Monday, May 2, 2011

BREAKING NEWS: Moving Beyond Osama bin Laden

SAVE –Sisters Against Violent Extremism is the world’s first female counter-terrorism platform. To date, civil society, and especially women, have been almost completely neglected in the fight against violent extremism. It is naïve to think that Bin Laden’s death is the end of our struggle; to achieve long-term change, we must ensure that we tackle terrorism at its roots by engaging families, communities and societies.

Last night, President Obama announced that Osama bin Laden, leader of Al-Qaeda, has been killed in a military operation in northern Pakistan, almost ten years after the 9/11 terror attacks.

Bin Laden was a figurehead for the Al-Qaeda movement, acting as a driving force for the successful spread of the group’s ideology. His death is not an occasion for celebration, but a crucial turning point in the struggle against violent extremism.

In the last decade, we have learnt much about effective methods of combating terrorism. We must be aware that Al Qaeda’s forces might have the ability to quickly regroup if we do not react effectively at this critical juncture. It is clear that military approaches play a valuable role in reducing the immediate threat posed by terrorist groupings, and governmental and political approaches by their very nature move more slowly and can achieve significant change in the medium-term. However, to achieve a long-term shift in attitudes toward violent extremism and to reduce the allure of extremist ideologies, civil society must become a central player to effect a change in perspectives among communities and to propagate a culture of non-violence and tolerance.

The death of Bin Laden is not enough to eradicate the threat of violent extremism. The removal of Al Qaeda’s central ideological leader is, however, an opportunity to engage vulnerable communities, to join moderate Muslim voices with civil society voices across borders of nationalities, ethnicities, and religions, and to highlight the human cost of terrorism to create a powerful counter-narrative to Bin Laden’s violent ideology.

SAVE taps into the potential of women to act as early-warning systems in their homes, communities and among restless youth. Supporting women in their efforts to propagate a tolerant environment that does not allow for the development of violent ideologies is key to the long-term success of efforts to counter violent extremism.

The Mothers for Change campaign is at the heart of our work. In their central role in the family, mothers are key educators of the young generation and perfectly situated to recognize the early signs of radicalization in family members and community groups. To recognize and mobilize their power, mothers must be provided with the right tools.

This morning, SAVE collected the statements of SAVE sisters from around the globe, to share their views on how to move forward.

Aicha el Wafi, whose son, Zacarias, was convicted of conspiring to kill citizens in connection with the September 11, 2001 attacks, is a SAVE testimonial and sends a message to mothers around the globe:

“I would like to say to all the mothers—to the mothers in Israel, in Palestine, in Europe, and in America: There is no one else but the mothers. They must protect their children, and raise them to respect themselves, their countries, and others. When their children begin to see and hear things, they don’t always recognize the danger in it. I only realized what was happening when it was too late; I was naïve. I loved my children, and I thought my love sufficed to protect them from harm. But extremist organizations take advantage of children who do not understand, and love is not enough.

“I send a message of courage to all the mothers around the world. You need to seize your children’s attention. You need to show them how to be respectful, and you need to show them that there are good people. But you also need to show them the bad, and to show them which dangers are lurking. Love can move mountains, but you need to direct your children.”

Furthermore, SAVE promotes the voices of victims of terrorism who bear witness to the human cost of such violence. These courageous individuals, many of whom have managed to turn their grief into activism for meaningful change, carry extraordinary weight and can contribute to developing new strategies for combating radical ideologies. Their eyewitness testimonials offer a powerful new perspective to the young generation, discouraging the use of violence through a confrontation with the consequences of terrorist actions.

Gill Hicks is a young Australian who lost both legs in the 7/7 terrorist attack in London. Since the bombings, Gill has begun reaching out to young generation to educate them on the real effects of terrorist acts, particularly in volatile communities. She leads conversations with vulnerable youth, encouraging them to think about such questions as, “does it help any Palestinian, or does it lessen the grievances of any other group that I am sitting here without my legs?”

Gill says: “We must be aware that we cannot just kill an idea and an ideology. This highly concerns me. I urge people to continue to lead by example, to reflect that which we want to be back in the world. We can only fight the idea with another idea.”

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