The Kenyan classroom voice against terrorism and radicalization
Kenya is one the countries that has experienced the wrath of terrorism in a spate of attacks targeting civilians. Its proximity to Somalia, where the terror group AlShabab operates from, has complicated matters.
As young people become radicalized, one high school teacher in Eastleigh, an estate in Nairobi with a majority of Somalis and one of the main recruiting grounds for Alshabab, incorporates de-radicalisation messages into key subjects such as Islamic Religious Education. He has been vocal in combating extremism and preventing radicalisation on both local and national levels. He was recently among the top finalists globally for the Global Teachers Prize and the only African. Fairplanet spoke to him about his cause and his views on terrorism and violent extremism.
fairplanet: Tell us a bit about yourself.
Ayub Mohamud: I am Ayub Mohamud a teacher at Eastleigh High School in Nairobi Kenya and the founder of Teacher against Violent Extremism (TAVE), Chair Community Development Initiative and Top 10 Finalist Global Teacher Prize.
In the wake of heightened violent extremism and terrorism, which has also seen many young people radicalized, you have taken it upon yourself to teach high schools students deradicalization. Tell us about that.
I train young students who are potential baits for extremist groups. My classes are about giving knowledge and skills to students on issues such as Jihad where extremist groups use it selfishly to position themselves and recruit many young people.
The second thing about the lessons I give is about how to tackle issues such as the ideologies and propaganda. Of course students learn in details about how to challenge a recruiter, enticing them with facts from the Quran and this makes them critical thinkers, global citizens, tolerant and cohesive with knowledge and skills on how to specifically counter and challenge violent extremism and radicalization.
I also offer also social media training and how to craft messages of tolerance and peace and by extension sharing this with critical mass and educating them. Leadership and community engagement skills is also part of the lessons because students come from communities and by placing them in their communities as mentors and giving support to youth at risk and others is key within our programs.
I am also involved in training students on how to strengthen their own structures such as peace clubs and mainstreaming issues of countering violent extremism. Interestingly, students came up with Annual Inter-school Exchange Forum (AISEF) a forum of 20 different schools working and sharing lessons, trends and other useful information on countering violent extremism.
How long have you been conducting the deradicalization classes?
I have been involved in this work for the last 3 years by working in both schools and communities. It is challenging due to the high risks and sensitives around it but I am happy to report that I have mentored and supported thousands in different engagement programs.
What inspired you to pick deradicalization as a subject?
My heart broke seeing the number of students and young people who were being recruited or indoctrinated to join violent extremist groups. I believe teachers are regarded as role models and mentors who can challenge such evil ideologies by drawing examples from the Quran and encourage students and youth to learn more about the religion. The vacuum in mentorship also inspired me to pick the subject. When i started this work i wanted to build capacities of communities and also change perceptions around the issues of violent extremism.
How effective has been the deradicalization classes? What would you say has been the success of your teaching?
It has been such a success story because my students can now handle issues of radicalization and violent extremism. I can happily state that my students and other youth are global citizens who are tolerant, cohesive and critical thinkers with better understanding and ways of solving challenges of violent extremism and radicalization.
What exactly is deradicalization and how do you deradicalize someone?
De-radicalization the practice of encouraging those with extreme and or political ideologies to adopt more moderate views. I am Islamic Religious Education teacher. I use my provision in the syllabus to challenge and address ideologies of extremist groups in a bid to free students from accepting or joining groups with evil ideologies. I provide many lessons and directly engage with students in the classroom to change their mindset and behaviour on key issues that might draw them to become part of any violent extremist drive.
You founded Teachers Against Violent Extremism (TAVE). Tell us abit about that? What is it? Its membership? Its mission?
TAVE is a platform for mobilizing and organizing teachers to take up a specific role on how to tackle issues of violent extremism. Our mission is creating students who are global citizens and well equip to how to handle challenges of the 21st century.
Is there a place for teachers in the global war on terror?
Of course teachers have a great role in the war on terror. Most importantly they can be the voice of the youth and students by mentoring them and guiding them to the right path. Currently, our students and young people are facing an identity crisis and lack sense of purpose in their lives. Really this will only give extremist groups an upper hand in luring more youth but with the help of teachers and other stakeholder chances can be reduced.
What else do you teach your students and why does it matter?
I teach them innovation and creativity as a Business Studies teacher and how to become innovators and creatives. Interestingly, they came up with a low cost roofing technology made from wasted plastic bags and bottles. This idea is wonderful and shows that young people are innovative and creative and giving them the right support and training reduces their chances of being enticed by violent extremist groups because they have a way of earning a livelihood.
Why does it matter what you do?
It matters because I am a role model and mentor for the youth and students. I feel I am contributing solutions rather than sitting and watching a key group to society’s growth waste away. It is why I do it.
What is the hardest bit about what you do?
Doing this work is hard because of the sensitivity of addressing violent extremism and radicalization. The limited resources also make it difficult to reach out to many youth and communities.
You were voted among the top ten best teachers globally in the prestigious Global Teachers Prize. What does that mean to you and to your cause?
Its a great honour and truly adds clout to my work and cause. This has given me publicity and recognition globally.
The world has been staring at an unprecedented of dealing with violent extremism and terrorism. Statistics indicate that more young people are being radicalized every day. What in your opinion should countries do to stem this rising wave?
I think wining the hearts and minds of communities by directly engaging is key to achieving long term solutions to challenges of violent extremism and radicalisation.
Is a terror free world possible?
It is possible if we work together in unity without branding each other as terrorists or sympathizers because our strength creates fear in violent extremist groups. Also working with religious leaders, communities and governments can result into safer and secure communities.