By Amalie Schultz Ehmsen
The atmosphere is hectic. 20 young women and men have left their chairs all at once to hurry into small workshop groups. Some are actually running in order to make sure they get the best spot in the hotel reception. There is no time to waste. Big pieces of paper the size of posters are handed out and filled with graphs, words and drawings using colourful pens. Energetically the participants discussed which words should be used strategically in a social media-campaign against radicalization and violent extremism.
We are at a seminar in Beirut with Danmission and the Lebanese-Syrian partner organisation FDCD who are behind the project “Empowering Women Countering Extremism” (EWCE) financed by the Danish-Arab Partnership Programme, DAPP. The participants have travelled from Denmark, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and other parts of Lebanon to be here. The group is highly diverse with different religious and professional backgrounds: they are social activists, consultants, teachers and NGO staff with experience within social media, dialogue and rights. What they have in common is their passion for and drive to become frontrunners in countering radicalisation and violent extremism. And different to the way it is usually presented in the media, they believe that religion is a part of the solution and not the problem. The seminar is the third and last before the participants travel back home, to continue the work in their home countries.
Social media gives us a voice
Amongst the participants is 22-year-old Yamana Zedan from Damascus, Syria. She is a youth activist and works in digital marketing. Her “mission” is to empower women in her local community to intervene when they witness radicalisation happening around them. She is obviously enthusiastic as she explains what has motivated her to take part in the training:
We, the youth, are the future, and we wish to be an active part of society. The programme gives me the tools to become such.
For Yamana Zedan, the programme is an opportunity to establish international connections, become a part of a network of like-minded young leaders and learn more about how to respond to extremism on social media. In her opinion, social media gives her a voice: “On the internet, I can promote ideas, solve problems or create awareness about an issue – for example violent extremism”.
The aim of the EWCE project is to exploit the potential of social media.
A strategic and tangible approach
In short, the aim of the EWCE project is to train the participants in how to develop and implement efficient and targeted media campaigns. The programme includes both trainings and inspiration sessions covering a wide range of topics such as stakeholder analysis, media strategy and the “art of engaging dialogically with an extremist”.
Sven Hughes is a consultant at Global Influence, which is a British organization which, amongst other things, develop campaigns against radicalization and violent extremism.
According to Hughes, there is a verbal war going on:
In the verbal war, one must learn the opponent’s language, for how can you fight extremism, if you do not know how they communicate?
If Daesh (ISIS) can utilize social media to promote their cause, the participants will also be able to use the same method, but with the direct opposite purpose, Hughes argues.
To Meriem Ben Lamine, a Tunesian lawyer, explains that she often lacks tangible tools and methods in her work with gender-based violence. And therefore, Hughes’ workshop is particularly useful for her: “The verbal strategy Sven Hughes presented to us was very useful. Here we learned in a practical way to use the right words in our campaign to offset extremism”.
Assaad Zebian from the Lebanese “You Stink” movement gives a talk at the seminar and shares his experiences from the movement´s successful campaign. “You Stink” was started by a small group of people who spoke out publicly and criticised the Lebanese government’s failure to find long-term solutions to a garbage crisis in 2015. The group grew rapidly and soon it was a movement. According to Assaad Zebian, the most important lesson he learned is to insist on unity: in demands, actions and language. If you are fragmented into smaller groups it is easy to lose the goal.
Digital security is necessary in the fight against extremism
It is a risky endeavour to fight extremists on social media, as participants can quickly become victims of simple hacker attacks. And therefore, digital security trainings are a part of the programme.
We are increasing our presence in the digital world. Therefore, we should be as much aware of our digital security as of our physical, says the Lebanese journalist Imad Bazzi.
At the seminar, he shows simple ways to increase safety by changing settings on Facebook, Twitter and different e-mail systems. And many of the participants are surprised to realise how little thought they put into this in their daily life.
Strengthening of Danish-Arabic relations
The joy was great on the initial day of the workshop. Receiving the certificates on the workshop’s last day was also celebrated by the participants, but with a sad touch though, as it meant that the workshop now was near its end. There is no doubt that the Danish-Arab network was strengthened during the work shop. The cooperation and the experiences shared were essential for the results the participants created and will create together in the future.
Danmission and our Syrian-Lebanese partner organization FDCD is behind the project Empowering Women Countering Extremism (EWCE), which is a part of the Danish-Arab Partnership Program (DAPP). The project is a one-year pilot project consisting of three seminars in Beirut followed by national campaigns.
The 20 participants of the project are from Denmark, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria and Tunisia and has different religious and professional backgrounds.
Read more about the empowered participants here.
Follow the project on Facebook.