SAVE: Commemorating 9/11

by edit-schlaffer | | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 9 September 2011 16:01 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Around the world, we all recognize just how much 9/11 has changed our lives. This recognition is not merely intellectual; it is an emotional reaction to increased security measures when traveling, the constant refrain in the evening news, and a growing suspicion of 'the other.'

9/11 impacted the family members of the victims most immediately, but also had far-reaching consequences for the global community. Two wars, thousands of deaths, and a divided world have resulted from those terrorist attacks. All of us—not only the West, but also the Muslim world—were shocked to the core. The attacks fundamentally rocked our views, just as the clash of cultures also led to a far-reaching clash of emotions. Belief in military solutions has since dissipated, and SAVE exists to fill this void.

SAVE sensitizes women to their as-yet untapped potential to combat violent extremism. Women witness what is happening in their families and communities every day, and the vast majority want to prevent their children from being drawn into extremist activities. First, however, they need to learn to how to read the warning signals. SAVE's core belief is once women recognize their role in combating violent extremism, they will serve as the foundation for a valuable new security platform.

SAVE supports the commitment of women to embrace the power of soft power. And women are experts in soft power skills: listening, persistent negotiation, and dialogue. Long-term education programs and alternative security networks are the building blocks of a peaceful future, and the inclusion and promotion of women are integral components of such programs and networks.

SAVE is committed to finding innovative, action-oriented, and purposeful forms of dialogue, which are based on the new world (dis)order. Such dialogue must include civil society in its entirety.

The SAVE Sisterhood is growing. We have had the privilege of hearing first-hand the experiences of Phyllis Rodriguez, who lost her son on 9/11. Phyllis has reaffirmed our belief that you have to "talk to the enemy." There are mothers on the 'other side' as well, and we need to learn from each other to strengthen our bonds. By including such women, we can create a new solid security block.

Take, for example, Esther Ibanga and Khadijah Hawajah. Esther and Khadijah live in Jos, Nigeria, a state racked by ethnic tensions that have resulted in the bloody murder of hundreds on both sides of this ethno-religious divide. Esther, the senior pastor of Jos Christian Missions, and Khadijah, Chairperson of the Plateau State Muslim Women Peace Forum, have only recently begun to question prevalent stereotypes by reaching out, first to each other, then to the other community at large, to build a tangible and emotional bridge between women on both sides who are committed to ending the atrocities. After receiving encouragement from SAVE, Esther went against her community's wishes to initiate a dialogue with Khadijah, with whom she now travels internationally to underscore the deep commonalities, rather than the entrenched divides, between their societies and customs.

In Indonesia, Lily Munir has implemented groundbreaking youth campaigns to empower students to challenge latent radical ideologies in their school and community settings. Girls especially have been given the opportunity to explore how extremist currents are affecting their daily lives during weekend-long workshops, and to develop innovative, creative, and student-driven campaigns to create a more stable and communal future for themselves. The Indonesian student network has expanded organically through alumni and class meetings to include hundreds of young future leaders committed to a world without violent extremism.

The tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks drives home once again the urgent necessity of finding new approaches to combating violent extremism. Terrorist acts take place with appalling frequency, and a new, female-led civil society movement to counter radical ideologies and to provide alternatives for a stable and secure future will be the way forward.

It is a privilege to work with these dedicated women who are transforming their losses into a commitment to build a safer future for all of us. Over the past ten years, I have learned so much from them, and from all the women who courageously stand up against violent extremism.

I have learned that we are all truly Women without Borders, and that we will change the world.

Join SAVE: Together we will stand up against violent extremism the world over.