'Fighting terrorism together': a peace march in Sanaa (photo: Saeed Alsofi/DW)
Non-violent, Anti-terror Campaign in Yemen

Working for Peace and Tolerance

Yemen's National Dialogue began recently. It seeks to come up with a new constitution and to prepare for elections in the crisis-rocked country. However, it is not just the politicians who are trying to foster dialogue and bring peace to the country, young Yemenis are too. By Bassam Ghabar

While counterterrorism efforts in Yemen generally fall within the domain of the Yemeni security forces, young Yemenis have also joined in the challenge to uproot terrorism in a peaceful and effective manner. Since last December, a group of young Yemenis has been waging a campaign in schools against terrorism through an organisation called Youth Creativity. The campaign aims to deepen national allegiance and spread a culture of tolerance and co-existence throughout the country.

Terrorist groups in Yemen have expanded their operations over the past two years by taking advantage of political events and the absence of security since the youth revolution on 11 February 2011. The result has been widespread losses for the country, including the deaths of civilians and military personnel, as well as the takeover of areas in the governorates of Abyan and Al-Baida' in the south of the country.

In response to this situation, Youth Creativity has provided an opportunity for Yemenis, regardless of grouping or social class, to come together under a banner of peace and unity.

Suspected al-Qaeda militants sitting next to an anti-aircraft machine gun on a truck in Yemen in March 2012 (photo: picture-alliance/dpa)
The reality of Yemen: according to Bassam Ghabar, "Terrorist groups in Yemen have expanded their operations over the past two years by taking advantage of political events and the absence of security since the youth revolution on 11 February 2011." For example, according to media reports, militants linked to al-Qaeda attacked several Yemeni military posts in March 2012, killing at least 103 soldiers and wounding dozens

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Raising awareness

Through the organisation, young Yemenis from different regions and with political affiliations are now working together to protect their society against terrorism and to establish a more secure country together. To do so, these youths participated in an awareness campaign to enhance the values of peace and co-existence among school children while simultaneously warning children against falling prey to terrorist groups. Aware of the need to protect this vulnerable age group in particular, the young people believe this is a solid way to confront the terrorist doctrine that has taken root in the country.

Schools are fertile ground for creating a generation that is aware of the peaceful principles found in Islam, like respect for all human life, the importance of accepting one another regardless of political or religious beliefs and the courage to stand up to those endangering their homeland. The campaign seeks to teach students about the true meaning of Islam by explaining through religious texts exactly how it promotes peace, instead of how terrorist groups want young people to see it – as supportive of violence and killing.

The campaign, in co-operation with the Yemeni Ministry of Education, which encourages and authorises Youth Creativity members to work in schools, includes a number of activities. First, Yemeni scholars and religious leaders speak with students during the daily morning assembly about the dangers of terrorist groups, giving examples of the negative effects on both the individual and the country.

Terrorism prevention in schools

In addition, the 120 members of the Youth Creativity national team, young people who were given special skills-training on counter terrorism by Yemeni trainers, circulate through schools and give classes at all levels. This team promotes greater awareness by distributing pamphlets and screening videos about the dangers of and destruction caused by terrorism.

Women and children demonstrating against violence in Yemen (photo: Saeed Alsofi/DW)
Women and children demonstrating against violence in Yemen. Together, the signs read: "Appeals to the world: children are being killed and human rights are being abused"

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The campaign also chooses educators from each school, usually the physical education teacher, the social counsellor and the librarian. It then links them with troubled students in the schools who might be more vulnerable to indoctrination by terrorist groups. Teachers then share messages with these young people that promote a culture of compassion and tolerance.

The talks are designed to provide tools to absorb the students' negative energy and transform it into positive activities. Through this individually focused aspect of Youth Creativity's awareness campaign, at-risk students might be better reached and enriched by a culture of tolerance which they can in turn spread among other students.

This set of activities is intended to cement the ideas of co-existence and tolerance, while simultaneously refuting terrorism and radicalism in the Yemeni school system.

Youth initiatives like Youth Creativity's campaign showcase positive approaches to solving the nation's issues. These initiatives also depict the extent of understanding and awareness many Yemeni young people have reached in terms of how they too can build a country free of violence. It is encouraging to see young people so keen to make Yemen peaceful and free of terrorism.

Bassam Ghabar

© Common Ground News 2013

Editor: Aingeal Flanagan/Qantara.de

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