(As published by the Huffington Post on 17/2/2015)
I have been a pilot for 33 years. I have flown the magnificent blue skies over Jordan, and looked down across my country’s landscape, filled with awe, hope, and expectations for the future. As a pilot, as a former Commander of the Royal Jordanian Air Force, as a Muslim, and as member of our great human race, I am deeply shocked by the brutal killings of Captain Moath Al-Kasasbeh and others at the hands of Daesh terrorists. In Syria, Iraq, Libya and beyond, this ideology of violence is spilling across borders and presents a global challenge. But true Islam is a religion that promotes peace at its very core, in every greeting heard millions of times each day across the Arab world: “May peace be upon you”. I condemn the inhumane actions of the so-called Islamic State, and their continued tarnishing of my religion.
I have mourned Captain Al-Kasasbeh’s death along with all Jordanians, and felt the condolences and renewed support of so many others across the globe. Watching my country react to this news has been difficult. But I have seen something beyond sadness, beyond the calls for revenge, in the eyes of the youth marching in the streets of Amman. I see and feel their desire for an end to this violence, their desire for peace, and this inspires me.
And indeed it is the youth, in Jordan and around the world, for whom we must strive to deliver a more peaceful world: free from violence, from discrimination, from exclusion. Conflicts are unavoidable. We are diverse people living within diverse nations, and conflicts are a natural part of our existence. What is avoidable, however, is the violent response to such conflicts.
No youth was born wanting to commit violence. But without access to education and positive role models, youth can so easily be lured by the false status and respect they gain from violence. And without employment and hope for their future, youth are too easily enticed by offers of money to join violent groups with destructive agendas. Our duty, as parents and as community leaders, is to ensure they have alternatives to violence. We must promote deeper understanding and tolerance across conflict divides. And we must provide positive opportunities for youth to play a leading role as responsible citizens contributing to a brighter future for their own communities.
Based on my experiences engaging with the Olympic and sport movement, I believe that one of the ways we can do this for our youth is through sport. Sport can provide a unique and powerful tool to reach vulnerable youth and reduce violence in conflict settings. Carefully-facilitated sport-based games promote leadership and foster cooperation with teammates across conflict divides, breaking stereotypes and building trust and respect for diversity. Using sport to build peace is not a new or unique idea, but it is one that deserves renewed attention in today’s world, as communities across the globe battle extremism and narrow, polarized perspectives.
In Jordan, programmes utilising sport and other peace-building tools are improving social cohesion between Syrian refugees and host community members, and reducing violence among children in schools and among students at universities. Across the region and the world, in many countries experiencing protracted conflict, sport is being used as a vehicle for change. We must promote and expand these programmes, and encourage all those working to build sustainable peace.
Youth are volunteering across the world to make a change in their communities. Let us support them. Let us help our next generation be the one raised to embrace diversity and defeat extremism at its roots. It is not enough to see the desire for peace in the eyes of the youth: we must join their voices and support their actions towards that end. In the streets of Amman, in Karak, across Jordan, across the Middle East, and around the world: May peace be upon you.