Managing Director of Programs
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
Under the cover of nightfall, ISIS terrorized the small town of Sinjar located in the mountainous region of northern Iraq. By the following day, thousands of atrocities had been committed and documented on social media – children beheaded, crucifixions in the park and deplorable acts of violence that haunt the soul.
A Friend Flees the Horror of ISIS is the story of Karim as published by The New Yorker. Karim is a Kurdish member of the Yazidis, a religious minority group in Iraq that has been vehemently targeted by ISIS because of their religious beliefs along with Christians and other minority groups.
IRAQ: Be Aware, Stay Committed: A statement by Joyce Dubensky, CEO, on the atrocities committed by ISIS against the Yazidi people.
Also in Iraq, Tanenbaum Peacemaker, Canon Andrew White, the ‘Vicar of Baghdad’, declared to the Huffington Post that he refuses to leave Iraq, despite Christian Persecution by ISIS.
Peacemaker, Canon Andrew White is Chaplain at Baghdad’s St George’s Anglican Church. In a CNN video, he estimated that St. George had approximately 6,000 members – and in the last ten years, more than 1,200 have been killed.
That is a death toll of 20% – or in other words, 1 in every 5 church members is now deceased.
On a more uplifting note, “The Religious Market Theory of Peace“ is a new report that outlines seven reasons why religious freedom promotes economic growth. Research was conducted by Brian Grim, President of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, and Roger Finke, a Penn State Professor. They concluded from data analysis that religious freedom reduces corruption and fosters peace by decreasing violence related to religion – thus contributing to economic growth and stability.
A collection of top news stories from July 4 – July11, 2014:
ISIS destroys shrines, Shiite mosques in Iraq • Netanyahu calls father of slain Palestinian teen • 63 women and girls escape Boko Haram after clashes With Nigerian Military • ISIS shows off child recruits • Obama’s faith-based advisers divided over religious exemption for anti-gay discrimination • Learning More About The Hindu Religion
ISIS destroys shrines, Shiite mosques in Iraq
Jihadists have destroyed at least six Shiite mosques and four shrines devoted to Sufi and Sunni Arab figures in Iraq’s Nineveh province. Images of the destruction using explosives and bulldozers were posted by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/IS).
Netanyahu calls father of slain Palestinian teen
After a suspected revenge attack, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the father of Mohammed Abu Khdair, whose son was kidnapped and burned alive by suspected Israeli right-wing extremists.
“I would like to express my outrage and that of the citizens of Israel over the reprehensible murder of your son,” Netanyahu said. “We acted immediately to apprehend the murderers. We will bring them to trial and they will be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law,” he continued.
“We denounce all brutal behavior. The murder of your son is abhorrent and cannot be countenanced by any human being,” Netanyahu expressed.
63 women and girls escape Boko Haram after clashes With Nigerian Military
Nigerian security sources have reported that 63 girls and women have escaped from Boko Haram, the group that is trying to create an Islamic state located in northern Nigeria. The hostages were captured as a group of 68 girls and women during a siege that left their village of Kummabza burned to the ground.
The Nigerian women and girls found the opportunity to escape during fighting between the Nigerian military and Boko Haram.
Over 200 schoolgirls abducted in April from Chibok remain held captive by Boko Haram in Nigeria.
ISIS shows off child recruits
Using Twitter, a pro-ISIS combatant named al-Simsim published a picture of young children recently recruited by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. “May God give them strength,” was al-Simsim’s message in addition to a comments that children are “racing to join the ranks” of ISIS.
The children were photographed in ragged clothing in front of an ISIS “registration office” in al-Bab, a town in the Aleppo province of Syria.
Obama’s faith-based advisers divided over religious exemption for anti-gay discrimination
Faith-based advisers for President Obama are divided over an upcoming executive order that would legally prohibit discrimination against sexual orientation among federal contractors. The key issue is if this directive should allow a religious exemption. A letter to the president this Tuesday, July 8 stated:
“An exception would set a terrible precedent by denying true equality for LGBT people, while simultaneously opening a Pandora’s Box inviting other forms of discrimination.” The letter was signed by over 100 signatories.
Last week, a letter requesting an exemption had been signed by former advisory council members along with Obama’s former chief liaison to evangelicals. Their request stated, ““A religious exemption would simply maintain that religious organizations will not be automatically disqualified or disadvantaged in obtaining contracts because of their religious beliefs.”
