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In Yemen, protecting against terrorism by promoting culture

Yemeni Culture Minister Abdullah Awbal (right) and Qaderi Ahmed Haidar, president of the Yemen Centre for Studies and Research, speak at the Yemeni Conference on Cultural Policies for Development. [Fouad al-Harazi/Al-Shorfa]

Yemeni Culture Minister Abdullah Awbal (right) and Qaderi Ahmed Haidar, president of the Yemen Centre for Studies and Research, speak at the Yemeni Conference on Cultural Policies for Development. [Fouad al-Harazi/Al-Shorfa]



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Teaching young people theatre, art, literature and the cultural heritage of Yemenis of all backgrounds helps prevent them from subscribing to extremist thought, officials told Al-Shorfa.

Their remarks came on the side-lines of the Conference on Cultural Policies for Development, held May 6th-8th in Sanaa by the Yemeni Ministry of Culture and attended by civil society organisations, cultural affairs specialists and officials.

"Extremism and terrorism emerged due to an absence of culture, which plays a role in safeguarding and educating the community," Deputy Culture Minister Hoda Ablan told Al-Shorfa.

This absence of culture is also behind other problems afflicting Yemen, she added.

"Culture refines the spirit and the soul and elevates thought, and its absence leaves the door open for small-minded and extremist ideas that target youth in particular," she said. "So, the government does not lose by spending on culture to safeguard society from the dangers that threaten it and will certainly bear fruit for generations to come."

The conference came at an important stage in Yemen: a time when a national dialogue conference is under way and in which "a new Yemen will be created", Ablan said.

"Therefore, the nation must be built on pillars of culture, creativity and enlightenment, because these will help the country get rid of negative practices and boost [efforts] to restore its culture and glory," she added.

Conference recommendations

Conference participants made several recommendations as the event concluded, calling for the establishment of a high council for culture and the arts, urging stronger scientific research in these areas, and recommending that at least 3% of the general state budget be allocated to the culture ministry.

It is also critical to empower women culturally and creatively, and to support their active participation in cultural life, they said.

Participants highlighted the need for theatre and arts infrastructure for education and youth programmes, the need to include arts education in curricula at kindergartens and primary schools, and the importance of teaching aesthetics at universities and institutes.

Additionally, the government must take the needs of children and youth into account; protect and promote rights and freedoms; highlight tolerance and acceptance of others; fight extremism; publish carefully-written literature for children; host cultural activities for children; and provide a space for them to carry out these activities, said the conference's closing statement.

The government is committed to protecting Yemen's cultural heritage, whether moral or physical, to preserving its cultural ad national identities, and to caring for culture and innovation, the statement said.

It called for establishing a culture and arts satellite channel, enacting laws that help protect the cultural heritage of all Yemenis -- whatever their background -- and taking steps to lessen the cost of exporting Yemeni books.

Fighting terrorism and extremism

"The aim of the conference was to develop a strategy and policies for various cultural activities, because there is no cultural strategy" currently, said Hisham Ali bin Ali, culture ministry undersecretary.

Cultural development has been in decline in recent years due to a drop in the number and activity of cultural centres, and also because the ministry was not allocated a fixed budget, he told Al-Shorfa.

"The matter requires serious effort," he said, "given the positive role culture plays in educating society about its issues".

Culture should be given the same level of attention security and defence are given, he said, "because culture defends the identity and cultural security and stability of citizens".

Extremism and terrorism result from a lack of attention to culture, he added.

Yahya Jahzar, director of the technical office at the culture ministry, said the ministry presently seeks to establish cultural centres and houses of culture in all provinces, and to expand cultural activity in the country as a whole, particularly in newly-established provinces like Raymah, al-Dalaa and Omran.

Cultural activities help combat terrorism and extremism, he said, referencing theatre performances staged in Sanaa for International Theatre Day in March.

"The plays that are still being performed today, all concentrate on the principle of fighting terrorism and extremism," he said.



    حبيب نايف


    There is no longer any sign of stability in Yemen as we no longer feel secure in the Yemeni streets because Al-Qaeda organizations are always carrying out terrorist operations everywhere. We are against such operations and all that is taking place now in Yemen is fighting and jihad in order to expel al-Qaeda from Yemen. But unfortunately, there is no good way to get rid of al-Qaeda in Yemen, and it's all because of the foreign fighters who have left their country, their lives and their families in order to join al-Qaeda. I am really surprised how these people could agree to join such an organization, and what I find strange is the fact that they're Arabs, among them Egyptians, Tunisians and Saudis. However, they did not spare any effort to be among al-Qaeda members and fight against their fellow Arabs. I hope that these fighters stop what they are doing now because they will never reach peace, or truly coexist and they will live in terrorism.