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© REUTERS/K. Abdullah Ali Al Mahdi

How does al Qaida's growth in Yemen look to Yemeni eyes? Faris Sanabani explains the particular national characteristics that he thinks have played a role in making Yemen the home to al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

Al Qaida is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It consists of people of different races, black and white, and different nationalities, and it’s a combination of intelligent, ambitious people who want to lead others, and a mixture of illiterate people and desperate youth who are frustrated, angry and broke, and others with extremist ideas.

To those who feel injustice in their own country or in the world, to those who have nothing to live for and those who can easily be influenced, and want to play a role, the options are either to end their own lives or to form groups, to find a sense of belonging.

In that group, you can move towards violence, theft and crime, which is the tendency in a number of countries. But not in Yemen, due to the traditional and religious way people are raised. So another option is to go to an extremist religious group, such as al Qaida, which in their mind is the way to eternal glory and heaven. That by itself is more appealing, and some in Yemen move in that direction.

Unfortunately it doesn’t make life easier that with the high illiteracy rate, unemployment, and poverty in Yemen, it’s easy to persuade people to go along any path you want them to take.

I remember interviewing an al-Qaida leader who was released after two years’ imprisonment and dialogue. He used to lead a camp in Afghanistan. He told me that the Yemenis have soft hearts, and they go with their hearts and not their minds. He said that back in Afghanistan, in the morning when the Yemenis would sit with a salafi scholar they would embrace the salafis; in the afternoon when they sit with someone from the ikhwan (the Muslim brotherhood), they might embrace the ikhwan; and in the evening they might embrace another group. They are easily persuaded into one sect or another. He also said that Bin Laden ordered the Yemenis to be separated into their own camp, away from the other Arabs, because they could shift easily from one group to another.

Al Qaida in Yemen is more than an organisation, it is a melting pot for whomever has an issue and wants to go violent

Globalisation and mass media have made the growth of al Qaida even easier. Small, simple cells can form independently, utilising the internet. The literature is available and the targets are clear. The reward is glory if you live, or eternity in heaven if you die. That is what is fed into the mind and souls. As a result, al Qaida is on the rise in Yemen and elsewhere.

© REUTERS/K. Abdullah Ali Al Mahdi

Al Qaida in Yemen is more than an organisation, it is a melting pot for whomever has an issue and wants to go violent. So if you have an issue that you can’t deal with, if you feel you are the victim of injustice, if you’re broke, al Qaida increasingly seems to be an option. When combating al Qaida in Yemen, the proper way to deal with it is to fight the root cause, not the symptoms. And the cause could be anything from family problems to dissatisfaction with the government to poverty and unemployment or extreme views, or the Palestinian-Israel issue. The list is long.

So a serious look and massive action have to be taken to combat al Qaida in Yemen at all levels. We have to start with the educational system, from grade 1 up. We have to use the media, movies, plays, news, and poetry, while introducing other cultures in a realistic way, because what Yemenis see about America through media is violence and immorality.

We have to use respected public figures to advocate against extremism. The message of mosques has to be one of moderation. Mosque preachers have to be trained on the effects of the extremist message on their own family and on their own people. We must use force when it’s needed. This includes intelligence and preemptive action. But most importantly, we need economic development and job creation, because without this people will lose hope.

Mosque preachers have to be trained on the effects of the extremist message on their own family and on their own people

Al Qaida started as a local problem; now it’s a global problem. To combat it we have to deal with it locally, regionally and globally. We need to work towards integrated, global solutions.

A country with a strong economy must not keep to itself; it must look to its neighbours to help them create jobs and raise the standards of living. That is what Yemen is in dire need of. We have to work internally at making improvements. Parallel to that, we also rely on the support of our neighbors in providing investment and job creation, because that’s the way to combat terrorism.

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