Chapter 19: Countermeasures to extremist propaganda: a strategy for countering absolutist religious beliefs in northeast Nigeria
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Many studies have shown that counter-narrative campaigns aimed at countering the religious beliefs that justify violent extremism are generally unsuccessful as such beliefs are deeply held and legitimised. But what happens if a campaign then sets out to validate and honor all beliefs - but only as beliefs, distinct from the believer? This was the approach of a digital campaign that won first place at the Africa Regional Finals of the Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Challenging Extremism competition - an initiative backed by the White House, and part-funded by Facebook and the US State Department. The campaign was based on findings from a formative research on the religious roots and drivers of violent extremism in Boko Haram-ravaged Northeast Nigeria, and how they are expressed in religious forms and doctrines. It revolved around the hashtag #IamABeliever, and sought to recognise and validate targeted audience's religious identity and beliefs as part of other aspects of their personal and social identities. The campaign drew on Rogers and Kincaid's Convergence model of communication and emphasised multi-dimensionality, community and networks of shared interest. It targeted at-risk youth using social media and a mobile app - Beliepedia, that stimulated conversations between Christians and Muslims on doctrinal beliefs of shared interest - ranging from money to sex. The Bible and Qur'an in Conversation series was also created on Facebook to compare texts from the two holy books on usually dissonant topics such as Women, Mercy, God. This chapter explores how the #IAmABeliever campaign achieved measurable opinion and behavioural change among targeted audiences.

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