Hussain Ebrahim Al Hammadi (centre) with Dr Majed Bin Ali Al Nuaimi (left) and Dr Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi, director-general of ECSSR, at the symposium in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday. Image Credit: Courtesy: ECSSR

Abu Dhabi: The war against terror is an ideological one and terrorists and extremists seek to infiltrate the education system to promote their ideology, a minister said on Wednesday.

Speaking at a symposium titled Education, Extremism and Terrorism at the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR) in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, Hussain Ebrahim Al Hammadi, Minister of Education, said: “The collapse of the education system, obviously, leads to an environment which is used by extremist forces to prosper. So we need to preserve and protect our educational institutions by instilling positive thoughts among pupils.”

The symposium saw educationists and scholars from across the Arab world gathering to convey their sense of concern about educational institutions being infiltrated by extremist forces to propagate their ideology.

Al Hammadi said that education should seek to stay constantly updated and innovative by basing itself on logical thinking so that a student could be equipped with clear vision.

“We believe that a quality education system shapes a good personality,” he said.

“After 9/11, we have seen that using religion as a backdrop, terrorist activities increased in schools such as the attacks in New York schools,” Al Hammadi said. “We have seen similar attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq as well [where schools were targeted],” he said.

“We need to remove the sources that encourage anti-national thoughts.”

Al Hammadi noted that terrorists today are well-educated and can use technology to achieve their goals. “It’s the responsibility of security forces to stop [them], but the seeds [of terrorist ideology] are planted in society, companies and in educational institutions, so the role [of the latter] becomes very important,” he said.

Also addressing the symposium was Dr Majed Bin Ali Al Nuaimi, Minister of Education and Chairman of Higher Education Council of Bahrain. He said: “Since 2011, Bahrain has registered 571 cases of school attacks, in which many students received injuries and their institutions torched.”

Such incidents negatively impact the learning process as well as affect students psychologically, he added.

“If we want to defeat extremist forces, we have to strengthen educational curriculums and incorporate lessons that shed light on the changing circumstances in the region as well as in the world, and prepare [students] mentally.”

Dr Al Nuaimi said that debates and discussion among pupils, teachers and parents are vital, so that students can be regularly updated and mentored on their motives and role in society.

Dr Tareq Shawki, Minister of Education and Technical Education of Egypt, who also spoke at the event, said: “We need to spread extensive awareness among students and caution them against exploiting religion to further extremist activities.”

Dr Shawki said that terrorists never differentiate between Muslims and Christians, the mosque and the church. They kill the innocent, he said.

On the importance of education in leading the young on to the right path, Dr Shawki said, “Now we face the big challenge of extremism; we need to study the reasons that could defend it and groom our youngsters better through education, which is the remedy to counter these threats.”