The Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy organized a summer university for young people on combating violence and terrorism from July 15 to 20, 2017 at the Laico Hotel in Hammamet. The summer university was part of CSID’s “Hand in Hand” project to combat extremism and terrorism and the Chabiba.tn project.
The event brought together 75 imams, preachers and young civil society activists from five regions in Tunisia (Greater Tunis, Kairouan, Bizerte, Medenine and Kasserine). The event was also attended by a number of prominent national figures, including the Minister of Vocational Training and Employment and former Minister of Finance, Elias Fakhfakh, as well as university professors and experts in psychology.
The summer university began with an evening opening session on Saturday July 15, during which the participants were introduced to each other and to the activities of the Center and had the opportunity to speak about their expectations of the summer university and the objectives they sought to achieve through the event
After welcoming the audience, Dr. Radwan Masmoudi delivered a speech in which he stressed the role of imams, who he described as an effective and influential force within the religious sphere. He highlighted the need to unite all efforts to counter extremist ideology, offer hope to young people and strengthen their desire to live in Tunisia and enhance their participation in public affairs.
The second speaker, Mr. Salaheddine Jourchi, editor-in-chief of the Chabiba.tn website (aimed at youth) presented the website as an independent Tunisian media platform that presents the concerns of young people, putting their voices forward in their own words and language. Mr. Jourchi highlighted this platform’s role in countering young people’s disengagement from political life and reducing the threat this poses to the democratic transition and to the wellbeing of Tunisian society as a whole. At the end of his speech, Mr. Jourchi announced the launch of a digital production competition, the results of which would be announced at the end of the summer university.
Mr. Tarek Harabi, Chief of Staff to the Minister of Religious Affairs, expressed his Ministry’s satisfaction with its partnership with the Center since 2014. He conveyed the Ministry’s readiness to renew the partnership agreement with a view to reinforcing and revitalizing it, in view of the great work carried out by the entire team. This work, as he explained, reinforces the Government’s efforts to counter extremism and terrorism and contributes to the Ministry’s objectives and to the development of a moderate religious discourse based on integrity, impartiality and objectivity, and free from political exploitation and conflicts, in order to counter the discourse that promotes extremism and terrorism.
On the second day, participants were divided into four groups, each of which received four days of training on the following topics: Conflict Management and Conflict Resolution (delivered by two trainers, Sami Belhaj and Saber Jamaai), Leadership and Communication (delivered by Ridha Kazdaghli) and Social Media Techniques (delivered by an Egyptian trainer, Ayman Salah).
Training Course on Conflict Management and Conflict Resolution
This two-day training course was divided into two parts. The first revolved around an introduction to understanding the phenomenon of conflict and how to deal with it. The second part focused on facilitation, highlighting its importance and its key mechanisms in order to transform social dialogue into an important safeguard against extremism and violence.
The aim of these training courses was to raise awareness of the importance of understanding, analyzing and resolving conflict from the perspective of civil society through meaningful and constructive dialogue and discussion, and to entrench the concepts of consensus building in the minds of the participants in order to build a generation that believes in peaceful coexistence and dialogue as a strategy for collective social action and prevention against various threats.
Training Course on Leadership and Communication
The second course focused on providing the participants with technical concepts and practical tools to develop their cognitive and practical capacities and skills in the field of leadership, social communication and engaging with others in order to achieve positive and effective interaction and integration, and develop the knowledge and skills that enable them to effectively and successfully address problems of extremism and terrorism in Tunisian society. The training sought to enable participants to address these issues as leaders with a high sense of social responsibility and from a communications perspective, taking into account the various internal and external dimensions and based on a proactive and preventive approach.
This training course aimed to strengthen theoretical and practical skills in communication and leadership, which are needed for a realistic, proactive and effective approach to solving the problems of extremism and terrorism that threaten Tunisian society and target young people, with a particular focus on those who are psychologically, socially or economically vulnerable.
Training Course on Social Media Techniques
The third training focused on an introduction to the technological aspects and techniques of media coverage on social networking sites such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. The training highlighted the importance of how content is marketed and how it influences users.
The training also showed participants how to portray ordinary content in a new way in order to attract public attention, and encouraged them to think about changing the way Friday sermons are presented, as well as how social media channels can promote the dissemination of new religious discourse, particularly through Facebook.
Participants agreed on the need to use the Center’s Facebook page as a space through which they can interact and present ideas relating to small-scale projects and individual initiatives. This will require technical support from the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy
One initiative will be selected from the initiatives proposed, along with its relevant target group, the team that will work on it, the tools used to reach the public, and indicators to measure its success
The training course on techniques for using social networking sites, primarily targeted at imams, aimed to raise their awareness of the importance of communicating with mosques-goers online, which will enable them to communicate their views to the largest possible audience. These techniques would also enable them to discuss various Friday sermons, which can change according to the needs of the audience. Thus, the imam becomes an effective actor on the religious level, positively interacting with his context in order to convey a moderate and convincing discourse that is suitable for the critical period that the world is going through and capable of countering violent radical literature.
