Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Women must be empowered and educated to counter increasing trend of female suicide bombers

By Arshi Saleem Hashmi, Assistant Professor, National Defence University, Member SAVE Pakistan

How does an eight-year-old child react to the so-called injustices by the West against the “Muslim world”? Most probably by doing nothing, for it is beyond the capacity of a child of this age to comprehend and interpret justice and injustice. So when a group of women and men kidnapped and forced a girl of 8 years of age to wear a suicide jacket, she resisted. In her own little world, God is beautiful, caring and very loving. Dying to please that God is not something that fits well in her world. This is what happens when kids are kidnapped or taken from their parents by so-called religious groups and used as human bombs.

Women suicide bombers are not a new thing in Pakistan, although they are rare. The first case of a woman suicide bomber was in 2009 when a woman killed many in Peshawar. Then in December 2010, a woman killed 45 people who were queuing for food in the Bajur area in a suicide attack. In February 2011, again in the Bajur area, a woman suicide bomber was arrested. Though the number of women suicide bombers is very low, it is certainly a dangerous trend. According to the figures of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, more than 52 would-be female suicide bombers were arrested by the police and other law-enforcement agencies across Pakistan in 2010.

A girl captured in 2010 revealed on TV that she and her younger sister were told by her father and brother to give their life for God and in return they will go to heaven. The younger sister detonated the bomb, but the elder couldn’t do it and got arrested. In October 2004,a member of Lashkar-e-Jhanghvi,(LeJ) Gul Hasan, was arrested over suicide attacks against two Shiite mosques in Karachi. During investigations, he revealed that LeJ was planning to launch suicide attacks using female bombers. According to media reports, Hasan had reportedly trained two of his nieces, both students at a school in Karachi, to carry out suicide attacks without the consent of their parents. Gul’s wife, who is also said to have been a member of LeJ, made the girls leave their home for the “holy mission.” Their father searched for them and even filed a case with the police regarding their disappearance. The girls were arrested in Swat in June 2005.

Former female religious teachers of Lal Masjid, (Red mosque in Islamabad) have also been reported to have trained women to avenge the Lal Masjid operation. Bomber recruiters brainwashed female and male seminarians, below six to seven years of age, for jihad. Their families are generally told that they would undergo training, but those from the outskirts of Islamabad and Rawalpindi are generally kidnapped as their parents are not convinced that they should send their children for jihad. Religious groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Sahaba and a network of women working under the banner of Tehreek-e-Islami are all involved in using women as suicide bombers. Sometimes the target is military and sometimes it is against other sectarian groups.

Most of the time the young girls are forced to obey family elders, be it father, brother, or any other male family elder. They are supposed to accept what they are being told. Such women and young girls are unfortunate members of families who are sympathetic towards militants or are actively involved in militancy. The women have no choice of their own. Contrary to other parts of the world, militancy in Pakistani women is not an independent phenomenon. They do not “decide” to become a terrorist but are forced to obey. This does not mean that every woman in Pakistan is forced to obey their families. Many urban educated families in particular have a different attitude. It is mostly in tribal areas that women are supposed to follow what they are told.

The gloomy scenario however does not mean that Pakistani women have surrendered to extremism and militancy. In fact they have been reacting against it whichever way it was possible. The girl who refused to wear the suicide jacket is an indication that religious extremism is unacceptable and it is mostly forced and not willingly approved. Last year in October, when Meera, a girl whose father and brother forced her to become suicide bomber, she not only refused, she came out in public and exposed the situation in front of the media. Women in urban and also rural areas have rejected the notion of Jihad through violent means. Those who are influenced are in the minority and despite their organized efforts they have not been able to actually recruit young girls and women in large numbers. Usually it is coercion or violence that made these girls follow the footsteps of male militants.

The struggle against violent extremism is obvious among women of all classes and regions in Pakistan. The school girls in Swat whose schools were destroyed by the Taliban came out with more enthusiasm despite the threat, and reminded the government that more than anything they needed their schools back. School class rooms are the best places to teach young minds about peaceful coexistence, tolerance and religious harmony. A rigorous revision of school syllabus for public schools will help in encouraging young children to be more tolerant towards other faiths. Mothers in these affected areas are now more vigilant of their children by keeping an eye on their association with any such group or people who could influence their young minds. Rather than long speeches which do not make sense to a common woman, small meetings in cities, town, and villages to discuss personal experiences would help women to take this message to hundreds of other women in their families and towns. This one step helps to create a chain of likeminded women who reject extremism not only for themselves but for their men as well as their children. Women have a powerful role to play. Their role in deterring violent extremism is even more powerful then the role of being an extremist. This is what SAVE believes and its “Mothers for Change” project essentially targets that. Once women are convinced that violent extremism is self destructive, they will be the best source to influence their children which will eventually contain militancy.

