Yemen Turns to Dialogue

Article excerpt

Byline: KHALED AL-MAHDI Deutsche Presse-Agentur

SANAA As Washington was facing fierce criticism for the continued detention of hundreds of terror suspects in Guantanamo, Yemen was putting to the proof its own strategy for defeating the ideology of violence.

In a poor country whose population of 20 million are holding more than 60 million firearms and where Islamic militants have strong ties with tribes, the government found that dialogue is the best way to dissuade extremists from violence.

Like many Arab countries, Yemen came under intense pressure from the United States after the September 11 attacks to crack down on suspected militants. Security forces arrested hundreds of young men who had fought in Afghanistan and had maintained links to alQaeda.

The clampdown was necessary to avert US military action against Yemen, but at the end, the government found itself caught between a rock and a hard place.

It was not easy to keep hundreds of suspects in jail without charges, nor release them with their minds filled with radical ideas. The way out of the dilemma was to re-educate prisoners through a dialogue that is based on teachings of Islam.

The march was led by Hamoud al-Hitar, a charismatic judge appointed by Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to head the Theological Dialogue Committee (TDC) that is entrusted with convincing the detainees to renounce their wrongful beliefs.

Hitar, who also chairs the Yemeni Human Rights Organisation, along with 24 other religious scholars held a series of dialogue sessions with more than 400 extremists to steer them away from violence and get them accept tolerance.

He says the idea emerged after a study that examined the causes of terror acts in the United States and other countries.

"The study concluded that every terror operation has been always justified by an intellect, be it a religious, political, economic or social, it is still an intellect," al-Hitar told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

"The intellect is defeated only through intellect and the intellectual problems are settled only by dialogue while it is difficult to resolve it through force," he said.

After several sessions, says al-Hitar, the inmates renounce violence and they are released.

"Some 346 persons have been released since the dialogue drive began (in September 2002)," al-Hitar added. …