Tuesday, September 24, 2013

6th Annual Common Bond Unites Teens

By Dewirini Anggraeni and Siobhan Hagan September 2013

Launched in 2008 by Long Island-based organization Tuesday’s Children, Project Common Bond is the only international program that unites children directly impacted by acts of terrorism.  In July, the 6th annual session of this week-long camp for teenagers was held in Bryn Mawr, PA. The teenagers who attended hailed from 12 countries, including Indonesia, Algeria, Nigeria, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Spain, Palestine, Croatia, and the USA.

Originally inspired by its work with the children of 9/11 victims, Tuesday’s Children initiated Project Common Bond as a means of support for young people who share the ‘common bond’ of losing a family member to violent extremism, terrorism, and war. The students come together to take part in a week-long interactive curriculum including panel discussions, workshops, and team-building exercises that focus on the concept of dignity and its role in conflict resolution.

Most importantly, the camp provides a feeling of     that comes from shared experience.  Many of the teens feel isolated from their peers at home, who might not be able to relate to their loss. For some, Project Common Bond is the first time they are able to talk openly about what has happened to themselves and their families. The connections they form with each other help reconcile the feelings of sadness that lie beneath their everyday lives; it helps to know they are not alone. Teenagers who have attended past sessions of the camp have said that going there made them feel more in control, and that it was more than beneficial – it was ‘essential.’

We are thrilled that Project Common Bond’s Director, Kathy Murphy, connected with Edit Schlaffer and SAVE Indonesia’s Dewirini Anggraeni to bring two boys  from Jakarta to participate in this year’s camp. Kathy says, ‘These young adults really have a message that they want the world to hear; they are not angry, they do not wish for revenge or more violence. Their message is about creating peace in the future, and the hope that they have for solving the conflicts they were directly impacted by.’ 

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Uprising of Women in the Arab World

By Michelle Abou-Raad

Throughout the Arab Spring, women have been indispensable actors in fighting for political freedom and economic opportunities across the Middle East. Nonetheless the social, political, and economic standing of women in Arab countries has remained relatively stagnant, and women continue to experience abuses and inequality. For instance, 83% of Egyptian women have experienced some sort of sexual harassment and only about 16% of Palestinian women participate in the labor force. The plight of Middle Eastern women has not been lessened by their dedication to the uprisings in their respective countries, and many women still face the same sexism that has and continues to plague their society. Palestinian women, especially, are all too familiar with the hardships of living as women in the Middle East. Not only are Palestinian women bound by the strict limitations set by the patriarchal culture they have been brought up in, but they are also subjected to the struggles of the ongoing conflict. As a result, the circumstances that Palestinian women have endured induce various psychosomatic and psychological problems and hinder them from achieving their full potential academically, socially, and economically. 

The Uprising of Women in the Arab World, also known as the Women’s Intifada, is a campaign which aims to highlight discrimination against women, create common ground for feminist activism, and reopen the debate for women’s rights. The Uprising strives to smash patriarchy and empower Arab women with the motto, “Together for fearless, free, independent women in the Arab world!” It unites men and women from different regions and religions and operates through social media and the website 
 http://uprisingofwomeninthearabworld.org/en/ in both Arabic and English. The Facebook page garners 113,000 “likes” and posts daily updates and news on issues related to women’s rights, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa. 

The website hosts a blog with topics relating to the deterrence of women’s rights and it has begun a photo campaign in which women and men send in pictures of themselves with the reasons they have joined the Women’s Intifada. Most importantly, the website compiles personal accounts from women in Middle Eastern countries about the different ways their rights have been infringed upon. The “Tell Your Story” section relates heart-wrenching accounts about sexual harassment, rape, arranged marriages, determents to freedom and receiving an education, and sectarian divisions. For example, Abeer from Jordan talks about how she was molested at age 9 by her neighbor. At the end of her story, she writes, “I am with the uprising of the Middle East because I don’t want to be scared from this day on and because […] I still hear every single day something said against me as a woman.” Stories such as Abeer’s highlight atrocities and difficulties that many women in the Middle East encounter due to the sexism and prejudice that are inherent in their societies.
The Women’s Uprising provides an outlet for Arab women who refuse to maintain their roles as silent victims. It is a platform which gives women a voice and the opportunity to share their experiences, relate to one another, and unite in the fight against inequality. It is a revolution that will continue “until the Arab Spring does with women what spring does with the cherry trees.”

