The Institute of Islamic Studies organized the Round Table Discussion “Countering Violent Extremism”at Balay Kalinaw, UP-Diliman on October 4, 2017. The RTD was in partnership with the Department of Cultural Affairs, US Embassy – Manila and attended by representatives of government and non-government organizations, community leaders, the interfaith community and students from the University.
The discussion on how to work together as a community to address issues of violent extremism was the main theme of the program. Resource speaker, Dr. Mohamed Elsanousi argued, “These are issues that law enforcement and government cannot handle alone.” Rather they need to be addressed by “collaborative efforts.” He adds, “We see youth in our communities recruited by terrorist groups to go and figh; we see elements of radicalization in our community.”
Dr. Elsanousi serves as the Director of the Secretariat of the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, an organization that connects grassroots peacemakers with global leaders to strengthen their work for sustainable peace. Recently he served as Director of Community Outreach and Interfaith Relations for 12 years for the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) where he focused on mobilizing American Muslim leaders to take more creative roles in their communities. While at ISNA, he worked with the U.S. government in efforts to prevent radicalization and violent extremism. One of these programs is known as The Safe Space Initiatives.
The Safe Space Initiatives creates spaces for communication about issues of violence or extremism. The program has three elements: Prevention, Intervention and Ejection. Prevention aims to form action-oriented civic and political programs like interfaith dialogue and media literacy to counter radicalization efforts; Intervention actively interferes when there is the presence of radicalization, religious and violent extremism in the community; and Ejection, as a last recourse, is focused towards the eviction or isolation of a “radical” element from the community.
RTD reactor, Atty. Mehol K. Sadain claimed that interfaith dialogue already existed in the Philippines, pointing out the greater necessity of intra-faith dialogue among Muslims.
Second reactor, Prof. Carmen A. Abubakar shared that Muslims in the Philippines have strong kinship ties and that the safe space first began within the family. She pointed out that prevention, intervention and ejection were unfamiliar to Muslims arguing “we cannot eject a member of the family because he acts violently.” This, she claims is the reason why Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) members are not easily flushed out because they belonged to clans that somehow protected them.
During the open forum, Prof. Julkipli Wadi voiced out that the Safe Space Initiatives may work in a stable democratic country but not in one with an authoritarian government. On the issue of radicalization, he pointed out that misunderstanding was entrenched in human nature, that there was no problem with being radical so long as the method of expression was not through violence. Prof. Wadi furthered that the only problem was that radicalized elements were able to access firearms from what he called the “Big Powers”. He asserted that the only way to stop violent extremism was to reduce the exportation of firearms prevent hegemony in Muslim countries
As parting words, Dr. Elsanousi greatly emphasized the significance of interfaith dialogue, bridging trust, good relationships and religious freedom among Muslim and non-Muslim communities. He ended with the statement, “an attack of one religion is an attack on all.”