Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Perspectives on Yemen from Yemen: Unfiltered Voices from Yemeni Women on al-Qaeda, Security, and Global Media Attention

With the arrival of a new year, Yemen has arrived at a new—and critical—era.  Alarmingly, violent extremism has dramatically increased in the corner of the Arabian Peninsula and attracted media headlines worldwide.  Yemen described as a breeding ground for terrorists, especially al-Qaeda, and some have dubbed it an "Afghanistan by the Sea" that poses a new threat to global security.

Unfortunately, the world has heard just one side of the story in most Western media outlets.  After the terror attack on Northwest Airlines Flight 293 on Christmas Day, Umar Farouk's actions were linked to the extremists in Yemen. Since then, the recriminations against Yemen have only increased as several foreign embassies withdrew upon the mounting threat from al-Qaeda.

Yemenis from all walks of life denounced these violent acts and condemned its perpetrators whose actions have helped to tarnish the image and the reputation of the kind-hearted people of Yemen. For example, on the fastest communication tools, social media platforms like Facebook, Yemenis have established a number of groups and initiatives to voice out in all languages that not all Yemenis are terrorists. They have been joined by their friends from all over the world.

Groups like "I know someone from Yemen and he/she is not a terrorist!," "Yemenis for Peace and Stability," and others have been started by Yemenis who oppose violence and any kind of extremism. Their message boards include such postings as "Let the world know we are peaceful with all the diversities in our nation. We are against terrorism" and "Terrorism belongs to no nation & no religion. We should all be one hand against it whether we are Muslims, Christians or Jews," and these statements are strongly voiced by young Yemeni people.

Despite the good intentions of many Yemenis, the increased presence of al-Qaeda and other extremist groups pose an ongoing threat to foreign and international organizations that have been part of life in Yemen for some time. Fear, anxiety, and concern are constant companions in Yemen. Nowadays, Yemeni women have started to fear that their husbands or children might not be able to come back home safely from work or school as they might be victims for a terrorist act.  More importantly, mothers have started to questions themselves and whether there is something dangerously wrong in the way they raise their children when some of them end up as puppets in the hands of devilish organizations like al-Qaeda.

Najla'a believes that al-Qaeda has become like an academy that trains and produces graduates with "distinction in terrorism." She admits that the 17-year-old bomber who blew himself up in Shibam Hadramout was not born a killer and terrorist. He has been a normal kid, and his dream was definitely not the jihadi path. His parents did not steer his life towards being a terrorist, but he was an easy prey for some devilish people who convinced him that killing innocent people and waging jihad is the shortest way to paradise and eternity. Najla'a warns all parents to watch out their kids so that they don't fall prey to terrorists and killers, and she advises them to look for tools to protect the minds of young people from extremist ideologies. She is wondering "at what point will our sons—and maybe our daughter—would be targets for the graduates of an al-Qaeda terrorist academy."

Many also have started to question why young people join al-Qaeda. It is a fact that Yemen is stricken by many challenges, chief among them poverty and corruption, and several international reports anticipate that  Yemen is going to be a "failed state." This further heightens its status as a haven for al-Qaeda and terrorism. Yet most Yemenis remain optimistic and believe that a brighter future awaits them. "Even though my country is far from perfect, I will never give up hope for a better tomorrow. I am a Yemeni and I am not a terrorist."  This statement has become a motto for most of the personal profiles of Yemenis on social media websites.

By Fahmia al Fotih'

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