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombings: A Cause for Celebration or Reflection?

By Michelle Abou-Raad

April 15th, Patriots’ Day, or as we Bostonians like to call it, Marathon Monday, is a civic holiday during which New Englanders of all ages line the streets of Boston and its neighboring cities to cheer on runners as they hit the pavement for the 26.2 mile race (42.195 kilometers). It is a day of celebration and excitement that everyone, especially my Boston University classmates and I, looks forward to all year. However, this past Marathon Monday did not end with the usual lighthearted jubilation that I have come to love. Instead, we were left with great loss, broken hearts, and a city paralyzed by fear due to the two bombs planted at the finish line by brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

What followed that perilous Monday was a city and its people feeling shocked, afraid, and distraught. Many of the emotions we felt were mollified when Tamerlan was killed and his brother was apprehended after a statewide manhunt four days following the bombings. When the news of Dzhokhar’s arrest reached us, everyone felt a sense of relief as well as great patriotism. College students from around Boston rushed to the Commons, a public park in the city, to celebrate the “defeat of the terrorists.” Caught up in the frenzy of enthusiasm, I joined the throng of students on their way to the Commons. However as I began walking with the students who were chanting “USA! USA! USA!” I came to the realization that this was no cause for celebration. Three main reasons convinced me to turn away from the crowd and return to my room that evening.

First, the notion that someone’s opinion could change so drastically from one week to another alarmed me. At the Commons, students praised and cheered for the police officers that they had been cursing and criticizing less than one week ago for breaking up their parties. I could not help but wonder if this praise and commendation was genuine or just a false sense of nationalism.

Another recurring thought was what could have instigated such deadly and hateful actions? The Tsarnaev’s were two young men who had lived in the United States for most of their lives and seemed to be fully integrated into American society. Planting bombs at the Marathon was obviously not a spontaneous decision. This plan was based on an underlying motive that caused them to take such destructive actions against a country they had inhabited for many years. We may never know the reason for the brothers’ actions, but regardless, it is clear that there was a serious problem and a deep hatred for the United States that drove them to kill three people and injure almost 300 innocent civilians. Instead of celebrating, we should have been addressing potential issues that give rise to this type of radical behavior. 

Finally, I realized that actions of terror and violence are commonplace in many parts of the world. On the day of the Boston Marathon bombings, 33 people were killed in car bombings and explosions across Iraq. Seventeen people were killed in the Central African Republic conflict the weekend before the Marathon, and about 6,000 people were estimated to have been killed in Syria in the month of March alone. I cannot imagine living in a place such as Iraq or the Central African Republic where people must live in constant fear of attacks. For weeks after the bombings, I tensed up and felt pangs of worry whenever I heard sirens outside of my window fearing that some other sort of danger had gripped my city.

I believe it is important to put this tragedy into perspective because the death and destruction that Boston and its people suffered is a nightmare for many with no happy celebration at the end of it. The Boston Marathon bombings received local, national, and international media attention, while the tragedies that I stated above were not even mentioned by American news syndicates. The Marathon bombings were a grave tragedy and they should remind us to embrace a human perspective with a broad lens. We must not only shed light upon the suffering and hardships of victims in our city, state, or country, but also of those around the world. Boston has received immense support and solidarity over the last few months. The global response has been inspiring, and I truly hope that my city and I will be able to reciprocate these thoughtful sentiments when tragedies like this one strike other areas of the world.

 Michelle Abou-Raad is currently completing an internship at Women without Borders/SAVE in Vienna.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Terrorism... Again: Old threats, alternative solutions

By Edit Schlaffer

Terrorism just got a new haunting image, a Muslim man with bloody hands stands in the streets of London holding a meat cleaver that he used to butcher a Royal infantry soldier only moments earlier. This fateful incident connects two young men from very different walks of life. The attacker Michael Adebolajo, apologized to the women nearby for the gruesome sight, declaring that women in their lands "have to see the same" and explaining that "The only reason we have done this is because Muslims are dying by British soldiers every day."

At this point we should take a step back to reflect on whether we are in danger of stumbling into the stereotyping trap. Some will be quick to judge, that the two perpetrators actually represent the people in the far lands that one of them was referring to.
In the course of my recent work in the most volatile regions affected by terrorism, I had the enlightening experience of listening to the voices of fathers and mothers of suicide bombers who had lost everything that was dear to them; their children and their dignity. Yet instead of calling for revenge, they express an entirely different sentiment: "You may not use our country as an excuse to spread terror, death, fear, and bloodshed." This message undermines and discredits the typical narratives spread by recruiters, who refer particularly to Palestine as a source of grievance and justification for engaging in violent extremism.