Lectures and Discussions
Youth: Between Political Disengagement and Terrorism
The summer university began with an evening seminar titled “Youth: Between Political Disengagement and Terrorism” moderated by Dr. Radwan Masmoudi. Speakers were Mr. Salaheddine Jourchi, Professor Sami Brahem, an expert on terrorist groups, and Dr. Fethi Touzri, a specialist in psychology.
In a speech titled “Youth and Terrorism”, Mr. Sami Brahem argued that “the fundamental difference today is not between the religious and civil, but rather a reading of religion that contributes to social well-being based on strengthening a sense of civic duty and values of citizenship on one hand, and a reading that contributes to the destruction of society and of its physical, moral, ethical and spiritual foundations on the other hand.”
Mr. Brahem called on religious actors to understand the phenomenon of terrorism, analyze the underpinnings of violent discourse and deconstruct its messages in order to lay the groundwork for a persuasive moderate discourse. He highlighted the role of the book “Idarat at-Tawahhush” (Management of Brutality), which represents the pinnacle of radical literature, and its influence on young people who embrace extremist thought.
In a paper titled “Life between Attachment and Reason”, Mr. Fethi Touzri outlined the various psychological dimensions of the individual’s attachment to the material world and the various threats she could be subjected to that may lead him either to opt for collective suicide, individual suicide or abstention from political life and public affairs in general.
The final speaker, Mr. Salaheddine Jourchi, presented the various factors that have led to young people’s disengagement from public life. First, he attributed the reluctance of young people to participate in political life to their lack of belief in the need to participate, which in turn is due to the widening gap between young people and political parties. Secondly, he highlighted the impact of the crisis of values on young people, which has led to the fragmentation of society and weakened the concept of duty among citizens. Thirdly, he pointed to the Islamic world’s lack of application of Islamic values in order to achieve collective wellbeing.
Seminar: Violence in Islam
The second day included an evening seminar titled “Violence in Islam” moderated by Dr. Hmida Enneifer. Speakers were Mr. Benaissa Demni, Professor of Philosophy, Mohammed Tahir Christo, an imam and preacher, and Ahmed Kharrat, a young imam.
Mr. Mohammed Tahir Christo began by highlighting the conceptual aspect of violence and its causes, stressing that violence is contrary to Islam, which is a religion of tolerance that rejects all forms of violence, coercion and cruelty in all spheres of life. The young imam Ahmed Kharrat called for a return to the life of the Prophet Mohammed peace be upon him in order to understand that the Islamic approach to calling to God is based on wisdom, kindness and good counsel, and that there is no place for violence in calling to God.
In the same vein, Mr. Benaissa Demni stressed the need to address the phenomenon of violent extremism based on a theologically-grounded approach. He also stressed the important role of the imam who can perform three different functions – first, the role of a social reformer who tries to address the problems of those around him; second, the role of a preacher who seeks to touch the souls of worshipers and focuses on spirituality through stories and reminders; and finally, the role of a teacher who teaches people how to think, free from the accumulation of baseless evidentiary arguments.
Driving the Economy towards Greater Development and Employment
On the third day, all participants gathered to attend a seminar titled “Driving the Economy towards Greater Development and Employment” moderated by Dr. Radwan Masmoudi. The speakers were the Minister of Vocational Training and Employment Mr. Imad Hammami and the former Minister of Finance Mr. Elyes Fakhfakh.
The Minister of Vocational Training and Employment pointed out that the unemployment rate is on the decline, which he considers to be a national achievement. He stressed the need to support young people and cut off all possible pathways through which terrorist groups can attract them, through reforming the higher education system and the field of scientific research, as well as the vocational training system. He also emphasized the need to develop the cultural field and strengthen key values.
Mr. Elyes Fakhfakh stressed the need to create a new development model capable of absorbing all sections of society and providing a decent standard of living for all. He took advantage of the presence of imams and young people to encourage them to participate in the local elections and elect competent candidates according to the programs they put forward in order to contribute to building a better tomorrow and a stronger society.
Freedom of Opinion and Conscience and the Rights of Minorities in Islam
The fourth seminar titled “Freedom of Opinion, Conscience and the Rights of Minorities in Islam” featured the expert Mossaddeq Jlidi, Professor Hmida Enneifer and Professor Muhammad Chtioui.
