or religious censorship.
Issue books and publications that support rationality and enlightenment, disseminate renewed thought, fight superstitions and extremism, and open the doors to creative interaction with the achievements of human culture in natural and human sciences.
Encourage the artistic movement to achieve quality productions that aim to revive the culture of youth, develop and enhance skills in educational and cultural institutions methodologically and regularly, encourage the dissemination of arts, and discover creative talents.
Provide easy access to cultural products by expanding in the establishment of libraries, cultural centers, and literary clubs, in addition to centers for performing arts, visual arts, and music; developing museums that encompass the common cultural heritage of peoples; and activating Arab cultural centers by holding free and regular enlightenment seminars.
Benefit from electronic publishing and establish social networking sites for youth, aiming to eradicate extremism and violence, support freedom of thought, and disseminate fine arts by all means.
Establish an “Observatory for Countering Extremism” at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, similar to the Arab Reform Observatory, with the purpose of facing extremist thought, encompass the cultural initiatives that aim to fight it, coordinate between them, and keep the concerned institutions informed.
Allocate enough budgets to finance the fund for cultural development and fighting extremism projects, with contributions from able Arab league countries and donor countries supporting this fund.
Call for unification of education systems—at least the basic education stage—and minimizing double standards in civil, religious, and international education, to ensure the formation of the Arab mind without fragmentation or disturbances, rely on the knowledge balance between natural sciences and human sciences, develop in youth creative and artistic skills, and consolidate the culture of democracy.
Update educational systems and programs with the purpose of promoting the values of plurality and human coexistence, provide the basic knowledge of the history of civilizations and religions, raise awareness of the dangers of extremism and intellectual isolation, highlight the contribution of Arabs of all religions, doctrines, and ethnicities in the establishment of the Arab civilization, and resort to rationality and the development of perceptions.
Emphasis the importance of “civics” in educational programs, especially pre-university, for the positive influence this subject has in promoting the values of participation, volunteering, joint work, human rights, and belief in the importance of diversity. This promotes diversity and plurality—instead of monism and isolation—and encourages youth to positively partake in sports, field, and informatics activities.
Initiate programs for developing creative capabilities in education—music, painting, poetry, theater, literature, and more—to establish a creative generation that contributes to consolidating the cultural structure of society, focus on developing talents, and regularly activate youth centers.
Establish programs for developing school libraries, equipping them with the latest requirements to enhance their role in promoting reading, which in turn develops free critical and creative thinking.
Develop research programs, in partnership with Arab institutions, focusing on the phenomenon of extremism with its different dimensions, and publish reference documents—on the Arab level—that address related issues.
Purge religious education programs of the ideas that encourage extremism and violence, or are based on the incorrect interpretation of religious texts, before integrating these programs into one system that includes religious and civil education in the basic education stage.
Urge media institutions to commit to professional and ethical charters, which includes avoiding: fanatic speeches; the promotion of views that instill the spirit of division between citizens; stirring religious or doctrine debates; political, tribal, or ethnic renouncing, and resisting the negative effects of some aspects of globalization.
Launch a Arab initiative for reviewing professional and ethical standards, and passing legislations that criminalize the dissemination of media materials that propagate hatred and entice violence.
Inaugurate joint Arab media programs that refute extremist thought, focus on science and enlightenment issues, and reveal the inhumane practices of extremist organizations that are against religion, ethics, and values.
Commit in peak hours to the dissemination of quality political and cultural media materials in the fields of theater, music, cinema, visual arts, intellectual book shows, biographies and translations for media pioneers, and scientific and technological discoveries.
In addition to the above mentioned issues, participants also discussed strengthening religious pluralism; revealing the participation of Christian Arabs in the development of their nations; strengthening citizenship, maintaining the national, legal, constitutional, and modern structure of the nation; and confronting all forms of violence and discrimination that women face on both legal and practical fronts, taking into consideration that women, children, ethnic minorities, and non-Muslims are at the forefront of citizens who suffer from extremism and terrorism in the Arab region. The participants stated that a security confrontation, although necessary, remains insufficient. Security must be integrated with development and confronting the poverty, unemployment, and social marginalization that prevail in many country in the region. The development of proper democratic experiences is also mandatory.
The participants also stated that the initiative of the Egyptian State, manifesting in the conference held at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, must represent the true start of a joint cultural effort that extends to other Arab countries, through a series of joint initiatives supported by the Arab League, with the participation of experts and intellectuals, to comprehensively activate the recommendations of similar conferences and meetings. The objective remains that the “confrontation of extremism” becomes one of the joint Arab efforts on cultural, education, media, and security levels, continuing with quick steps on the basis that the future of the Arab region depends on its ability to eradicating extremism, and continuing on the road of rationality, enlightenment, development, tolerance, and progress.
Finally, the participants thank HE the President of the Arab Republic of Egypt, Abdul Fattah El-Sisi, for calling and sponsoring the conference. The participants also thank the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for organizing the conference, hoping for the continued efforts of governments, civil society organizations, and cultural and religious authorities in facing the phenomenon of extremism, and disseminating the culture of tolerance and diversity, strengthening the freedom of thought and expression, and realizing social ju