Kuwaiti education program aims to combat religious extremism

Australia could benefit from a world-first training program developed by the Kuwaiti government to combat religious extremism at its roots, one of its senior officials has advised.

The program, which has been running successfully in Russia, Azerbaijan and the Ukraine, is aimed at eliminating radical ideology by educating religious leaders and those in positions of power and influence, according to Dr Adel al-Falah, the under secretary for Kuwait’s Ministry of of Awqaf and Islamic Developments.

Speaking on a visit to Sydney, Dr al-Falah, said they had already trained 1000 Imams and they have 450 educators providing guidance to Muslim leaders around the world.

‘‘As a result of the training in Kuwait, not one extremist group has come to the fore in recent times,’’ said Dr al-Falah.

‘‘The issue of moderation is a serious business, and this program is suitable for Australia or any country that has Muslims living there,’’ he said.

Dr al-Falah’s comments follow a public outcry earlier this month about a fatwa against celebrating Christmas being published on the Facebook site of the Lakemba Mosque. Officials said the fatwa was not sanctioned and it was removed.

The Kuwaiti government has poured more than $100 million dollars into developing education training modules that promote moderate views and they are now being implemented in other countries in partnership with their respective governments.

The programs are being run out of Kuwait’s International Centre for Moderation which is supported by the Emir of Kuwait. Dr al Falah said the Emir wants the country to become a beacon to the rest of the world on the best practice when tackling extremism.

Professor Peter Anderson, the director of the Centre for Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism at Macquarie University said co-operation between countries working to a common goal such as counter radicalisation is to be encouraged.

‘‘Different countries all have a lot to learn from each other.

‘‘Any collobaration in this area is to be applauded and supported,’’ said Professor Anderson.

Dr al-Falah said they use sociology and psychology to understand what makes people act the way they do,  and so effectively modify their behaviour.

Intensive training programs developed by the centre are run for all the community leaders, opinion makers, spokespeople and anyone in a position of leadership or influence.

He said one of the secrets to their success is strong leadership and government support.

He said there is an art to changing people’s views and it doesn’t include introducing harsh laws which push people underground.

Instead he said they use the tactics of countering fanatical ideas with facts and information and the sooner that can be done the better. Educating children properly with moderate views, he says, is the key to changing the future.

‘‘ In the long run prevention is better than cure,’’ said Dr al Falah.

‘‘You need to look at it like a virus, you need to immunise people against the spread of it.’’

This story Kuwaiti education program aims to combat religious extremism first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.