Tuesday, August 2, 2011

After Norway: Women's Voices for the Way Forward

Floral tributes to those who lost their lives in Norway  
© Johanne Dohlie Saltnes

The attacks in Norway are a wake-up call for all of us. Social polarization among Europe`s diverse ethnic and religious communities has the potential to challenge the fundaments of social cohesion which is the fabric that holds open societies together. Stereotypical assumptions about “the other” rather than robust bridgebuilding efforts have set the stage for the ideologies of hate, social polarization and exclusion.

Norwegian flag flies at half mast © Johanne Dohlie Saltnes
Multiculturalism is not a promise and not a threat, but always a work in progress, and its success is based on open communication, participation and fairness from and for all parties involved. Our daily observations will certainly confirm research findings showing that interactions across communities have not been established except for high-level dialogue efforts which have tended to take place between elites, while prejudice, real and projected problems and mutual suspicion in society at large have persisted. Systematic people-to-people contact across community divides at all levels need to be encouraged. The function that women can play in this regard is significant. Their role as educators of the next generation and key players of civil society is often under-estimated or overlooked.

SAVE is currently reaching out particularly to mothers to build their self-confidence and political awareness, and sensitize them to currents of radicalization in their communities in order to position them as key allies in the creation of the social cohesion needed to ensure a stable future for all of us.

Please read the perspectives of SAVE Sisters and leading women from around the globe on how Europe and the wider world can move towards a future where we are able to live together peacefully.

Farah Pandith, Special Representative to Muslim Communities, U.S. State Department
In my role as Special Representative to Muslim Communities, I have traveled all over the world -- to every region -- and I see firsthand the impact lexicon and actions have to communities. How we talk about each other, treat each other, and talk with each other matters. It is important that people of every faith, ethnicity, gender, and socio-economic group treat each other with dignity and respect. Knowledge of “the other” is immensely important. If you can learn about someone who is different, you can form the foundation for a relationship and increased understanding. One way to build respect is to work on projects or issues that are of mutual interest to distinct communities. By working together on challenges like health, childhood education, or the environment, bonds can be formed that are stronger than the differences between people. At the U.S. State Department we are mobilizing President Obama’s call to action for mutual interest and mutual respect. This year, Secretary Clinton launched the 2011 Hours Against Hate campaign (www.facebook.com/2011hoursagainsthate), which asks young people around the world to volunteer their time for someone who doesn’t look like them, live like them, pray like them. Bigotry and hate-language is increasing around the world, while at the same time I see young people across the planet talking about the world they want to live in—a world where old barriers are broken and people can come together to work on common challenges. This campaign is one small step toward creating stronger communities that embrace and celebrate diversity. We all must do our part.

Anita Pratap, Indian journalist living in Oslo
This tragedy is so deep it has wounded Norway's soul. Not even in their wildest nightmares could Norwegians conceive that a disaster of such epic proportions would strike them. A shocked and bereaved nation stands united. They are united not only in their grief, but also in their shared values. This tragedy is a wake up call to remind us that serpents lurk even in Eden. For, if there is a paradise on earth, it is indeed Norway - not only for its spectacular natural landscape but also in epitomizing the best human values of tolerance, peace, egalitariaism, gender rights, transparency, ethics and rule of law. While they could not prevent this tragedy, Norwegians have also shown us how to move forward - with the silent majority strongly reaffirming multiculturalism as well as these cherished universal human values that Norway epitomizes. Muslim immigrants and ethnic Christian Norwegians mourned together - for among the dead were young Muslims who had integrated with the democratic political mainstream. Despite the national outrage against the perpetrator, Norwegian citizenry defended his legal rights. It is by exercising our cherished human values and reaffirming our faith in multiculturalism during times of gravest provocation that we defeat violent extremists who are the real enemies of peace and tolerance.

Sasha Havlicek, CEO/Director, Institute for Strategic Dialogue, London
What we have seen with the tragic events in Norway is how certain narratives that have regained mainstream momentum across Europe can provide a sense of moral justification to those that would do harm. With such painful evidence of how dangerous extremist ideology is in all its guises, we must also tackle the subtler, widespread narratives that serve to part-justify those views. We must stand together across communities to be successful. Women who have been directly affected by extremism are doing just that through SAVE. Whether extremisms lead to violence or just to fuelling suspicion and division, they are a problem that weaken our society and that we have to address together.

Hibaaq Osman, SAVE Board Member, Cairo
This tragedy has touched me in a very personal way. I have children the same age and I send them to camps and just to think that these kids were shot at close range is despicable. The Islamophobia in Europe and the US has been of the utmost concern to us, politically and otherwise, and this tragedy should be blamed on all the political parties, media, bloggers and radio programs that are encouraging these right wing groups and campaigning on this issue. The hatred is now focused on the Muslims but soon it could be on everyone who looks different and thinks different. We should fight together against terrorism, racism and extremism by remembering and taking to heart Pastor Martin Niemöller’s courageous words:

First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Fahmia Al-Fotih, SAVE Yemen
We have not recovered yet from the heinous terrorist acts that hit Bombay recently. An now the mass killings in Norway have strongly shaken the world specially as the act happened in a place known for peace and a country that annually presents Noble Prize for peace! The heinous act has also shaken some common concepts and stereotypes related to terrorism and extremism in which Muslims are always the first suspect. That has also reassured the world that terrorism knows no religion, no culture and no specific place. It is a threat for all and which rings the alarm for all of us that we should work collectively and look for serious actions and ways to prevent more massacres.

