When it comes to fighting terror in the Middle East, one man says it doesn’t always have to be fought with guns and weapons.
“You see the kids in the West, they grow up on Spiderman, Batman, Frozen. In large parts of the Middle East, kids grow up on jihad ideology that is incredibly dangerous. That’s what all extremists want, one version of the narrative, their own narrative,” said Suleiman Bakhit.
A few years ago, Bakhit started researching extremist ideology and how it is used to influence Jordanian children.
“I asked the kids, ‘Who are your heroes?’ They said, ‘We don’t have any real heroes, in the real sense of the word, but we hear a lot about Bin Laden and Zarqawi.’ ‘What do you hear about them?’ ‘Well, that they defend us and protect us against America and the West, and the West is out there to kill Muslims and they are there defending us.’ That’s, of course, the ultimate narrative for all extremist groups,” Bakhit said. “The biggest threat we face in the Middle East is terrorism disguised as heroism. The way they pitch their ideology, extremist ideology, as this hero journey, providing the youth with a sense of purpose, sense of identity, a glamorous call to adventure.”
Bakhit decided to tell a different story to the youth.
“I want to provide the youth with an alternative hero journey, show them that a sense of purpose, sense of identity and adventure in life can be achieved by service to others by resilience by hope, not violence and hate,” he said.
Bakhit created a comic book series about contemporary military heroes who are easy to embrace.
Others also aim to change stereotypes, including one about an all female counter terrorism unit.
With some government funding 10 years ago, he says he was able to print over 1 million copies and reach children across Jordan.
With no funding, he says there is little he can do to compete with the tech-savvy groups, like ISIS.
“Even if we tomorrow kill every single terrorist with the press of a button, their ideology still thrives, their narratives and mythology still spreading faster than ever and it’s going global,” he said.
A few years ago, his work left him with a large scar across his face.
“I got attacked outside my office. Two extremists attacked me with a razor blade and they slashed my face. I assume, they didn’t announce their goal, so I assume it’s an attempt to scare me or stop me from doing my work,” he said.
Instead, Bakhit says he is more determined to continue his fight on a different kind of battlefield.