Monday, July 25, 2011

In the Aftermath of Norway: A Call for Unity Against Hate

On Friday, Norway became the unexpected target of a terror attack that reminds us of the pervasive nature of violent extremism. Norway suffered a bombing in the capital Oslo, which killed 8 people, and what is said to be the gravest mass shooting of modern times, which killed 68. It has emerged that the massacre was the work of a right-wing extremist advocating cultural conservatism, strong restrictions on immigration and the removal of Muslims from Europe. Early speculation claimed that the attacks could be the work of Al-Qaeda terrorist cells, but this was refuted by the 1,500 page manifesto that attacker Anders Behring Breivik published online.

This tragedy reminds us that terrorism is a phenomenon that crosses boundaries and is not restricted to one culture or religion. Terrorists destroy individual lives, but also aim to rip communities apart. We must keep this in mind when formulating responses to terrorism: our approach MUST be inclusive, broad-based and community orientated. We must begin at the grassroots level, rather than relying solely on government responses, addressing all radicalizing forces regardless of the political, social, religious or cultural factors which they exploit. Counternarratives need to be created within Europe, providing alternatives to a growing conservatism that promotes intolerance of difference within our societies. The Norwegian attacker cited Geert Wilders, the extreme right wing Dutch politician, as one of his greatest influences; it is urgent that moderate perspectives advocating for acceptance of the “other” and understanding of cultural difference are strengthened.

For moderate voices to be effective, they must have support at the community level. Women can be a key ally in anchoring tolerance within their community. By targeting mothers especially for self-confidence, political awareness and peace education, they can be empowered to make a stronger contribution to their children’s education, steering the next generation away from discourses of hatred and separatism.

Over-exposure to false narratives that dehumanize the other is a great risk factor for radicalization. Women without Borders / SAVE programs aim to bring Muslim and non-Muslim youth living in the same city together. Through these encounters, they learn more about one another’s lives, ensuring an open mind and removing fear of difference. Knowing the “other” personally makes it far harder to dehumanize and stigmatize entire cultural, religious or ethnic groups, breaking down the potential for the kind of violence that Norway suffered on Friday.

Women without Borders / SAVE practices an integrated approach of empowering women to identify early signs of radicalism in their children and educating them to promote tolerance in the family and community, and targeting youth through educational and exchange programs that re-humanize the “other” and show the human cost and traumatic consequences of terrorism. To learn more about our projects please follow this link:

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Flash Points: Edit Schlaffer presents SAVE on CBS