Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Bombings in Russia: When Disaster Strikes

Overcoming Breakdowns, Preparing for Breakthroughs

The recent bombings in Russia by female suicide bombers should give us all reason to pause: how is it possible that women—people we count on to hold together civil society, to be the voice of reason against violence and aggression, to continue to be mothers, wives, and daughters, even when it’s most difficult—were the perpetrators of such a deadly attack on civilians in the heart of Moscow? How do we, as a female counterterrorism platform, respond to such brutality?

Women have increasingly become part of militant operations worldwide. Female suicide bombers are highly effective because they do not fit in with commonly-held ideas about terrorists are what they look like. They easily pass through police checkpoints when others might be stopped, and even traditional garments from dresses to abayas can help hide the presence of a discreetly-worn belt of explosives.

What is most striking about these female suicide bombers, which Russian authorities have presumed to be part of the “Black Widows,” a long-standing terrorist group from Chechnya, Russia, is that they claim to act for personal reasons. The “Black Widows” claim to act in response to the murder of their husbands, sons, and brothers by ethnic Russians. These women are not driven primarily by religious affiliation or for political gain, although those factors have certainly played a crucial role in determining the circumstances under which the Black Widows’ husbands were killed. They were driven by a desire for revenge—a personal action taken to redress a personal grievance.

Just as “the personal” emotions of grief, anger, loss, and powerlessness led these women to commit a senseless act against innocent bystanders, so too can “the personal” lead us to working towards a solution. SAVE seeks to reach out to women affected by violent extremism, whether it is women affected by the loss of a family member or friend to a terrorist attack or women who see the people in her life becoming radicalized by forces within society, to empower them to respond to these threats through smart power: constructive deterrence. Our ability to stem the rising tide of violent extremism lies in our ability to reach women on emotional and cognitive levels and to appeal to their sense of reason, of hope, of faith in mankind, and to empower these women to respond to radical forces in non-violent ways.

Radicalization and violent extremism can be born of geopolitical issues, but they can also be born of personal emotions, like accumulated grief, humiliation, and despair. At SAVE, we also seek to tap into the personal, but to achieve an emotional breakthrough, not an emotional breakdown. Strategies like storytelling and relationship-building over cultural, religious, and ethnic divides wed the emotional and cognitive together. In these and other efforts, we try to bring women to a level at which they forge an emotional and cognitive attachment to non-violence and learn to express their anger, fears, and concerns in ways that strengthen families and civil society, rather than tearing them down.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Unfiltered Voices: Fahmia al-Fotih' and May de Silva

Fahmia al-Fotih’, SAVE Yemen Coordinator, Sana’a, Yemen
Coming from a tiny village and a normal family that has nothing to do with politics, I was lucky to be awarded a MBI Al Jaber Foundation scholarship to go to London to study International Relations and Politics. It was there in London where I met Dr. Edit and Elisabeth by coincidence in a conference and was introduced to Women Without Borders organization for the first time. This coincidence has turned into a commitment to work with WWB’s counterterrorism initiative, SAVE.

Earlier in my career, I joined media that was a very male-dominated field, yet was like a resort to vent all my angry and rebellious feelings against the injustice and violations of rights women were subject to. From there, I have started building my human rights knowledge and thinking how best I could contribute to my country as a woman. Later, working first with the United Nations Development Program and then with USAID has tremendously engaged me more in development and gender issues where women’s participation is considered a backbone for moving forward. I strongly believe that change can be brought by women.

May da Silva, Director, Women Into Politics, Belfast, Ireland
As feminist, I strive to work for equality for all, irrespective of a person's gender, race or religion. I feel that society should have equality for all or equality for none. This was the motto of one of Northern Ireland's late loyalist politicians, an ex-paramilitary, David Irvine. A terrorist turned politician who advocated that "We cannot choose bits and pieces of equality when it suits us."

My work is not over in Northern Ireland and internationally. I'm very inspired by what I've heard tonight, and to see SAVE now, taking shape with new contributors. I am greatly encouraged to see the potential for this campaign to become global.

I'll finish with a quote of someone who has inspired me, the late Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop. She once said, "If you think you're too small to have an impact, then try going to bed with a mosquito."

