Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Latest From Yemen: An Interview with Nadia Al-Sakkaf, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of the Yemen Times

Women without Borders recently conducted an interview with Nadia Al-Sakkaf, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of the Yemeni Times and a member of SAVE Yemen. Al-Sakkaf has been internationally recognized with the first Gebran Tueni Award for journalistic integrity and demonstrated excellence in leadership, managerial, and professional standards. The Yemeni Times is considered one of the strongest forces in Yemen today for checking government corruption and influencing public policy.

How are violent extremism and terrorism currently affecting your life?

They are not. In Yemen, there is an increasing trend towards fundamental Islam, i.e. the conservative attitude towards religion, yet this trend is not reflected by the people. Yemen has always been a country of culture rather than of religion. You would find people speaking in the name of Islam while what they are talking about culture. This includes constraints on women's behavior and their participation in the public life.

Is there a real threat from terrorists on the ground?

The threat is not really in the main cities and not on Yemenis. Foreigners are a likely target in the tribal areas--if not by terrorists who want to make a point, then by tribal people who kidnap foreigners for money or to put pressure on the government to release their relatives from prison. There is an increasing threat against the government by rebellions in the North (Sa'ada) and the South (Abyan and Dhale). The insurgents in both regions want to destroy Yemeni unity and oust the current regime. What is also happening is that state-related security is terrorizing journalists and activists under the pretext of protecting national security. Now we have hundreds of Yemenis behind bars without real charges. We also currently have three journalists detained illegally because of their critical write-ups against the state.

What kind of support would be welcome in Yemen to aid in combatting terrorism? International observers seem to agree that many measures being taken today (such as full-body scanners in airports and increasing military attacks) aren't the full story when it comes to combatting terrorism--soft power approaches are completely left out. What role could and should women in Yemen play in the current tense climate?

Women should be empowered to be part of the system that controls the resources, whether in state-related offices, local organizations, or in their own households. If the money is in the hands of women, they would be more careful about how it is spent, and studies have proven that women are less corrupt than men. Women are able to install a sense of security in their surroundings, and they are the ones to ground societies and make them more stable. Terrorism happens because people are dissatisfied. The more dissatisfaction, the more terrorism there is. Dissatisfaction happens because of injustice and inequality. Women are more just by nature.

Are there women in Yemen who are raising their voices in connection with violent extremism?

Unfortunately, not many. Most of the active concern by women in Yemen is related to the well-being of women and the empowerment of women on the local level rather than to politics. Yet gradually, some female activities do relate education to extremism and demand that education is dealt with accordingly.

Women without Borders and the SAVE Initiative unites women like Nadia Al-Sakkaf to empower and embolden them to fight terrorism on the ground. SAVE believes that women can play a crucial role in fighting terrorism in civil society, in the home, and in all other arenas of everyday life. Interested in learning more? Want to respond to Nadia or to anything else on our blog? Please comment here, visit our website, or email our office.

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