Dr. Enneifer addressed the dimensions of freedom of opinion and conscience from an Islamic point of view. He pointed out that freedom of belief has theological dimensions, which are revealed by the Qur’anic text, historical dimensions, which are highlighted by Qur’anic tales, and legislative dimensions, which relate to the maqasid (purposes) behind religious rulings and their implications. He emphasized that in all these dimensions, Islam strictly forbids any form of coercion to force people to embrace religion.
Mr. Mossaddeq Jlidi addressed the topic of freedom to practice one’s beliefs, pointing out that the state does not have the right to interfere in individual conscience because Allah has given human beings a choice between disbelief and faith.
Mr. Mohammed Chtioui addressed the question of minorities in Islam, which he argued falls within the general framework upon which Islam’s concept of the human being is based, in terms of preserving and honoring all his or her rights regardless of religious or ethnic affiliation. Islam preserves the rights of all individuals in a Muslim society and, in particular, non-Muslim minorities. Their rights are not favors granted by Muslims but, rather, rights enjoined by Allah.
Women’s Rights in Islam
During the fifth and final seminar, Dr. Boutheina Jlassi delivered a lecture on women’s rights in Islam, in which she presented a precise and clear analytical reading of women’s rights in the Qur’an and Sunnah (practices and sayings of the Prophet Mohammed). Dr. Jlassi touched on many related issues such as the issues of women’s status as vicegerents of God (khulafaa) on earth and their role in developing society. She noted that Islam is a religion of ease and tolerance, and is based on achieving a balance between the two sexes in terms of rights and duties in a way that leads to harmony within the family and within society. At the end of her presentation, Dr. Jlassi stressed the importance of women and their effective role in combating extremism and terrorism
The training sessions had a huge impact on participants, who expressed their pleasure to participate in the summer university’s activities. This was evident through their high levels of interaction on social media, with several pages related to the summer university being created. The Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy family thus expanded to include more members united by a sense of citizenship and love for their country.
To thank the Center’s team for their hard work on the summer university, the participants presented them with flowers and expressed their deep respect and appreciation. A number of young participants also performed plays and music concerts in a cultural evening that added dynamism and energy to the summer university program.
On the final day of the summer university, working groups were formed within workshops to formulate proposals for the Center’s work plans, with the aim of enriching and driving forward the Center’s activities over the coming six months.
First group from Greater Tunis – Reducing the communication gap between imams and young people in order to address the phenomena of violence and extremism.
Intensive training sessions to enable imams to develop the communication skills needed to engage with young people and to open up dialogue between youth and imams.
Open Mosque events: organize various religious, cultural and intellectual events and forums within mosques. The aim of these recreational events is to attract both religious and non-religious youth.
Establish an information bank for imams “in the form of a website, YouTube channel or online magazine” containing articles, academic lectures and media interviews with religious leaders, aimed at providing answers to the challenges facing contemporary Islamic thought and providing all the necessary intellectual resources needed to develop imams’ discourse.
Organize regional training courses on the jurisprudence of contemporary religious issues for imams to help them develop their discourse in order to meet contemporary needs and challenges.
Set up local radio stations that spread moderate Islamic discourse under the dual management of imams and young people
Second group from Bizerte – Broadening the reach of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy
Organize events in Bizerte
Engage more with the media
Carry out more networking with civil society
Train imams on how to prepare Friday sermons
Third group from Kairouan – Strengthening the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy’s partnerships
Partner with the Higher Institute for Preaching and the Center for Islamic Studies
Establish a permanent office in Kairouan
Develop partnerships with relevant associations
Network with youth associations and religious associations in Kairouan
Fourth group from Kasserine – Proposals for concrete activities
Establish a branch of the Center in the region of Kasserine
Organize training courses on teamwork and public speaking
Organize discussions with young people to introduce the Chabiba.tn website and organize competitions to be announced on the website
Establish cultural cafés aimed at young people living in densely populated neighborhoods on the theme of combating terrorism and extremism
Organize a final symposium to bring together all parties working to counter extremism and terrorism
Fifth group from Medenine – Strengthening the Center’s capacity to attract killed young people
Attract outstanding imams
Network with key actors in the field of countering extremism and terrorism
Organize activities within mosques
Create a virtual space that brings together all those active with the Center
At the end of the summer university, the results of the digital production competition were announced, with the first winner receiving a prize of 400 dinars while the second winner received 300 dinars. Two participants came in joint third place, receiving a prize of 100 dinars each
Videos of the Summer University
Sami Brahem: The Message of Islam is Peace
Social Media and the Arab World: Between Consumption and the Need for Innovation
Tarek Harabi, Chief of Staff of the Minister for Religious Affairs, presents the Ministry’s Strategy on Countering Terrorism and Extremism
Dr. Mosaddeq Jlidi: What is Enlightened Islam