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Combating Extremism: Reasons for Hope in Dark Days

Dear Friends,

People often ask me what can be done to prevent and stop violent extremism.

In our recent survey, people from across the world shared their answer. Overwhelmingly, they believe that education is the antidote to fear and prejudice. The message was loud and clear: religious understanding is essential to ending acts of hatred, large and small.

With that in mind and in honor of Women’s History Month, I’m excited to bring you Tanenbaum’s March Combating Extremism materials, which highlight women who are making history – today!

  • Women Who Pursue Peace and Justice: A resource sheet highlighting the efforts of religiously driven women in armed conflicts and women-centered programs that counter violent extremism (CVE).

As you’ll see, we focus on women peace activists who are religiously motivated. They are unsung heroines who work to counter and prevent extremism. While women across the globe are doing this urgent and admirable work, this resource highlights a few who have been recognized by Tanenbaum, and also calls attention to other wonderful programs that support women working for peace.

Read, download, and share this month’s resource sheet! Challenge yourself and others to understand the significant accomplishments of these women. And then follow in their footsteps (safely!). Even small acts in your hometown can have big impacts.

Let’s make history – each of us in our own way.

Joyce S. Dubensky,
CEO

P.S. Momentum is increasing – but we need your signature! Sign and share our Peacemaker’s Statement Against Extremism on Change.org

Female Defiance and Education in Afghanistan

Rukshana, who the Taliban stoned to death at age 19

Rukshana – the Taliban stoned her to death at age 19

 

On October 25th the Taliban stoned to death Rukshana, a 19-year-old Afghan girl, on the grounds that she had committed adultery. After Rukshana’s father forced her to become the third wife of a 55-year-old man, she ran away with Mohammad Gul, a 22-year-old young man who she loved. Unmarried, Gul is alive and recovering after receiving 100 lashes as punishment; however, Rukshana was forced into a pit dug in the dirt, deep enough to only leave her head above ground. Encircled by male Taliban officials, rock after rock was thrown at the young girl until she died. In the face of such brutality, viciousness and callous disregard for life, how do we fight back? …what can we do instead? 

Violence from without, violence from within, violence against women…  In his newsletter, Nicholas Kristof suggests how we can fight back against such ruthlessness. Moreover, in a 2010 op-ed, Kristof asks: …what can we do instead? That is, instead of responding to violence with more violence. His question was in response to the escalating violence in Afghanistan during 2010 following Obama’s decision to increase troops in the region, which in Kristof’s words resulted in mostly…more dead Americans and Afghans alike; however, in light of the recent tragedies that have left us shocked, fearful and vengeful, Kristof’s question remains pertinent. In his newsletter, he suggests that we can fight back through the social justice works that are being performed by the women in these dangerous regions.  Explaining in his op-ed that while there’s abundant evidence that…bombs harden hearts, schooling, over time, transforms them. Kristof is referring to the many locally administered Afghan schools that have flourished despite the heavy hand of the Taliban. The voices of these courageous women must be amplified and their work brought to light by those of us who never want to see another viral video of the sadistic murder of a young girl.

Kristof highlights the work of one such woman, Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, Executive Director of the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL). Dr. Yacoobi was first recognized by Tanenbaum as a Peacemaker in Action in 2002. She is a shining example of how women, in particular, can bypass patriarchal regimes and empower young women through education and professional development, thereby creating social networks for local Afghans to turn to. Kristof’s recognition of Dr. Yacoobi is essential as her growing network of institutes can serve as a model for other women who desire to strengthen the bonds not only between women living under dangerous regimes, but to provide alternative avenues for men who seek lives absent of violence. Dr. Yacoobi eloquently recounts the challenges she has faced during her May 2015 TED Talk. Recalling Taliban members who had asked for the same opportunities as the girls studying at AIL, Dr. Yacoobi poignantly explains, We cannot only train women but forget about the men, because the men are the real people who are giving women the hardest time.

Support of the local, including activists and organizations, is essential to bolstering human development in these regions. Kristof’s op-ed compares the failures of alien educational institutions in Afghanistan versus thriving native institutions, such as AIL. Even in the most dangerous regions, like Taliban controlled areas of Afghanistan, education …is possible, provided the work is done without Westerners and in close consultation with local people, Kristof explainsFor example, his op-ed points out that while government schools regularly get burned down because they are seen as foreign installments, in 2010 Dr. Yacoobi’s AIL supported over 300 schools all of which remain unharmed. 

Establishing gender equality and educational facilities is fundamental for conflict resolution and peacebuilding, although these stories frequently go unheard. Tanenbaum, like Kristof, understands the vital and urgent need to disseminate stories of human development and accomplishment in a sea of violent, inhumane and dark tragedies. And due to our great respect for his ceaseless efforts to place a spotlight on the courageous work of those fostering development in some of the most troubled areas of the world, Tanenbaum will be honoring Nicholas Kristof at our May 2016 Annual Gala, together with his wife Sheryl WuDunn, a Pulitzer Prize winner, best-selling author and business executive who fights for justice. Kristof’s determination to focus on the work of women in the field is absolutely essential for furthering the on-going success of these dedicated activists. Kristof and organizations such as Tanenbaum are serving to rectify this uneven coverage and to highlight models of civic engagement that will inspire others in war torn regions around the world.

Today we are faced with a similar choice; that is to say, of responding to brutality with further dehumanizing violence or embracing those who are experiencing the very same fear. Patient and thoughtful responses are most crucial in times of uncertainty. The stories of Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action and those highlighted by the superb reporting of Nicholas Kristof offer local alternatives to violence.

For more information about the work of Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action and other unrecognized or under-recognized individuals, please subscribe to Mr. Kristof’s newsletter and Tanenbaum’s email updates.

Ritu Mukherjee
Conflict Resolution | Tanenbaum

 

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