Learning More About The Hindu Religion
After reviewing a map developed by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, Arizona authors learned that Hinduism has the second largest number of members in their state. On a visit to the Ekta Mandir temple in Phoenix, Sarah Ventre narrates her compelling experience.
Here are the top stories about religion that you need to know from May 17-May 23, 2014:
The Headwrap Expo: Shifting the Conversation • Orthodox Jewish woman says that school fired her for observing Sabbath • Vaccination exemption issues raising discrimination concerns • U.S. agency urges Myanmar to scrap proposed religion laws • Religious freedom linked to economic growth and innovation
The Headwrap Expo: Shifting the Conversation
On June 8 in Dearborn, Michigan, the 2014 Headwrap Expo celebrated interfaith dialog, fashion, and culture. Billed as “the art of headwrapping and scarf styling,” the Headwrap Expo was presented by the organization Beautifully Wrapped. The organization’s founder, Zarinah El-Amin Naeem, explained how the Expo is a celebration of “fusion — looking at how different cultural aspects, different things that people wear in different parts of the world are adopted across into other cultures.” Naeem explained how the Expo has broad cultural appeal and moves beyond fashion to address issues of unity.
“It’s an intercultural, multi-faith event that brings together all these different groups…We have the Sikh Indians, we have Muslims, we have Christians, we have Jews, we have African Americans, African immigrants, everybody coming together. Once we’re there, we share, we talk about love, we have workshops, we have fashion stylings, fashion shows throughout the day. It’s a whole affair.”
Orthodox Jewish woman says that school fired her for observing Sabbath
Ellen Gastwirth, 41, was hired in 2005 as Director of Education at Temple Judea, a reformed Jewish synagogue on Long Island. Gastwirth first encountered resistance to her Orthodox observance of the Sabbath when Rabbi Todd Chizner was hired the following year. Her requests for holiday time off were met with animosity. For example, in 2008, Rabbi Chizner questioned her observance by asking “What do you people do on that day that would prevent you from being here?” Harassment from the board of directors and the Rabbi led to the termination of her employment and a new Brooklyn Federal Court lawsuit.
Vaccination Exemption Issues Raising Discrimination Concerns
Two recent court cases address discrimination issues as they relate to objections to vaccination due to religious beliefs.
In Philips v. City of New York, parents argued that their children are unfairly discriminated against. While their children’s school district allows vaccination refusals based on religious beliefs, documentation is required that supports and explains the religious objection. Students that receive accommodation must stay home when another student at the school acquires an illness that is vaccine-protected. A federal judge rejected the parent’s claims, ruling that the First Amendment’s Free Exercise clause does not provide exemption from vaccination requirements.
In Valent v. Board of Review, Department of Labor, New Jersey Appeals Court ruled that a hospital employee who was fired for refusing vaccination is entitled to unemployment benefits. The hospital offers vaccine exemptions to employees for religious beliefs, however, they denied an exemption to the plaintiff because the employee did not object to vaccination due to religious reasons. The court ruled that this discrimination lacked justification and violates the First Amendment.
U.S. Agency Urges Myanmar to Scrap Proposed Religion Laws
In Myanmar, laws have been drafted that intend to protect Buddhists, the country’s majority, by regulating marriages and conversations between people of different faiths.
The U.S. State Department stated that the draft laws should be withdrawn and have “no place in the 21st century”. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom believes that these laws encourage violence against Muslims, Christians, and other religious minority groups. Additionally, the Commission stated that if these draft laws are passed, Washington “should factor these negative developments into its evolving relationship with Burma (Myanmar).”
Religious Freedom Linked to Economic Growth and Innovation
The Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion recently published a study that reviewed GDP growth in 2011 across 173 countries. GDP growth was compared to additional data including religious restrictions and the levels of economic and business related freedoms for each country.
Authored by researchers at Brigham Young University’s International Center for Law and Religion Studies and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, the study concludes that countries that allow greater freedom of religion are more likely to have economic growth and innovation.
The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation commented on the report findings by stating, “As the world navigates away from years of poor economic performance, religious freedom may be an unrecognized asset to economic recovery and growth.” Additionally the foundation explained that hostility and restrictions based on religion can create “climates that can drive away local and foreign investment, undermine sustainable development, and disrupt huge sectors of economies”