Our youth need guidance to stave off evil forces

For every evil message that comes out of an extremist group, we should be matching it with a counter narrative, says Khalid Al Ameri

Graffiti on the wall reads "Death to Islamic State" near the Shiite shrine city of Karbala in Iraq. (AFP/ Haidar Hamdani)
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Since I came back to the UAE this year, one of the most recurring questions I have been asked by friends and family is about stability in the region. It’s tough to avoid the topic of ISIL.

As a person who is trying to live a peaceful life, raise a family and contribute to the development of my country, I can’t help but feel that it is easy for these extremists to feel emboldened by the media attention they receive. But consolation came recently from Omar Saif Ghobash, the UAE’s ambassador to Russia.

Mr Ghobash outlined during an interview he gave in the US how the battle with ISIL should be fought at a strategic level, in the realm of ideas and by getting moderate Muslims to take a stand in parallel to the military forces that are involved.

What was particularly appealing to me was the way he ended the interview with a strong call for action. He said: “The key challenge for us is to stop treating our youth with distance, because there are recruiters out there making sure to grab those youth from us.”

An organisation is only as powerful as the amount of talent or number of people it is able to attract. By preying on youth who feel left behind or are looking for purpose in life, ISIL has successfully been able to connect with the disconnected.When I was doing research for one of my graduate classes, “lack of purpose” was one of the most common responses that came up from respondents who were asked: “What is the greatest problem facing Arab youth?” They said: “We don’t know what we should be doing with our lives.”

It’s here that the leaders of the Arab world need to help them figure out what these young people can really do. If you are young and lack purpose, it might be easy to be attracted to evil and destruction that is cleverly disguised as dreams of jihad and freedom fighting.

So how can we as Arab communities bridge the generational gap?

The first step could be that the older generation meet our youth where they are most comfortable – on social media. It is a place where they feel safe to discuss the issues and difficulties they are facing.

Leaders such as Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid and Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed have been very good at using social media to spread their views. Others should follow suit.

Secondly, it is important that business and social leaders start getting more active in academia through teaching and mentoring, not just at universities, but also at schools. This will give leaders a chance to understand our youth better, identify their interests and incorporate strategies into their human resource and community initiatives, engage them and make them feel they are making an impact.

Finally, every individual in the community – doctors, businessmen, athletes, artists and engineers – must share with young people the positive stories about the Arab world and Islam. We need to start coming together to change the narrative from one of hopelessness to hope and love.

For every evil message that comes out of an extremist group, we should be matching it with a counter narrative that truly represents who we are. The issues we are facing are serious, and the time to act is now, because with each day that goes by the enemies grow louder and stronger. We have everything we need to make a difference, close the distance with our youth, and create a message that truly represents who we are as Muslims, as Arabs, and as human beings, let’s make it count.

Khalid Al Ameri is an Emirati social commentator

On Twitter: @KhalidAlAmeri