Khartoum Forum on Role of Media in Combating Terrorism

Date: 23/08/2016

The status of the Sudan as one of the most stable countries in a turbulent region was consolidated last week with its choice as a venue for the Arab League's Forum on the Role of Media in Combating Terrorism. The timely event on (18-19 August) was addressed by both the First Vice President, in the opening session, and President Bashir in the closing session. The Arab League was represented by its deputy Secretary General Ahmed Ibn Hilli who addressed the distinguished politicians, scholars ,religious leaders and diplomats from all over the world. Sudanese speakers included Dr Ahmed Bilal Osman(Minister of Information whose Ministry hosted the Forum),Dr Isam Ahmed Al Bashir, Dr Kamal Ubaid, Mr Muawiya Madani and many academics and civil society activists. The closing session adopted The Khartoum Declaration which was, as expected, not widely quoted by mainstream Western media outlets. For them, we should only receive not make or disseminate news.

The choice of Khartoum as a venue is not accidental. The Sudan has a pioneering experience in handling cases of those involved in violence or facing the danger of radicalisation. When arrested (as was the case with some who set up a secret training camp in a remote Wildlife Park) they were faced not with torture but taken to several sessions of debate with moderate clerics and knowledgeable religious scholars who challenged the misleading and distorted narrative of Daesh (ISIS)and similar groups. Invariably,the misguided young radicals acknowledged that there was no basis in Islam for their views.Some went on to offer help to open the eyes of other like- minded colleagues. The choice of Khartoum is also appropriate for the Forum because the Sudan has signed all UN terror-related treaties and conventions. As far as implementation is concerned, the Sudan has -according to the US state Department-cooperated in the war on terror. Closer to home, Khartoum has hosted the African Conference of Intelligence and Security Services twice (in 2007 and 2015).

Furthermore, the Sudan has made a significant contribution to the removal of the roots of grievances that feed hopelessness and violence by accepting, since 2002,The Arab League's Peace Initiative that calls for a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict as a basis for mutual recognition with Israel. Successive Israeli governments have spurned this offer which was welcomed by the US and the international community. Israel persists in a policy of ruthless colonial occupation, land theft ,settlement building and humiliation of Palestinians. The success of this Forum is a landmark because the Sudan has been a victim of a well-oiled and well-financed misinformation media campaign that is still under way. The recommendations of the Forum acquire an extra edge, because they are not mere slogans. They included some of the themes addressed in papers presented by several participants such as revising the school syllabuses to ensure that a message of religious tolerance and understanding is ingrained, retraining of imams and religious community leaders and enlisting them in spreading enlightened interpretations of texts and resorting to debate with those suspected of radicalisation. The recommendations also called for solving relevant background issues like unemployment, standards of living and social justice.They echoed what President Bashir said about double standards in the definition of terrorism and unfair selective designations .It is well-known that the former US special envoy to the Sudan(General-ret-Scott Gration) has said in a testimony for the Foreign Relations Committee (July 2009 ) that there was no US intelligence evidence of Sudan's involvement in terror sponsorship; yet participants in this Khartoum Forum could not use their credit cards to pay for hotels because the Sudanese Banking System is suffocated by unilateral US sanctions that are devastating the economy and causing extreme suffering. Terror in our region does not flare out of the blue.It is sometimes the outcome of massive political miscalculations like the Iraqi invasion that is partially responsible for the rise of extremist groups including Daesh (IS).Wise voices in the West have warned about half-baked policies. Just before the illegal invasion of Iraq, the British EU External Relations Commissioner, Lord C.Patten asked the EU Parliament "As a general rule, are wars not more likely to recruit terrorists than to deter them?" Time has proved him right.The Forum's message is different from the short-sighted policies that try to eradicate terror by guns and drones alone..Daesh (ISIS)is an aberration and will be dismantled militarily; but a more nuanced approach is needed to ensure that no ,more extreme group ,will replace it. This is the message of the Khartoum Forum which the mainstream Western media chose to ignore; the way Lord Patten's words fell on deaf ears.

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