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Unfiltered Voices: Anita Pratap and Robi Damelin

In February 2010, women from all over the world came together for the second Global SAVE Conference in Vienna, Austria. Below are some excerpts from the conference participants about who they are, how they got here, and what their vision of the future looks like. For more information about our conference, download the conference report here.

Anita Pratap, Journalist, Author, Documentary Filmmaker, India (currently in Tokyo, Japan)

“I found one of the most traumatic experiences in my life, which was a turning point for me both professionally as well as personally, was when I was 23 years old and I had come to Sri Lanka. Urban riots by the majority community had broken out against the Tamil minorities. I'd only seen goodness in mankind till I went to Sri Lanka, and there I saw the kind of evil that can be perpetrated by human beings on fellow human beings. It also reaffirmed, however, that just as much as there is evil in life, there are also forces of good.

If I was successful as a journalist, I think it is because I always humanized the situation. I personalized the situation in a way that everybody could understand and relate to. And have that sense of rapport, because the grief of a mother who loses a child is the same, whether she is from Indonesia, or Israel, or India, or Pakistan. It's universal. And that is what we have to constantly focus on. Somehow this must add up so that all of us can combine our resources in a way to pressure the policy makers to start at least managing conflicts, if not solving them, so that violence stops and people can gain normal lives.”

Robi Damelin, Parents Circle-Bereaved Family Forum, Israel

“We say so many things in our lives, and we go through personal journeys. And my personal journey is with the man who killed my son. He's serving a sentence. He's actually also set to be freed to bring back Gilad Shalit. I immediately said, ‘Yes, you have to release him, because I think there's nothing more important than the sanctity of human life.’ And I don't believe in revenge, and in any event, there isn't any revenge for a dead child. Who would I kill to bring David back? I also think that political prisoners are part of the journey of trying to find a way to resolve a conflict. If we do not start to release the Palestinian prisoners, then I don't see any way to go even two steps forward.

You must decide whether you allow the situation to affect who you are, or if you will affect the situation. This is the test that we are put to all the time.”

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Unfiltered Voices: Nadia al-Sakkaf and Christie Coombs

In February 2010, women from all over the world came together for the second Global SAVE Conference in Vienna, Austria. Below are some excerpts from the conference participants about who they are, how they got here, and what their vision of the future looks like. For more information about our conference, download the conference report here.

Nadia al-Sakkaf, Editor of the Yemen Times, Sana’a, Yemen

“In 2005, I became the Editor-in-Chief of the Yemen Times, which Yemen's first English-language newspaper. I have grown many white hairs since then because of the tension, not just because of meeting deadlines and media work, but also because there's so much you get exposed to. You hear the stories, and you assume the responsibility of being the spokesperson for the people.

Many journalists, well-established journalists, feel the heavy weight of the responsibility of knowing that you have to fight for your people's rights. You have to be the voice for the voiceless. It becomes heavy. And if it weren't for meetings like this, I would have quit a long time ago.”

Christie Coombs, Journalist, Founder and President of the Jeffrey Coombs Foundation, Massachusetts, USA

“This is the farthest thing that I ever thought I would be doing, growing up as a little poor kid—the youngest of 12—in Arizona. But my husband was killed on 9/11. I haven't witnessed the kind of horror that you have seen, but I certainly have lived it. I've held six inches of my husband's remains in my hand. Soon after the attacks that killed Jeff and so many others, I decided it was time to teach my kids a lesson about paying it forward, and we held a big fundraiser to raise money to help other 9/11 families that had been impacted by losing someone on September 11th. And we took that money and sent it to immigrants who were working at the restaurant at the World Trade Center, and to adult children of parents who died in the terrorist attacks, because they weren't receiving money like the traditional families were.

I think [this conference] gives us the opportunity to remind Americans in particular that terrorism is something that has hit our country, and it's likely to hit again. It's no longer something that hits other countries. It’s something that we need to be aware of, and we need to do what we can to stop it, even if it's just making people aware of what's going on around them. I think we are taking a stand that we're against terrorism and we want to do something to make it stop. So this is an incredible experience. It's very new to me to be working with a group like this.”

Flash Points: Edit Schlaffer presents SAVE on CBS