Saturday, October 31, 2015

Combating Radical Extremism among Youth in the Middle East, Africa and Europe

Between October 18th and 21st, Rutgers University convened an international symposium, “Youth and the Allure of Terrorism: Identity, Recruitment and Public Diplomacy.”  Sponsored by the Office of the New Brunswick Chancellor, Dr. Richard  L. Edwards, on behalf of President Robert Barchi’s “First 100 Days Initiative of the Rutgers University Strategic Plan,” the symposium brought together internationally recognized religious leaders, academicians, and youth activists from around the world to discuss the conceptual, empirical and policy challenges in understanding the role of identity, gender, recruitment and political economy in the spread of terrorism in the contemporary world.

nvolving more than 60 participants and dozens of guests from the US and around the world, we knew that it would generate a tremendous amount of energy.  Having attended many conference in which the enthusiasm dissipates soon after the participants return to their respective professional positions, we scheduled a Planning Session immediately following the close of the symposium.  The outcome of the Planning Session was a multi-year project, “Youth and Combating Radical Extremism in the 21st Century.”

This was no ordinary academic conference.  Rather than limiting ourselves to academics, we invited youth activists from a number of countries who are working against intolerance.  We also invited Muslim, Jewish and Christian clerics and religious scholars to participate in an inter-faith dialogue.   

The two part panel, which met Tuesday afternoon from 1 to 5 p.m., was entitled “Inter-Faith Roundtable on the Role of Religion in Combating Radical Extremism among Youth.”
All Roundtable participants agreed that religious leaders have failed to make religion relevant to large segments of the world’s youth.  All decried the efforts of terrorist groups and many regimes in the Middle East to manipulate religion for sectarian ends which serve create instability and are designed to cover up  state corruption, nepotism and the lack of social services.

The symposium also offered panels on identity issues which propel certain youth demographics to become attracted terrorist and radical extremist organizations such as Boko Haram and the so-called Islamic State (Dacsh), and a panel on recruitment which analyzed the patterns which characterize youth joining terrorist groups. 

In light of the extremely repressive policies of terrorist organizations toward women, another panel examined the manner in which women are conceptualized and treated by such organizations.  The brutality shown towards women, such as the Chibook female students in Nigeria and Yazidi and Christian women in Iraq and Syria, was the focus of a number of presentations. Panelists pointed to the lure of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking which terrorist groups use to recruit male fighters and the manner in which such groups generate dogma which they claim to be “Islamic” but which runs completely counter to the doctrine of Islam.

One of the themes emphasized in all three panels on identity, recruitment and the gender politics of terrorist organizations was the marginalization and insecurity felt by many male youth who join terrorist organizations and rarely include topics other than the sciences and math in their education. The lack of any encounter with the arts, social sciences or humanities fails to encourage any critical thinking.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

NOT ATHIEST - by the young Iraqi poet Adham `Adil

This poem was translated from the Arabic dialect of Iraq by Dr. Mohammed Baqir Alwan, Professor Emeritus of Arabic Language and Literature, Tufts University, and one of the world's foremost experts on Iraqi and Arabic poetry.  It is another example of the refusal of Iraqi youth to submit to the sectarianism and "politicized religion" of Iraq's dominant political class. Poetry has always been a powerful form of resistance in Arab society and can be seen here as an effort by Iraqi youth to both challenge efforts by sectarian entrepreneurs to create a divisive political culture and reappropriate religion from those who seek to distort it.

Not atheist and I love God,
I know in what corner He is
I can find Him,
Like a teenage girl knows where to place the mascara.
The path to His heart is simple, with laughter you can find it.
He does not have a closed face,
He does not have hellfire. He does not torture people,
He does have not dark designs.
For those who stay up late at night, He is a blanket and stars,
For the thirsty, He is a stretched river.
He has the smell of an orchard dew.
He carries the goodness of the resigned
This is God,
The God I grew up with, the One who reared me.
I laughed in His face when I saw heavens is but a friendly chat.
He took me by the hand,
I do not know where He took me,
This is the God I talked to and He talked to me.
He told me:
Laugh and love the people, you will find me.
He told me:
In the ecstasy of the lover, you will find me.
He told me:
In the perplexity of the mal-treated, you will find me
He told me:
When you are eager,
Carrying a heavy load, look at it carefully,
You will find the traces of My arms.
If you do not like a branch on a tree, oh eager soul,
I will forget you and I ask you kindly to forget Me.
If you hate Me, I will not blame you,
I will not hate you if you love another Lord.
Being safe and happy
Go, leave Me. I will be with you.
I will open my Heaven and I remain waiting for you.
If you want to pray, not pray, I will not force you
Why are you afraid of Me?
You were the work of My hands, I will not break you.
I will not torture you, humiliate you, nor shun you.
If you want to live alone, live alone,
If you want to leave, leave,
If you want to come, I am waiting.
This is God,
The God I knew with the eagerness of children,
I knew Him in the greenness of trees,
I knew Him in the tear of a perplexed one,
Before He was disfigured by some,
They made Him seeking vengeance.
Why did God become a result?
A reaction reserved specifically for the one who prays?
Between Hell and Heaven?
He is a tent of dew in the summer for the poor,
He covered anyone with warm heart,
God in the world is victory,
God is a house and a place for the homeless,
God is a matter of choice,
I am against all temples,
All mosques,
All churches,
When they make God a business.
I am against the religion that connects
The greatness of God with a minaret.
I am against the first teacher who said to me
Read the Opening Chapter, you will get a women
And a very long river having the taste of wine (1).
I declare my withdrawal
From the old traditions,
The new traditions,
From the faces that said
God is fearsome, His hellfire never subsides.
I have such a heartache that can put the world on fire
Like a cigarette.
Because of you,
My contemplation is enormously large,
The ache in my heart is a whole poem,
My wound like a cave.
I am suffocating. Yes, suffocating.
I feel the world has no tales of love,
I feel religion remained everywhere
Like a tear in a shirt still unstitched,
I began to think and doubt people,
When I found the man who prays is a thief,
When I saw the woman who visits the holy places
The palms of her hands are but mouths,
When I saw God
Stolen from the face of a child,
I saw the fasting man who is afraid of a gulp of water
But his eyes rape all the women in the market.

(1) The reference, here, is to Surat al-Fatiha, the first chapter of the Qur`an. According to some interpreters, the faithful are supposed to get in Heaven beautiful women and wine-like drinks.