A New Project to Counter-Extremism From Jordan

Left side:  Ahmad Srour, Right side:  Ahmad Abu Koush , the founders of AntiBiotic
Left side: Ahmad Srour, Right side: Ahmad Abu Koush , the founders of AntiBiotic

AMMAN, JORDAN – If you have abdominal pain, you might go to an internist. If you were to have an ear infection you would go to an ear, nose and throat doctor. But if you are experiencing the effects of ideological diseases, such as hatred and radicalization, you could become a guest in an AntiBiotic video.

Around two years ago, a group of Jordanian nationals created AntiBiotic, a Facebook page that covers issues through short videos in Jordanian society and around the world, from women’s rights and radical Islam to inclusiveness and tolerance.

One of the show’s strongest themes, especially in season 2, was that extremism is not a religion nor an identity. This message, conveyed through satire, was directed towards the recent rise of Islamophobia in Europe and the United States.

"Islamophobia" can be is literally defined as a collective fear of Islam and Muslims, but in fact, it is a kind of racism, consisting of a series of prejudices and stereotypes hostile to Islam and Muslims. Barack Obama, who, amid then-unprecedented fear in the Islamic community, became the first to visit a mosque in the U.S., preached inclusion. He stated that, “we’re one American family, and when any part of our family starts to feel separate or second-class or targeted, it tears at the very fabric of our nation.” Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, stated in his famous speech after 9/11 that “Islam is peace,” and that “ the face of terror is not the true faith of Islam.”

But since president Donald Trump came to power, American Muslims increasingly feel they are not welcome in their country. Trump and right-wing populists have sought to exploit the climate generated by ISIS and other groups to instill fear of Islam and Muslims in voters, which they then use for electoral purposes. Their slogans reference the Islamization of Europe and the threat of hidden Islamic extremism, among other dangers.

‘AntiBiotic” is an example of how Arab Muslims are working together to battle Islamophobia and racism through video programs. “We felt that now is the right time because we have seen a rise of hate speech in our society and around the globe,” co-creator Ahmad Abu Koush said. ”We thought that we should create this program to contain such rhetoric of hate and radicalization, or at least to minimize it.”

Islamophobic beliefs have become more normal, in part because of Trump's attempts via executive order to prevent travelers from six Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S., and because of his anti-Muslim rhetoric during and after his presidential campaign. Trump himself has said he believes"Islam hates us" and has repeated the false claim that he saw thousands of American Muslims celebrate in New Jersey after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Trump's rhetoric seems to have had a direct impact on Muslim Americans. Muslims are more vulnerable to attacks in America during the Trump era than they were after September 11, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center based on FBI crime data.

“Hate and radicalization are ideological diseases,” Ahmad said, and he hopes his “AntiBiotic” videos are the medicine. Ahmad and his team chose to produce these short, two-minute videos because they are an efficient way to get people to understand complex ideas.

One of the other co-producers, Majali, said that the idea of delivering messages through social media gives you good reach out and exposure besides the engagement through comments and inbox messages and also to efficient targeting the audience in Jordan and abroad.

A 2015 case study of the Khaled Saed Facebook page that helped to promote the country’s revolutionary movements in 2011, by Kara Alaimo, author of Pitch, Tweet, or Engage on the Street: How to Practice Global Public Relations and Strategic Communication, suggests that social media is a more potent vehicle for promoting substantive change than has been fully appreciated.

Ahmad believes his videos will affect those struggling with hateful thoughts positively. Still, he said, the videos “are not a magic trick … People need to think for themselves and not (just) follow.”

Societies around the globe must understand extremism and terrorism are not benefiting Islam. According to Mr. Majali “If a Muslim blow himself in a church he is in fact, attacking Islam, before Christians”. He went on to explain “It's not rocket science: I am a Muslim and I have more problems with those terrorists whom others label as Muslims since I’m suffering, directly and indirectly, because of what they’re doing on daily basis. Terror is not a religion, a dress code, or a nationality. It’s an act of violence, it’s a practice, and it can be anything or anyone”. Terrorism is indeed not a religion a color an ethnicity it is an act of violence regardless.

This piece was edited by H. Graph Massara, UC Berkeley

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