Journalism and religious extremism: can journalists help reduce political and religious violence?

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March 2016 was a particularly deadly month, with attacks in Iraq, Tunisia, Turkey, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Belgium – in Asia, Africa and Europe. These terrorist attacks left more than a hundred people dead. Groups such as the Islamic State, AQMI, Boko Haram and the Taliban claimed responsibility for these attacks, which do not come out of nowhere but are the extreme result of social fragmentation and extremist religious ideologies, which are winning support all the more because they have financial backing. With a recruitment strategy that exploits poverty and desire for revenge, such groups’ vision of identity can hardly be reconciled with the idea of openness towards others.

What can journalism do in the face of this religious polarization? Fondation Hirondelle, which has activities in several of the most affected countries (Tunisia, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Côte d’Ivoire and the Central African Republic) asks itself this question more and more often.

Mali was hit in 2015 with repeated Jihadist violence, culminating in the November attack on the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako. Studio Tamani, the radio production studio created by Fondation Hirondelle in Mali, covers this kind of news every day. The journalistic work developed here by Fondation Hirondelle is not only to report the number of attacks and the number of victims, but also to give people a voice to show how certain communities like the Peuls are victim of misconceptions, or to talk about regional initiatives to improve the lives of young people who are potential recruits for terrorist groups.

Studio Tamani also organizes live or recorded debates between all components of Malian society, including between conservative Muslims and those that have a more open view of their religion.

Fondation Hirondelle, which adheres to the Swiss tradition of peaceful coexistence and has Swiss government aimed at promoting peace and conflict resolution, is counting on dialogue, and relies on its media to get people in divided societies talking to each other.

Photo: Newspaper stand in Bamako, Mali, November 2015. Photo credit Issouf Sanogo/AFP.