The social, political and security situation has not deterred the Pakistani women, they have never endorsed violent extremism and they will never support it. The more women become a target of violent extremism, the more they will react against it. Fortunately Pakistani media and civil society are backing the women who are challenging and questioning the dictates of the religious extremists.

Pakistani women do not “Decide” to become suicide bomber but they certainly have the courage to say NO to dying in the name of religion. They have decided that come what may, they will not surrender to violent extremism.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Women Shield Children From Extremism

An Article on IPS news by Mehru Jaffer

VIENNA, Jun 13, 2011 (IPS) - When Farah’s 16-year-old son began to disappear for several nights a week without saying where he went, she was naturally worried. After he returned one day and shattered the television screen in their Peshawar home, the mother of three decided it was time to quit her job as a teacher and to find out what was making her youngest child so angry.

To her horror, the schoolteacher - who requested that her real name not be published - discovered that her son was spending time in the company of people belonging to terrorist groups in Pakistan’s Swat Valley where Farah’s family originally comes from. The boy’s newly found friends were teaching him that it is a sin for his mother to leave home to work everyday and for his sister, a medical student, to talk to friends on the phone.

The teenager, whose name is also withheld for security reasons, was made to believe that it is a sin for good Muslims to watch television as it can distort their way of life and religion. He was being groomed to protect Islam - even if it meant with his life.

"This happened two years ago and I still don’t have the entire story from him," Farah told IPS. Farah was here along with six other mothers from Egypt, Yemen, Nigeria, Israel and Palestine to participate in Mothers MOVE (Mothers Oppose Violent Extremism), a panel presentation hosted by the Vienna-based Women Without Borders (WWB).

"Farah is a perfect example of how educated mothers can act as an early-warning signal to stop radicalisation in its tracks," Edit Schlaffer, founder and head of WWB told IPS.

Farah agrees that more women must be educated to ensure that they are able to creatively guide their children away from dangerous influences. At present the literacy rate of women in Pakistan is 45 percent, in comparison to 69 percent amongst the male population of the country.

Farah appeared at the open house panel presentation in a veil that revealed little else but her eyes, and she told the audience that she would not reveal her real name as she does not want to attract the attention of those she has successfully stopped from brainwashing her son.

What is common amongst Farah and the other women who also shared their experiences with terrorism is the conviction that the personal is political, and that peace starts at home.

"These women are a glowing example of the potential of mothers to counteract the allure of violent extremism in the family. It is the right and the duty of us women, of us mothers, to be engaged actively in the public arena to ensure the security of the future generation," Schlaffer said.

Farah was able to save her child by taking the change in his personality seriously - early enough. Her son had turned aggressive and secretive and she wanted to know why. Farah feels that because she is a teacher, because she is an educated mother, she was perhaps better equipped to deal with the problem.

"He fought with me and his sister for not veiling ourselves and for driving a car," Farah explained. "He objected to us talking to anyone except to female members of the family."

After discussing with her husband, a medical doctor, both decided to resign from their respective jobs in Peshawar. Their neighbours and friends were told that they were moving abroad.

Farah then moved with her family to another part of the city. Farah and her husband devoted a year to spend time with the teenager - explaining to him what they knew about Islam.

They checked his mobile and discovered that he was called from countless different numbers - when they dialled those same numbers there was no response. To this day the parents don’t know where the child had gone and whom he had met.

Farah told IPS that each time she tries to find out the names of the people he had met and the place he had visited, her son tells her that it is all over, and in the past. He has made it clear to Farah that he does not want to talk about the incident.

After having missed a year of school he is now back in college. That is the good news. The bad news is that he is now introverted and often depressed.

"He likes to write and I encourage him to do so. But he writes the most heart breaking verses that are full of pain and pessimism," says Farah who prays that like her son has been returned to her, happiness too will return to him one day.

According to the U.N., an estimated 103 million Pakistanis, or 63 percent of the population, are under the age of 25. However due to difficult economic conditions the future of the majority of youth in Pakistan seems bleak.

In Swat the Pakistan Army and Taliban have been fighting for control for over a decade. Militants are forever on the lookout to recruit youngsters like Farah’s son to train them to become suicide bombers.

Flash Points: Edit Schlaffer presents SAVE on CBS