Carla Goldstein, Director of the Women’s Institute of the Omega Institute, New York
The Norway tragedy could happen anywhere - no place or people are immune from terrorist violence. The ending of extreme violence will not happen solely by traditional law enforcement, military, or retributive responses, so we must take up the extraordinary effort of building a new way of living on the planet together. Globalization connected us through transportation and information superhighways, and now we must build a new kind of superhighway – an empathy superhighway -- based on the understanding that the well-being of every individual is deeply connected to the well-being of all people and all living things. This empathy superhighway will connect us through compassionate and loving relationships, and will provide the networks and mechanisms to reconcile our differences, heal past traumas, and find ways to share the world’s precious resources more equitably and sustainably. The good news is that this work is well underway, and women are taking a leadership role in communities around the globe. Women who have suffered from losing their loved ones through violence, or who themselves have suffered from rape or domestic violence, are joining a global anti-violence movement and saying “enough is enough.” They are risking everything to reach across enemy lines and build a more peaceful world. Throughout history there has been a call to the women of the world to join together to end the bloodshed of war -- and the profound grief from Norway raises again the urgency of that call.

Norma Shearer, CEO of Training for Women Network, Research Partner of Women without Borders, Belfast
I stand in solidarity with Norwegian women and the people of Norway following the unacceptable violent attacks on 22 July 2011. This violence is an assault on democracy itself and young people attempting to engage with democratic processes. We in Northern Ireland know something of the grief which accompanies these horrendous and indiscriminate acts of violence and our thoughts and prayers are with the surviving victims and the many grieving families who are left so devastated. Of note in the wake of the attack was the speculation that those responsible were Islamic extremists which brings to light the anti-Muslim ‘tendencies’ that are attempting to embed themselves into Western Europe. There needs to be a policy debate and action from all state actors over whether governments are too ‘tunnel-visioned’ when it comes to combating extremist violence. There is the danger that by focussing solely on Islamic militants it contributes and encourages greater anti-Muslim sentiments as well as detracting from the threat of home-grown radicals not associated with Islam. Combating radical extremism requires dealing with these embedded ‘tendencies’ which in so many cases are learnt in the home, highlighting the important role of the mother in educating the next generation as either radical extremists or tolerant accepters of the “other”. My prayers and thoughts go out to all those in Oslo who have lost innocent loved ones and friends who are the very fabric of the future of society. It will take many years for the grief and hurt to heal and if any good can come of such a tragedy it will require courage, vision and education in order to allow us all to live in peace, understanding and tolerance.”

Siham Abu Awwad, SAVE Palestine
As a human being and especially as a woman, I believe we can always solve our problems through non-violent actions. I believe that Islam is always the religion of peace so I am sending my support to the Norwegian people in the hope that it’s the last violent action in Norway. I live in a crazy country full of violence and daily I meet mothers who are full of pain. As a member of SAVE, I, my organization and my nation are against all the faces of terror.

Pamela Philipose, Senior Journalist and Director of Women's Feature Service, Delhi
I remember reading somewhere (I think it was in Rushdie's Midnight's Children), that on the day Gandhi was shot dead, the one thought running through the minds of Muslims in India was this: "God, let it not be a Muslim." The presence of terrorism inspired by Islam is without doubt undeniable, but the Norway tragedy reminds us how untenable and dangerous are facile positions like "All terrorists are Muslims". In fact it is precisely such attitudes that contribute towards creating the horrifyingly delusional world of killers like Breivek. The Norwegian tragedy reminds us that geographical stereotyping doesn't work in a world connected by rapid travel, the internet and hatreds of various kinds. The bomb attack and shooting exposed the fact that reality is always far more complex than the human imagination can comprehend. This attack should be seized as a moment to build bridges between Europe's diverse communities in ways that are imaginative, humane and non-bureaucratic. The main vehicle for this is education, education and more education. Not just in schools but also in neighbourhoods and government apparatuses. Women are largely absent in conflict resolution. Their voices and experiences must inform policy discussions at all levels.

Beatriz Abril Alegre, who lost her brother Óscar in the 2004 Madrid train bombings
We have just come to realize how dangerous racism is. Maybe some people thought that the threats in Europe come from the outside; however, now we see that this is not a question of nationality or religion, but a question of extremism, whichever form it may take, all of them with fatal consequences. I send my condolences to all those families who have lost their loved ones, whose life has changed forever. I encourage them to fight their grief not with hatred or revenge, but with tolerance and peace: the only way to a better world.

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