The U.S. State Department’s U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) includes a program that brings college students from the Middle East and North Africa region to the United States for an intensive 6 week leadership training program. This year’s Student Leadership Program cohort was hosted in Illinois by Benedictine University located in Lisle, IL.
On July 28, 2017 ICJIA’s Targeted Violence Prevention Program participated in a presentation and discussion with the MEPI 2017 cohort at Goodwin Hall on the campus of Benedictine University. The focus was on prevention of ideologically inspired targeted violence. TVPP director Junaid M. Afeef spoke with the students about targeted violence and violent and hateful ideologies in Illinois and in the United States more broadly, and then engaged in a lively discussion about what drives individuals to engage in violence inspired by extremist ideologies in the United States and in the various home countries of the MEPI Cohort.
One fascinating takeaway from the conversation was the similarity of differing opinions among the MEPI cohort members and the range of opinions held by Americans on why some people are radicalized to violence while others are not. Among other reasons, some argued that it was financial and economic depravation; others argued that it was a lack of understanding on the true teachings of religion - for many of these students the religion was Islam. Director Afeef noted that there were very similar opinions held by Americans on why Americans radicalize to violence inspired by a range of ideologies including white supremacy, anti-government sentiments, and deviant interpretations of religion.
The MEPI 2017 cohort included students from a wide range of countries including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, and Morrocco. The students’ vocational and avocational interests ranged from business, education, counter-terrorism, and fine arts.