Last week, your Columnist was in Maiduguri to organise a first-of-its-kind training workshop on “Shari’ah Intelligence, Constructive Alternative Narratives and the Role of Journalism in the Prevention of Extremism and Violence.”
True – there have been many workshops for journalists in the North East, but this is a special one on how media workers on the frontline of conflict can respond intelligently to extremist discourse from an informed Islamic perspective.
Peace Building training is a global concept defined by the UN as: “Aiming to reduce the risk of lapsing or relapsing into violent conflict by strengthening the capacities at all levels for conflict management, and to lay the foundation for sustainable peace and development.” Journalists are very important – they are relied upon by citizens for explanation, interpretation and analysis of situation. The aim of the training was, therefore, to strengthen journalists’ capacity in intelligently responding to extremist messaging which could easily sway the vulnerable and the uninformed.
Organised by Dar Al Andalus Centre (www.daralandalus.org.ng), a peace building and conflict resolution NGO based in Kano, the workshop was supported by the Cordoba Peace Institute (www.cpi-geneva.org) based in Geneva, Switzerland. More than forty broadcast, print and online journalists from Borno, Yobe and Bauchi States attended the two-day event (including Daily Trust’s Borno and Yobe correspondents Misbahu Bashir and Ibrahim Baba Saleh). A few bloggers and social media influencers were also there.
The array of resource persons included Shaikh Nuru Lemu of the Da’wah Institute of Nigeria, Minna; Dr. Mansur Yelwa of Bayero University, Kano (BUK)’s Faculty of Law; Dr. Abubakar Alhassan of BUK’s Faculty of Communication; and Mallam Aliyu Dawobe, a communication expert. One other resource person was Audu Bulama Bukarti of the Tony Blair Institute, London, who addressed, via Zoom, the much-talked-about Federal Government programme, Operation Safe Corridor.
On Shari’ah Intelligence, taught by Shaikh Lemu, the discussion centred on the basics of Usul (foundation of Islamic jurisprudence) and Maqasid (ultimate objectives of Islamic law) as the critical thinking tools in the field of Islamic law and its application.
In discussing Nine Critical Thinking Tools in Shari’ah Intelligence, Nuru quotes the great medieval jurist Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah who says: “The foundation of the Shari’ah is wisdom and the safeguarding of people’s welfare in this life and the next. In its entirety, [the Shari’ah] is about justice, mercy, wisdom, and good. Every rule which replaces justice with injustice, mercy with its opposite, the common good with mischief, and wisdom with folly, is a ruling that does not belong to the Shari’ah, even though it might have been claimed to be according to some interpretation…”
He also quotes another great jurist, Abu Ishaq al-Shatibi: “When an act is legitimate in both essence and appearance, no difficulty arises. However, if an act is consistent [with the law] in appearance yet contrary to human interests, it is invalid, and anyone who acts contrary to human welfare is engaged in an illegitimate exercise.”
Dr. Yelwa, in his Constructive Alternative Narratives, used the recently-published book “Jihad Against Extremism and Violence: Alternatives to the Discourses of Extremist Groups”, written by a group of Islamic scholars, which argued that “Extremism (or ghuluw in Arabic) and extreme violence in the name of religion are global phenomena that have no limit in terms of actors and forms. In terms of actors, extremism can be demonstrated by actors across generations, civilizations and ages and, in terms of forms, it can appear as religious, political, racial, cultural or economic. Thus, extremism manifests in the use of unnecessary force or causing harm for the attainment of one’s religious, political, racial, cultural or economic benefit, without a just cause.
“There are several factors that lead to the emergence of extreme violence in our world,” he continues to argue. “The fundamental cause of Lake Chad region conflict is CORRUPTION, religious and political. The former gave birth to ignorance, misconception and heresy while the latter gave birth to injustice, discrimination and poverty. Extreme minded elements think that only religion can fix a corrupt society, whether the corruption is religious or otherwise. Hence, they fight to impose religion and its laws for reform.”
In his presentation on Ethical Journalism, Dr. Alhassan reiterates that “Extremists crave publicity—it is their oxygen. The more spotlight they receive, the bolder they become! Therefore, a prominent report of a terrorist attack in many cases leads to more attacks. Furthermore, ceaseless reportage about terrorist attack may desensitize the audience about violence and could lead to compassion fatigue.”
He further asks: “Ethically what is to be done?” and continues to suggest: “Suffocate them—no glorification at all. Focus on the victims as they are humans, not numbers. And then frame your story with empathy. Also provide the counternarrative –perhaps use scholars from afar. And to minimize compassion fatigue, deemphasize reporting fringe terrorist attacks. Finally, beware of PTSD – the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that affects not only the victims of terrorism, but also you as a journalist reporting it from the frontline.”
His presentation further discussed two distinct but intertwined topics on media ethics: The challenges of reporting extremism and how to avoid stereotyping in reporting; saying that media, by design, are where the public forms their positive or negative opinions on a particular group of people.
In his dual presentations on Peace Journalism and Humanitarian Journalism, Mallam Dawobe restated the assertion that professional journalism is seen as detached, distant and cold but, he says, to build peace in a conflict-stricken environment, journalism will have to take a humanitarian approach where insurgents are suffocated and the victims are given a voice. He quotes the author Jake Lynch who says “Peace Journalism is when editors and reporters make choices –about what to report, and how to report it –that create opportunities for society at large to consider and to value non-violent responses to conflict.”
Further, in elucidating ‘Ten-Point Peace Journalism’, he argues that “Peace Journalism is not advocacy, but the expansion of the conflict discourse to include peaceful outcomes and processes, making peace perspectives visible. Therefore, journalists should beware: rather than saying or writing ‘there is somebody evil out there, identify him, crush him’, they should rather say or write ‘there is some evil conflict out there, identify it, solve it.’”
As for Operation Safe Corridor, we leave for another day. (For further reading, conference papers are available on google drive on request to firstname.lastname@example.org)