By Jemal Oumar
By Jemal Oumar
October 13, 2011
In a Mauritanian city scarred by last year’s terrorist attack, the message of spreading peace is of particular importance. Scores of youths gathered in Néma, southeast of Nouakchott, last week to explore the power of art and music in fighting extremism.
The October 7th event, held by the Students’ Cultural Club of Néma, focused on the duality of “terrorism and peace”, according to journalist Ould Oumar. The participants presented “folk and hip-hop music, theatrical sketches and lectures that addressed the dangers of terrorism, intellectual deviance, religious extremism and youth idleness”, he added.
Néma is “at risk of terrorist ideology and attack by al-Qaeda elements at any time”, according to Sidati Ould Al-Arabi, the supervisor of the event.
Last August, a suicide attack struck military barracks in Néma, sending shockwaves throughout the city. The bombing created tension among residents and changed the region into a centre for military operations against al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
“The current situation of tension and fear among the population requires us to focus on terrorism as a deviant act,” Ould Al-Arabi added. “We are trying to instill a culture of peace and tolerance in the minds of the city’s population, and especially the youth, by using non-traditional means such as enthusiastic songs and local folklore.”
The city’s proximity to the border with Mali and lack of experience of its youth make such activities necessary, Ould Al-Arabi said. He stressed the need to alert young people about “the negative aspects of terrorism” by distributing publications and organising seminars that address “the causes of the phenomenon in terms of material and economic aspects as well as issues facing the community, such as ignorance and illiteracy”.
“We are intensifying our awareness-raising activities for Néma residents at the beginning of the school year,” said Mohamed Ould Ahabib, the media officer of the club. “The goal is to provide guidance to young people about concepts not normally covered in school, such as social peace, tolerance and spreading a culture of peace among the people.”
“Our role is to urge people to fight extremism and to protect young people and vulnerable families out of fear of their being lured by al-Qaeda elements offering money or planting poisonous ideas,” he added.
Women in particular have a distinctive role to play in educating residents, according to activist Berira Mint Bounenna.
“Women must not relinquish their role in the fight against terrorism, because they have the means men may not have, which is their proximity to children and other women,” she added. “They are always the weakest link in this society, which prompted us to focus on making them aware of the dangers of children’s extremism. Thus, at the level of this cultural club, we educated many mothers of children and young people.”
“Néma has become a wounded city because it was hit by a terrorist attack last year, but we are trying to heal this wound by proving our strength to confront and reject extremism and the ability to counter temptations with a lot of conviction,” she added.
The cultural club focuses on a number of social ills, including illiteracy, poverty and school dropout, said youth activist Mbary Ould Benessaa. But last year’s assault made them step up their counter-terror activities.
“As for our methods, they are songs, lectures and theatre,” he added, describing the event as a success. “Most residents and youth of Néma and some neighbouring villages attended. We also received encouragement from the administrative bodies, which honoured us by attending.”
Photograph by: Jemal Oumar