The Palestinian mothers whom I met want to get this message out to the Western youth: "This is our fight, not yours." We have to respect this idea, for they are front-runners and are taking high risks within their society. Indeed, Nabila, a mother from Ramallah, told me that when she heard the news of her son's martyrdom, she fell to her knees and praised God. Soon after she reassessed he initial reaction: "What am I doing? I am thanking God, but instead I should be asking for his forgiveness." So she stood up and demanded for the women around her to stop their celebratory cheering. Even while this shocked her husband, she bravely faced the assembled group and challenged the local male culture of bravery. Reflecting on the aftermath she says, "We are still where we are, but just without him. He was my eldest, my strength and my protection." Now she wakes up every night, begging him in her thoughts: "Please come home, just one more time, my darling."

When I learned about the drama that unfolded on that London street, another mother came to mind: Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, a scout leader and former teacher. She engaged one perpetrator in a very personal way, asking him what he wants, managing to calm him down. Maybe this was a rare moment, when someone asked him to spell out his fragmented thoughts. This is a remarkable approach that starkly contrasts the "hard power" methods that are more commonly used. Such new "soft power" applications could act as the basis of an effective alternative in counter terrorism strategy.

The consequences of this assault immediately affected the delicate community cohesion, so that Muslim citizens again feel under attack and threatened. Shelina Zahra Janmohamed, a London-based blogger, voiced her sense of personal unease when leaving her home after the Woolwich attacks: "I felt scared, fearful of how I was perceived and what people would be thinking. I'm worried for my safety, for the security of my family."
Western anti-Muslim sentiment needs to be balanced by Muslims voicing their determination to confront the Islamist threat and expose the abuses of Islam by a small minority of extremists.

These voices are indeed widespread, even within Pakistan, a country closely associated with terrorism. I was very impressed by a group of women from the SWAT Valley -- a hotbed of extremism -- all of whom have a son or husband who was forcibly recruited by the Taliban or arrested by the army for Taliban involvement. Yet what do we actually know about these people and their stories? In some cases the villagers had witnessed symbolic public executions in front of their houses to scare those who wanted to resist joining the militant forces. The village women, recognizing how "Jihad" brought violence and misery to their families, are keen to voice their opposition, even in light of the well-known potential, brutal consequences. Madeeha, one of my interview partners, insists: 'If the recruiters come back and the men in our village cannot stop hem, then we women will join forces against them.'

Aisha Al-Wafi is the mother of Zacarius Moussaoui, who was the only person ever to be tried in a US court for being involved in the 9/11 attacks. In a conversation with me, Al-Wafi passionately exclaimed, "Strangers come and give orders to my son not to respect me? What's that about?... The extremists -- I hate them, because they don't love Islam, because The Prophet says, 'your mother, your mother, your mother'... And the extremists say, 'don't listen to your mother?' That's Islam? No, that's not Islam." She is calling out for tolerance and respect for others: "We (Muslims) need to respect, so that we'll be respected."

Talking about community cohesion makes me contemplate the countless missed bridge-building opportunities that could have materialized on a global level. A workshop with a group of women, family members of victims of the 9/11 attacks, showed me that more than ten years following the attacks there was still a need to come to terms with the aftermath of the attacks. The most remarkable feature of this meeting was the complete absence of hatred or desire for revenge towards Muslims at home or abroad. These women do not fuel any toxic anti-Islam rhetoric. Rather they highlight the commonalities between themselves and families living in regions of the world within which terrorism constitutes a daily and very real threat. These women of the Tuesday's Children group set an admirable example, and sent out a joint declaration that they refuse to hate.

What we see here is fascinating: new female approaches that challenge the mainstream scenario, namely Jihadists' claim that they are acting with the support of Muslim communities. Ultimately, we all have to find a way to live together, and we need therefore to be actively engaged in making the ambitious project of peaceful co-existence work. We have to realize that there are alternatives and powerful new players: women, co-shaping the security arena.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Can Mothers stop Terrorism?

By Nona Walia

Social scientist and activist Dr Edit Schlaffer affirms so. She tells Nona Walia why mothers have the power to stop radicalisation of their children, and make this world a peaceful place.

