Imams in Algeria are using social media to counter extremism

North Africa

Religious leaders in Algeria are being trained to engage with youth through social media in order to deter them away from extremist groups who recruit online.

Algeria’s Ministry of Religious Affairs has opened a number of workshops to teach imams and other religious leaders about the recruitment methods used by extremist groups on modern technology, including social media.

“The clerics have found great difficulties in penetrating these sites and imposing their presence in this virtual space in order to protect the state’s security and to serve and spread the true religion [of Islam],” said Jamal Ghoul, President of the Independent Council of Imams. “This initiative is to qualify them [the clerics] to handle modern social media.”

Security organisations in Algeria have employed a number of religious leaders to help in the country-wide fight against the proliferation of the ideology of extremists. Extremist groups have increasingly taken to using social media to promote their ideas and encourage the recruitment of young Algerians.

At its height, ISIS used social media as a highly effective recruitment tool. Recruiters, often based in Syria or Iraq, used social media to spread ISIS’ propaganda in the native languages of numerous countries, as well as to reach out to individuals, who were often young adults and teenagers, in their homes.

“They want to strip young people of their culture [and religion],” said Imam Jalloul, who has taken part in the Ministry of Religious Affairs initiative. “[The extremists] provide them with other radical references thus facilitating the process of luring them into terrorist groups.”

Preventing the spread of extremism in Algeria is a priority for religious leaders and the authorities alike, who are keen to supplant the extremist’s distorted message of hate with the true, peaceful message of Islam. With ISIS operating as a small insurgent group in neighbouring Libya, it is all the more important to prevent young Algerians from becoming trapped in a cycle of violence and radicalism.

“This initiative was launched by the Minister of Religious Affairs because of calls by [the] security authorities which have been issued for some time,” said Mohammed al-Araby Sharif, a former Algerian Army officer. “There are many approaches that must be taken by some parties, including the Ministry of Religious Affairs, to open online spaces to respond to some of the sites that push Algerian youth to extremism through so-called Salafi Jihadism, which is very active on the internet.”