It goes without any shadow of doubt that the post 9/11 world differs from the pre-9/11 world. This event marks a beginning of a new history of humanity as the United States has then waged its long war on terrorism. Despite the high costs, the war on terrorism has not achieved much. That war, which was supposed to wipe out terrorist groups, such as Al Qaeda and the extremist movements, failed spectacularly in achieving its ends. Rather, terrorism and extremism have become more rooted, dominating large areas throughout Africa and Asia, and turned to be more attractive to more people, especially the youth. The instability in Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11 attacks and their regional implications had very negative repercussions not only on Afghanistan but on the whole world as well. Therefore, the world’s trust in war as a means for ending threats seems to be lost for generations to come, if not forever. Instead of military power, the world is turning to a new policy, that is, the intellectual combating and anti-extremism programs. It is worth nothing that since the September 11 attacks, the world has to some extent succeeded in supporting an alternative or parallel discourse. Admittedly, security confrontations alone are useless in countering extremism, because they often generate intransigence and increase extremism and terrorism
Extremism, as defined, is the adoption of/adherence to extremist ideas, beliefs or ideologies. As thought can only be countered by thought and power breeds conflict, extremist ideologies should not be confronted with bullets. That is why governments today need new strategies based on community participation and partnership to prevent extremist ideologies and hate speech. Many countries have now recognized that combating extremism is indispensable, and they have been active in countering extremism by promoting a culture of tolerance and coexistence with different cultures and civilizations. This is a very serious matter that requires immediate action towards enactment of international and national legislation that promotes respect of human rights and shared values.
The world has witnessed a number of intellectual, cultural and behavioral transformations. Although these transformations have had positive effects on our life, they have, on the other side, a number of negative effects on thought and behavior, including weakening human and moral values of a few groups of people embracing radical thought. No stone shall not be left unturned to counter the extremist ideologies. All possible means should be employed to fulfill this sublime end. Activities and efforts shall be exerted at all levels and on all different fields. As media plays a pivotal and undeniable role in shaping the minds of many people in the present time, all media platforms are of paramount importance in fighting and eliminating terrorism extremism and hate speech and presenting the true and pure Islam as a religion of peace, compassion and tolerance.
Education is also an essential means for countering extremism and terrorism. It should be employed to promote learners’ awareness of rights, duties and responsibilities, to instill in their minds a sense of belonging to the global community, and to encourage them to participate in developing a peaceful and sustainable society. The necessity to support education stems from the fact that it is an important, integral and, indeed, a central part of the battle against extremist thought and ideological distortions. Indeed, education plays a significant role in creating an environment that prevents extremists from spreading their ideologies and recruiting supporters.
Al-Azhar institution was not far from that battle. Azhar has been under fierce attacks from the extremist groups, but it remains steadfast in defiance of all storms, spreading the true, moderate image of Islam. It shoulders the responsibility of spreading the moderate thought, confronting extremism and terrorism and consolidating the shared values of coexistence. It always emphasizes the importance of learning lessons from past experience on combating extremism and terrorism and moving forward towards the development of new and more effective policies, based on education and alternative discourse, to combat this scourge. As terrorist groups focus their efforts to brainwash and recruit the young people via cyberspace, Al-Azhar embarked on the mission of reviving religious discourse and recruiting technology to counter extremist ideas. It established Al-Azhar Observatory for combatting Extremism to address extremist ideas and refute misconceptions spread by extremist groups. Addressing thought by thought is a slogan adopted by Al-Azhar. It is put in effect through modern tools that help in building peace, combating extremism and terrorism, defending the causes of the nation and protecting young people from destructive and extremist ideas.
Finally, governments bear the responsibility of protecting all citizens and taking all needed measures to keep them safe. On the international level, many countries develop new strategies and programs for combatting extremism, such as PREVENT program in Britain as well as deradicalization programs in prisons. Deradicalization programs should not end with a person abandoning extremist views, but governments need to reintegrate those people into society. Those people have the right to live properly since they decide to be good citizens and disassociate themselves from extremist organizations. All programs and initiatives aiming to combat and prevent violent extremism must respect human rights, the rule of law and include specific protections against abuse in this regard. Moreover, they should be reviewed independently and regularly in order to identify their impact. The world must strive for peace and elimination of extremism and all forms of violence, taking into account the importance of peaceful means in achieving this goal, admitting that, at some cases, military power is needed, particularly in the face of those who choose to impose their extremist ideologies on the present and future generations.