Recent reports suggest that the Boston Marathon bombers' mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, had a fair knowledge about her children's radical ideas, though she may not have known about the act of terror. The question is had she known, could she deter her sons from their deadly plan? Dr Edit Schlaffer may answer in the affirmative. The Austrian social scientist and gender activist believes that a mother can curb conflicts and extremist ideas within her family. Through her organisation, Women Without Borders (WWB), she tirelessly advocates empowering women as the biggest agents of change in every society. Her more recent project, Sisters Against Violent Extremism (SAVE), is the first global women anti-terror platform that encourages women, especially mothers, to deter violent terrorist activities and radicalisation of their children. "Mothers are strategically located at the core of their families and are, therefore, typically the first to deal with their children's fear, resignation, frustration and anger," says Schlaffer. Excerpts from an interview:

How effective can a mother be in stopping extremist thinking within her family? I have learned during many of my encounters with women around the globe that the potential of mothers has thus far been neglected in counter terrorism strategy. The primary focus has rested instead on military operations, intelligence and law enforcement. Since women — and mothers in particular — possess the unique ability to recognise early warning signs of radicalisation in their children, they can play a key role in curtailing violent extremism. First and foremost, mothers have to be equipped with the necessary knowledge and self-confidence to become active players in the security arena. This is where our work starts: we aim at sensitising mothers to make them aware of their potential in influencing and guiding their children's lives, and in preventing them from engaging in terrorist activities.

How can a mother stop her child from taking the wrong path? Children tend to listen only to their mothers when they see them as figures of respect and authority. Yet in many of the communities within which we work, this is not always the case. We therefore focus on concepts of self-confidence, competence and empowerment. Mothers need to first establish a position of authority within their families; a child only respects the mother when her position is not challenged by her husband or friends or society as a whole.

You have worked with mothers of suicide bombers. Are they just helpless bystanders? During my recent visit to the West Bank, I talked to a woman by the name of Salma, a mother of two adolescent boys. The tragedy of her eldest son Ali — who turned himself into a live bomb — still looms over her. Today, Salma admits that something was terribly wrong. Confronted with this situation for the first time, she turned to her husband for advice, who in turn told her that women have no place in politics. Much later, she learned that two of her close neighbours shared her concerns. They too lacked the courage to speak up and the space to voice their concerns. Salma responded to her loss by creating a safe space for mothers in her own home, where she could encourage open communication and help foster deeper mother-son relationships. Mothers like Salma are challenging the notion of Palestinian mothers who welcome their sons' martyrdom. Salma embodies the new heroes combating violent extremism at the frontlines.

So strengthening of the mother-son bond is essential to end conflict? Yes. For instance, Esther Ibanga, a Christian pastor and community leader in Nigeria is currently working with us on bridgebuilding activities. Following the violence between Christians and Muslims on the Jos plateau in recent years, she decided to do something particularly courageous: Esther went against her own constituency by reaching out to both sides and calling for an end to the bloodshed. By engaging with both sides, she began to see similarities between the two antagonistic religious communities. She became close to Khadija Hawaja, an Islamic scholar and community leader. Esther realised that they were both mothers who shared the same pain and dreams. Today, they work tirelessly to show the human face of the 'other side' and to create safe havens in their homes and communities.

You have interacted with the mother of convicted 9/11 terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui. What is the personal face of public terrorist tragedies? Zacarias was the first person to be convicted in the US for his involvement in the 9/11 attacks. His mother Aisha reached out to the 9/11 victims' family members after the attacks, a unique gesture in an atmosphere of global hostility and fear. Aisha has spoken passionately about the need to break the cycle of revenge, and engaging mothers worldwide in their search for alternatives. She emphasises that Prophet Mohammed celebrates mothers; he insists that their role is vital in the upbringing of their sons in accordance with the values of true Islamic teaching that does not preach hatred or violence.

