Qatar is making massive efforts to combat extremism. In fact, in an interview with Al Jazeera English Mutlaq Al Qahtani, Qatar’s special Envoy on Counterterrorism and Mediation for Settling Conflicts, stated, “Everything is done to fight terrorism. Domestically, we have enacted laws. We have a national committee on terror financing and countering terrorism.”
However, Qatar’s strongest effort to combat terrorism is not strategically planned in a back room or fought by brute force, but rather it is tackled in the classroom.
Al Qahtani went on to explain, “We believe unemployment is one of the root causes of terrorism and violent extremism leading to terrorism.”
It is the goal of Qatar to provide jobs opportunities for over 2.7 Million Arab Youths in sixteen countries in the Middle East by the year 2021, and they will accomplish this goal largely through education programs.
Qatar’s approach of using knowledge to fight terrorism is so refreshingly progressive for the region that it reminds one of the quote, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
In the West, we take for granted all amazing universities and the opportunities they provide, but in Qatar, the eruption of Western-style education is opening doors and experiences that were once not possible.
In 1997 the Qatar Foundation launched what is now known as Education City, and Virginia Commonwealth University was the first to open its doors. Since the official inauguration of Education City in 2003, many reputable universities like, Northwestern, Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown, and Texas A&M have joined the educational revolution.
The Washington Post wrote about Northwestern’s experience about considering opening a branch in Qatar, “Terms were generous: Academic freedom guaranteed, world-class facilities, expenses fully covered. All Northwestern had to do was build a program on par with those at its home campus outside Chicago, and award degrees here bearing its name.”
Northwestern commented, “It was a good deal…No financial risk. The only risk was reputational.” Before opening a branch campus, Northwestern and many other universities had concerns about how a Western-style education, one that promotes free speech and encourages independent thought, would be possible.
Georgetown President John J. DeGioia even said that he had to carefully examine whether the venture would fit into Georgetown’s core moral values.
The concerns of the Universities were certainly fair given the stance on education by other countries in the region. For example, Wahhabism and other extremist teachings in the region have led to terrorism around the globe.
Other countries have supported and continue to support radical mosques and schools around the world, which has sent many young people on a path towards extremism.
A Brookings Institution scholar, Williams McCants said about extremist teachings in the region “They promote a very toxic form of Islam that draws sharp lines between a small number of true believers and everyone else, Muslim and non-Muslim.”
Other countries will take advantage of their unemployed youth to impose their will, Qatar will not, other countries will stamp down its student’s rights to free speech and critical thought, Qatar will not, and other countries continue to fund extremist behavior, Qatar will not.
Qatar has stood as an ally to the United States and is committed to fighting terrorism any way possible. It is for this reason that Universities like Texas A&M and Carnegie Mellon felt comfortable putting their reputation in the hands of Qatar.
It is now the collective feeling among the Western universities that they are a force for good in the region. The Washington post reported that “Education City is perhaps the most prominent example of this trend, offering an optimistic vision of social advancement in the Middle East at a time of global concern about a time of global concern about war in Syria and the Islamic Sate’s role in terrorism.”
The Universities that have set up shop in Education City have given students an opportunity to get a world-class education and to be a part of high-end university research all while being surrounded by diversity.
The most powerful words about the Qatar’s efforts in education, of course, come from the students. Tehreem Asghar was born in Pakistan, raised in South Africa, and lived in Saudi Arabia before moving to Doha to study Culture and Politics at Georgetown University. She described her experience as:
“Being a student at Georgetown constantly reminds me of how privileged I am to be at a university that is so diverse and accepting of different opinions. The coursework forces you to think about ideas, theories, and systems, giving you the ability to analyze and critique the status quo. Georgetown has infused me with confidence, reminding me that my opinion matters. It has introduced me to so many people from various backgrounds and religions, enabling me to become more worldly and accepting of different practices and perspectives. Additionally, Georgetown’s varied courses and trips such as through the Zones of Conflict, Zones of Peace programs, have allowed me to identify my area of interest which includes education and women and children’s rights, giving me an idea of what I would like to pursue in the future.”
As Qatar’s commitment to western-style education continues and grows, we will see that knowledge is a far more valuable and far more sustainable resource in the Middle East than oil could ever be.
Humanity will advance in the region, acceptance will erupt, and the idea of extremist thought will be an archaic practice. There will be a day when the East and the West will come together, a day that some thought not possible, but that day will trace back to the efforts Qatar is making now.