Jordan eyes comprehensive plan to uproot violent extremism

Sunday 21/08/2016
Muslims performing prayer in Amman, Jordan

AMMAN - Jordan plans to implement a comprehensive programme to uproot violent extremism, the main cause of terrorism engulfing the region and be­yond.
The programme, which envis­ages unifying mosque messages to renounce violence and extremism and support tolerance and peace, is still in the planning stages.
It is to be implemented by the end of the year but it will take sev­eral months to develop needed awareness, especially among the targeted segment: unemployed and desperate young male Jordanians, officials say.
However, some say it is doomed to failure if its implementation is not preceded by a stringent state crackdown on the country’s 6,200 mosques to rid them of extremists, who preach sermons that depict adherents of other faiths — mainly Christians and Jews — as enemies of Islam.
“The preaching scene in Jordan is freewheeling and it must be re­strained and monitored carefully,” said Muslim scholar Amjad Qour­shah, who caused controversy in June over his remarks criticising the government for participating in the war against Islamic State (ISIS).
“All preachers must be vetted anew,” he said. “New preachers must be appointed according to a selective system based on their qualification, not family connec­tions.”
The plan to counter extremism is supported jointly by Japan and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), agency country represent­ative Zeina Ali Ahmed said.
She said a memorandum of un­derstanding has been signed with Jordan’s Counter Extremism De­partment. “We’re now working on designing a strategy, which should be ready later this year”.
The main highlight of the strat­egy is to prevent extremism and combat the phenomenon socially and economically. Under the pro­gramme, Jordan’s Ministry of Reli­gious Affairs is to develop a curricu­lum and train mosque preachers.
The programme will be launched in Zarqa, a mining city east of Am­man and a known bastion for Mus­lim extremists. Zarqa is the home­town of the slain al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who died in a June 2006 US drone attack.
UNDP will provide the expertise but will not interfere in the curricu­lum. Japan will fund the plan.
Ahmed said UNDP would like to see an online platform established through which any person can con­tact authorities to inquire about re­ligious issues in confidentiality.
The Jordanian moves underline how serious the kingdom takes the threat of extremism. Jordan has come under militant attacks for its close ties with the United States and peace treaty with Israel.
One of the deadliest attacks was carried out by Zarqawi’s group in 2005 against three Jordan-based Western hotels. Sixty people — all civilian Muslims — were killed.
In the past 17 years, Jordan broke up nearly 800 groups involving scores of militants said to be plot­ting to undermine Jordan’s un­matched record of stability in the region.
This year, about 1,122 militants were tried in Jordan’s military court in at least 39 separate cases involv­ing terrorism and extremism.
The country’s borders with Iraq and Syria are also targets for ISIS’s attacks.
ISIS fighters on August 16th at­tacked an Iraqi border guard base near the Jordanian border, killing nine people on the Iraqi side of the frontier. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
In March, a similar attack on a Jordanian military installation on the Syrian border killed six Jorda­nian security officials.
A recent incident pointing to Jordan’s cluttered preaching scene involved a renowned preacher ap­pointed by the Ministry of Religious Affairs to deliver selective sermons on moderation in a grand mosque outside a Palestinian refugee camp north of Amman.
The original mosque preacher, who has two other jobs, had been absent from the mosque for more than seven months this year. He privately arranged with a friend to deliver the sermons in his place but the replacement preacher drew at­tention with extremist views and fiery, anti-government speeches that praised ISIS jihadists and urged Jordanians and Palestinians in the camp to join the fight in Syria and Iraq.
Religious Affairs Minister Wael Arabiyat said sermons would be limited to selected mosques across the country.
“Friday prayers will only be held at selected mosques and this de­cision is final,” Arabiyat said. He pointed out that he had top clergy issue a fatwa endorsing the move.
Arabiyat explained that of the 6,200 mosques across the country, including 1,720 in Amman, only 800 are under the ministry’s super­vision.
“The Friday sermon is potentially a dangerous media channel,” he insisted. He noted that not all who deliver sermons are trained or qual­ified to explain the Hadith, or the sayings of the Prophet Mohammad or verses from the Quran.