Women PeaceMakers Conference: Defying Extremism

Defying Extremism: Gendered Responses to Religious Violence

Reflecting on the 2014 WomenPeacemakers Conference, Defying Extremism: Gendered Responses to Religious Violence, hosted by the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice

(November 19-21, 2014)

The Defying Extremism: Gendered Responses to Religious Violence Conference was a whirlwind. The three full days consisted of narratives, tools, ideas, questions, and some collaborative problem solving.

Situated overlooking San Diego’s sparkling waters, both the bay and the ocean, the Kroc School bustled with conference activities. The picturesque landscape would prove a stark contrast to the gritty realities of the conference content. However, the serious nature of the conference did not leave a gloomy shadow over the days or personal interactions of conference participants, including 49 speakers from over 27 countries.

Instead, the conference topic and subsequent testimonials, panels, and working sessions, all genuinely invigorated the participants. Testimonials, like that of Margaret Arach Orech, Vicky Ibrahim, Arno Michaelis, Maxensia Nakibuuka, and Mubin Shaikh set the scene each day for why we all gathered: to pick up broken pieces and re-build a society or life that was riddled with hate manifested through violent religious extremism. They did not only move forward from traumatic experiences, but had the incredible courage to look back in attempts to fix what is broken in society and garner lessons to share with others. Each testimonial shone as a beacon of hope for the day, as well as genuine and thoughtful reminders that participants had some serious work and thinking to do and share on how to effectively combat religious extremism.

Panels allowed various organizations and individuals to share valuable insights into issues such as “building effective policies,” “gender initiatives,” “analysis of realities behind the headlines,” and talking with extremists. Resounding messages included the integral need for gendered responses: the involvement of women’s voices at all levels of defying extremism, including at the policy level, organizational level, national, regional, and local levels, grassroots levels, etc. One panelist spoke of a humbling reminder: women are often the first targets of extremist violence, and should be, seemingly obviously, included in discussions and policies that counteract extremist violence. Additionally, women often see the first signs of extremist behavior, at home or stirring in society. Women are on the frontlines and have unique access and insight that should be heeded in order to defy extremism.

Another resounding message included social media. Over and over again, participants heard examples of religious extremists, particularly ISIS and Boko Haram, using social media to recruit for the respective “causes.” Potential recruits are lured in by multiple factors, one of which is money, which feeds into the next message, the need for economic opportunities and sources of income for people in conflict situations. Youth and the unemployed populations may join ISIS or Boko Haram for a source of income.

Defying violent religious extremism is multifaceted and multilayered and requires equally complex and individual responses. Overall, there is a need to understand the different dynamics involved in extremism and not place blame solely on one group or factor.

The panels were rich in content and context and sought to provide innovative ways of addressing violent religious extremism and how to robustly incorporate women’s voices into the common narrative of defying extremism. Workshops provided a unique opportunity to deeply discuss pointed issues and topics. Since participants came from diverse perspectives, a purposeful decision made by the Institute for Peace and Justice conference coordinators, workshop presentations and discussions for problem solving, or further nuance, brought varied approaches that allowed respectful debate and further probing of topics like LGBT and Gender Inequality: Developing Gay-Straight Alliances to Counter Extremism, Development of the Network of Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, and Fostering Synergies for Advancing Women’s Rights in Post-Conflict Islamic States.

Equally important were the conversations at breakfast, between conference sessions, and after the day. On the last morning of the conference, I shared breakfast with Maxensia from Uganda, Angeline from Jamaica, Margaret from Uganda, and a few other women. They work in different issues, different areas, and at varying levels of society. But, their shared outlook on always having hope truly humbled me. These three women working at different levels are peacemakers and embody all that I learn about in the classroom, including all of the horrifying realities, but they assured all of us at the table that if they wake up in the morning, there is always hope.

And, perhaps that was a takeaway from the conference: building networks of not just like-minded people doing similar work, but networks of diverse voices facing extremism, all of whom vigorously believe in and truly embody HOPE. And, amid all of the work that needs to be done to defy religious extremism, courageous men and women come together to thoughtfully and intensely work to find answers.

-Janie Dumbleton, Master’s Candidate in Peace and Justice Studies at the University of San Diego’s Joan B. Kroc School for Peace Studies

A World Without Osama bin Laden: News Roundup

In the news this week: the death of Osama bin Laden, exploring religion in the workplace, two school districts are sued for religious discrimination and more.

Osama Bin Laden
Bin Laden’s death has sparked a firestorm of reactions and responses from the global community. In the United states, Muslim communities are hopeful that attitudes towards Islam will improve while guarding against a spike in anti-Muslim sentiment. (NPR) Within Muslim communities many leaders are publicly supporting the government and operation to eliminate bin Laden. (MPAC) And in the media, many are examining bin Laden’s life and global impact as a villain, leader, and icon. (NY Times)
In Texas, a school teacher discriminated against his Muslim student, implying a family relation between the student and bin Laden. (ABC) In Maine, a mosque was spray painted with phrases linking the mosque to bin Laden. (Talking Points Memo)
Internationally, reactions have run the gamut.  Expatriates are hopeful that this could lead to a reduced occurrence of terror killings. (Arab News) In India, many Muslim religious leaders are challenging the idea that bin Laden was a terrorist and questioning whether the United States violated the sovereignty of another nation. (India Times) Al-Qaida confirms that bin Laden was killed and gives warning that there will be retaliations. (Washington Post)
Religion Increasingly Recognized as a Larger Workplace Issue
Religious inclusion in the workplace is becoming a hot topic in the media. ABC’s What Would You Do? explores reactions when overt religious discrimination is exhibited and FIOS 1 reports on anti-Muslim sentiment in the workplace. 
Evidencing the importance of religious inclusion, Sikhism training is mandated for California Law Enforcement officers (Sikh Net) and UK religious discrimination cases spike after an electrician battles to display a crucifix in his company van. (Guardian)
Religious discrimination Suits Against School Districts
In New York:
"A Christian group is suing a New York school district for a spot on a local high school's list of student clubs
The Frontline Club, a discipleship program based in South Carolina, has brought the legal challenge against the Hicksville Union Free School District Board of Education, alleging that it was denied access to the school because the club is Christian in nature. Without official recognition, FLC is not allowed to hold meetings, make announcements or post its flyer on the campus." Christian Post
 And in Tennessee:
"Sumner County schools have shown a pattern of promoting Christianity by allowing groups to hand out Bibles at school, having students sing “Shout Amen” in a chorus program and permitting a teacher to hang a cross in her classroom, a lawsuit filed Monday alleges.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee filed the civil suit in U.S. District Court in Nashville on behalf of nine students, who remain anonymous and are not giving media interviews.
The suit claims that since 2006, Sumner school officials repeatedly violated the First Amendment requirement that public schools and their employees remain neutral when it comes to the endorsement of one religion over another." The Tennessean
In other news: