Friday, November 26, 2010

Turning soft power into smart power: An income-generating workshop with victims' families

On the anniversary of the Mumbai terrorist attacks, the city is increasing its security measures. Rather than putting up barricades and bringing out sniper rifles, we should be looking for a long-term solution to challenge radical ideologies before they flourish. SAVE India is in Mumbai giving women the economic tools that lead to political and social empowerment, and thus the ability to influence their families and societies for a better future. Commentary by Edit Schlaffer.

The face of Mumbai has changed drastically over the past week; this bustling metropolis has taken on fortress-like qualities in preparation for the anniversary of the 26/11 attacks. Tanks, barricades, policemen, cameras, rooftop snipers, and undercover detectives have created a surreal environment—all this to make the city safe, but how safe is it really?

The morning of the 26th, a huge parade demonstrated India’s military might, which is an alarming juxtaposition to the thousands of policemen who have received only batons to protect the city. These measures serve more to highlight the perceived threats than to instill a sense of security and personal safety. We cannot live our lives behind concrete walls and invisible shields—alongside necessary precautions there must be a long-term vision to challenge radical ideologies before they can take root and flourish. Communities and families must be sensitized and strengthened to provide susceptible youths with alternatives to the allure of violent extremism.

An Indian State Home Minister recently visited Kasab, the only surviving terrorist of the 26/11 attacks, in jail here in Mumbai. When asked why he committed this heinous atrocity, he said he was young and disoriented, and looked for advice from the wrong places.

Families, and particularly women as the primary caretakers, can be a new front to combat violent extremism. But how can this work? The first step is to empower the women, so that their voices are heard and that they bring something to the table both economically in their families and in terms of political and social standing in their communities. Only then does the continuous mantra that women’s stronghold is the family become valid.

On November 24th, SAVE India and Vinita Kamte, whose husband shot Kasab in the arm before succumbing to his own injuries, launched ‘Soft Power to Smart Power: Acquiring New Skills,’ a computer and English-language training for the wives and daughters of the police officers who were on duty during the 26/11 attacks. The trainings are part of the Mothers for Change! campaign; recent studies have shown that there is a negative relationship between the percentage of women in the labor force and domestic terrorist attacks. Investing in women not only makes sense in economic terms, but also can be a key stabilizing factor.

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Flash Points: Edit Schlaffer presents SAVE on CBS