What are the driving forces in stabilising an insecure world? We are currently launching 'mother school' programmes around the world, from Tajikistan to Indonesia, from Northern Ireland to India. The programme aims to e q u i p wo m e n with the appropriate tools to raise delicate issues within their families. In India, for example, a woman named Archana Kapoor has founded a community radio station in Mewat, Haryana, that reaches 5,00,000 listeners. Poverty, isolation and marginalisation make the population susceptible and prone to violence. We need to stop conflict at the very root; that will stop the making of a terrorist at the core of the family level. "Women — and mothers in particular — possess the unique ability to recognise early warning signs of radicalisation in their children. They can play a key role in curtailing violent extremism" 

Originally published in Times of India on Sunday, May 12th, 2013

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Ben Emmerson visits Women without Borders office in Vienna - “Terrorists Fear the Victims Most of all”

Women without Borders was delighted to welcome Mr. Ben Emmerson QC, and UN Special Rapporteur on promoting human rights while countering terrorism to our headquarters in Vienna on the occasion of UNODC Panel Discussion on Victims of Terrorism.  Mr Emmerson, an international human rights lawyer, achieved certain notoriety when accepting his mandate by drawing international attention to victims: “There can be no discussion on human rights in counter-terrorism without a discussion on the human rights of the victims.” 

Mr Emmerson applauded Women without Borders innovative approach to the position of victims and their potential role in peace-building efforts and promotion of alternative narratives on a community level. Indeed, our gendered strategy is both rare and effective, he commented, precisely because whilst terrorism has a predominantly male face, more than half of the affected populations are women.  In balance to the previous decade of hard responses to radicalization, he stressed how the work of Women without Borders develops the distinctive role women can play in the security sphere.

“The family component of counter terrorism,” according to Mr. Emmerson, ‘has been neglected from the start’ he said, remarking on the access Women without Borders already has to grass roots levels through applied smart power - the use of soft skills such as listening, dialogue and empathy.  In particular, our new Mothers Schools and community radio programs sensitize and empower women to recognize and respond to early warning signs of potential radicalization in their children on the home front. The war on terrorism is no longer an emergency action, explained Mr. Emmerson; instead, counter-terrorism movement now needs to focus towards the future and sustainability, “We need to reveal the truth on both sides, in order to bring to light the root causes of terrorism.”  Women as communicators and educators of children and youth can teach the power of reconciliation, and understanding of the other and in doing so, cut the systems that support terror.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Mothers on air - tackling extremism from the homebase

Mumbai, 19 March 2013
 by Edit Schlaffer

Some of us may well recall the time when one would huddle around the radio at a specific time of day and listen to one’s favourite programme. Only a few decades down the line, much has changed. The radio has since been replaced by on-demand media granting instant access, information and entertainment. Yet, however difficult it may be to imagine, there are lives that remain untouched by the social-media platforms such as Facebook, twitter and the like. Travelling through India I have visited such a place, which in fact is representative for vast regions of the subcontinent.

So it may seem old-fashioned, particularly in our digital age, to suggest the launch of a radio programme aimed at empowering women in their local communities. Nevertheless, we cannot wait for everyone to become an interactive member of our worldwide web. It is crucial that we move forward now, using a medium that is proven and accessible to virtually every corner of our world.  

SAVE- Sisters Against Violent Extremism has thus decided to launch its newly developed Mother School programme on air. The programme, which is currently running in Tajikistan and is to be launched in Palestine, Zanzibar, Pakistan and Nigeria shortly, aims to provide women with the tools and the necessary space to deal with sensitive family issues and focusing on their children in particular. While the programme in these countries is focusing its capacity building purely on the ground, India will be the first country to air segments of the programme as well.

Archana Kapoor, our long time Indian partner and head of Women without Borders India chapter, will be spearheading the Mothers School programme. Against all odds, Archana successfully set up a community radio station in Mewat, located just outside of Delhi. In a state where severe poverty, isolation and crime are prevalent, Archana’s radio station is now live 12 hours a day, boasting a listenership of half a million.
Those of us, who are mothers, know all too well that there is no roadmap to motherhood. Sitting with a group of women in Mewat, eager to serve as trainers for our capacity building mothers programme, Nishi’s voice was among the most captivating. As a mother of two boys, she noted, ‘It is not that women in our community don't care about their children, it is simply that they are not equipped to care, psychologically’.

I was instantly taken back to the time I left the hospital with my first-born: a feeling of unease swept over me. It seemed so bizarre all of a sudden that I should be trusted with the life of this child, without any qualifications even. While I quickly learned the ropes, I came to value the importance of community support and guidance. The curriculum developed by SAVE aims to broadcast key parenting skills to strengthen confidence and to prevent radicalisation. After all, peace starts at home.

Flash Points: Edit Schlaffer presents SAVE on CBS