Terrorism; the use of life-endangering violence for the purpose of gaining attention and promoting a group’s political agenda. Although more media coverage has been devoted to the terrorist attacks of the twenty-first century, terrorism itself is no new phenomenon folks. It is simply society’s definition of terrorism that has altered with time. There have been countless groups throughout history, from all religious and national origins, that have engaged in terrorist acts as a means of addressing their grievances, attacking a political order, or influencing political policies.
With the possibility of terrorist acts becoming significantly more lethal in the future, it is important that we pose the question of whether current global efforts to combat terrorism are effective. Cynthia Lum and fellow researchers from the Chicago Policy Review highlight that the U.S. generally resorts to increasing severity of punishment and creating new UN resolution as strategies for addressing terrorism. They also emphasize that current efforts of “military retaliation [are] statistically associated with an increase in terrorism in the short run and may not have any impact long term” (Lum et al.). Similarly, with increasing severity of punishment, there is “no current evidence … that increasing severity of punishment [leads to a] decrease [in] terrorism”. Increased punishments only breed more anger within those already frustrated with the current status quo. With young people being the largest group of radicalized people resorting to terrorist acts, terrorist organizations only use foreign military interventions as more fuel to the fire to provide cause for radicalized youth to commit terrorist acts.
Looking a hundred years into the future, I predict that terrorism will not only continue to exist but will flourish considering current prevention strategies are at best highly ineffective and at worst provoking more terrorist attacks. We now see that combatting the violent extremism that leads to terrorism remains one of the most difficult hurdles to cross in the fight to end terrorism.
While global initiatives can arguably be influential, the most impactful solutions are on-the-ground work with local communities. As U.S. Deputy Coordinator for Homeland Security; Anne Witkowsky, highlights in her remarks at a conference in Astana, Kazakhstan during October 2010, “the best course of action … might be a shift from international government interventions to the empowering of national and local community leaders that are equipped to challenge extremist views in their communities” (Witkowsky). Grassroots organizations get to the root of the problem, reducing motivations people have to radicalize.
To address radicalization with lasting solutions, it is imperative that multilateral cooperation with young people and local communities are formed so we can all partner in the global fight against radicalization. We need to urge our respective governments to build strong network of alliances and partnerships worldwide, not only in typical “third world” countries associated with terrorism.
Along with shifting our focus to young people and local communities as key players in the long term fight against radicalization and terrorism, the multifaceted role women play also needs to be recognized. Women are fundamental yet untapped resources in the fight against terrorism. Women have a long, intertwined history of being part of terrorist groups as well as fighting against them. We as society need to do a better job of engaging with the complex role women play as sympathizers, perpetrators, and mobilizers in the fight against radicalization. Krista Couture of the Brookings Institute underlines in her research that “women have been identified as a significant resource in the sphere of peacebuilding and conflict prevention since the mid-twentieth century”. Due to their influential role in shaping the home environment as well as the youth, Anne Witkowsky notes how “women can exert a stabilizing influence and empower individuals to be able to resist violent extremist propaganda and radicalization that can lead to terrorism”. It is imperative that we adopt a more holistic approach that incorporates women into the conversation. We need to empower women to better leverage their role in their families to prevent and reduce radicalization.
So who can we look to as guides in this new endeavor? Fortunately, an emerging amount of countries around the world have begun engaging women in the fight against terrorism. Through a new initiative in Central Asia by the name of Sisters Against Violent Extremism (SAVE), there is more advocacy on the roles children and women can play in countering and preventing violent extremism. Through films, newspaper editorials, training workshops, and increased leadership opportunities women in these Central Asian communities are empowered to challenge extremist views in their homes and communities.
Another exemplar country incorporating women in the fight against terrorism that we can learn from is the United Kingdom. Developed by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO)’s Prevent Delivery Unit, Shanaz was created with the purpose of fully engaging and empowering women to be active in every level of decision making. Originally a group of 50 female community leaders from all races, religions and backgrounds through the UK, the Shanaz Network is a “national community dedicated to bringing female voices into every level of decision-making in prevent strategy, policy, and delivery”. Shanaz fights radicalization through safeguarding those who may feel excluded and therefore vulnerable to recruitment. More than acting as a consultative resource to local law enforcement, Shanaz hosts speaker events and initiate campaigns like Jihad Against Violence.
Partnering with key local, national, and international institutions, they challenge extremist narratives in their communities for the purposes of reducing the risk of radicalization. Through building links with women in universities and identifying and supporting women faith leaders, the Shanaz Network is able to form a unified, inclusive community against radicalization.
The Shanaz Network has produced teaching pamphlets and brochures that they distribute to the women in their communities. Through the pamphlets, Shanaz instructs community women on their civic and religious duty to be involved in safeguarding against radicalization. Through regular meetings, the community women learn how to identify and address early signs of radicalization. Women are encouraged and trained to speak to their husbands and sons should they detect signs of radicalization. Through Shanaz, community women have a network of Imams and community leaders to direct their relatives to. In cases where necessary, women are also encouraged to report to the police.
Going forward, we, the American people, can learn much from the models of the Shanaz Network and SAVE.
- As implemented by Shanaz, the inclusion of religious leaders in the fight against extremism is pivotal. Terrorist group ideals are based on faith teachings so religious leaders, schools, colleges, and universities need to be a part of our united front against terrorism.
- We also should place a greater emphasis on grassroots organizations as opposed to government intervention approaches. It is we, the community members, that are closest to at-risk individuals and therefore can best be trained to detect early signs of radicalization.
- It is also necessary that the archaic notions of women as moderate, maternal, passive, and subordinate in the context of terrorism be challenged and shattered.
My dear readers, it is our duty to pledge our support to women community leaders, activists, and organizations like Shanaz working to end extremism. Let us also not forget that with any approach pursued, we must refrain from having community programs targeted solely at Arab and Muslim neighborhoods. The increased visibility and influence women gain in their communities through inclusion in the fight against radicalization is a benefit for the advancement of women worldwide.