BEIRUT: Community leaders from around Lebanon Wednesday celebrated the successful implementation of locally led pilot projects that have been designed to prevent violent extremism.
The projects, which were run by the Strong Cities network, assisted local communities in engaging those vulnerable to violent extremism, and comprised teacher training courses, workshops with religious leaders and drama and rap workshops.
These community engagement schemes took place in Tripoli, Sidon and Majdal Anjar.
“Everyone agrees there are many untapped resources at the community level that should be mobilized and better coordinated with specific focus on early prevention municipalities, teachers, religious leaders and not least the strong and vibrant civil society that Lebanon is so renowned for,” said Danish Ambassador Merete Jahl, whose country’s Foreign Ministry provided much of the funding for the projects.
According to Khadije Nasser, Strong Cities’ senior regional program manager, particularly vulnerable communities in Lebanon had been identified by the network in coordination with the Interior Ministry, the Danish Foreign Ministry and the municipalities themselves.
“The most important thing with [these projects] is to localize and to contextualize the approach and the interventions, and this is what we’re doing with the local expertise,” Nasser told The Daily Star.
She noted that the scheme was inspired by and modeled loosely on Denmark’s successful campaign against violent extremism, in which civil society has played a major role. Given Lebanon’s thriving civil society, this should work to its strengths, she added.
The largely Sunni makeup of the urban centers targeted was not deliberate, Nasser said. “We don’t want to stereotype any specific sect or religion or ethnicity or group,” noting that the network also operates in cities and countries across the globe that do not have a Sunni or Muslim majority.
One of the projects’ major challenges was the fact that nothing of its kind had previously taken place in Lebanon, Nasser said. However, she noted optimistically the new national strategy the Lebanese government will adopt to tackle the issue, “which makes it easier because now they’re establishing a culture of preventing violent extremism.”
The government’s strategy, approved in late March, has gone through an extensive consultation process involving 29 ministers’ offices. Rubina Abu Zeinab, the government’s national coordinator for PVE, told The Daily Star that the action planning process is due to start in mid-January, with finalized action plans to be produced by September or October. Abu Zeinab acknowledged the importance of working with local actors when developing PVE strategies. “They know better the challenges at the local level, and they are very close to their local people. The important [thing] is how to get these national strategies in a direct dialogue with the local strategies,” she said.
The official acknowledged that the government still had work to do to regain the trust in some vulnerable areas. Indeed, some local community members at the conference praised the detail of the government’s plan but voiced skepticism that they would see any benefit from it. She emphasized as a result the importance of integrating these policies into local culture, and she indicated her willingness to hear from the community members present.
Nasser, meanwhile, said that Strong Cities was discussing with the government how its pilot projects might be “mainstreamed” as part of the national PVE strategy to other cities around the country.