Tag Archives: extremism

The Other Victims of Extremism–The Mothers

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In July of 2009, President Obama made a speech in Ghana in which he said, “It is the death sentence of a society to force children to kill in wars.” Although the conscription of children in wars is a phenomenon often associated with Africa, it is a problem that has infected many other areas of the world as well. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, along with other countries in the region, the use of children by extremist militants is systematic and disturbing.

Watching videos that depict the training of children to become “warriors,” it is hard not to ask yourself, “How could you ever send your son here?” That’s because from a western perspective, it’s incomprehensible. In these areas, however, families are so poor that it seems to them that the best future for their children is religious schools. These schools provide necessities that the parents sometimes can’t. Yet they sometimes also provide something else. A future headed toward hate and, death.

Of course, this is not always the case. In the West the term madrassa (which in Arabic literally means, a place where learning or studying is done) has gotten a negative connotation mistaken to mean “terrorist training camps.” But most madrassas are simply schools. Religious or secular, madrassa can refer to a variety of different kinds of learning institutions. They usually refer to schools that provide training to become imams, or religious leaders. A very small portion, however, are training children to become soldiers in a “holy war.”

In targeting the root of this problem, it would be difficult to go after those who run these schools. For them, the ideology is set, their mission seems clear, and if one “school” is destroyed another could easily pop up the next day. Targeting the values of a society would be the alternative. In an article by the Christian Science Monitor, mothers of children recruited for extremism in Pakistan’s South Waziristan express their concerns for their sons. Their placement in society as women of very conservative, traditional families makes their opinion stifled and suppressed. They are afraid to protest the action of family members, but do not agree with them.

Greg Mortenson, the author of Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools, believes that educating women can transform these societies. Not only would education bring greater economic prosperity for their families and communities, it could also help change the currents of extremism that so brutally take hold of these areas. At Barakat, we agree. We believe that the best future for the children of these areas is one of hope, not one of ignorance. In our upcoming printed newsletter we also discuss how important educating boys is. These mothers currently cannot provide a better future for their sons. It may seem hopeless but it doesn’t have to be. Education can be the first step to a brighter future for these little boys and their mothers.

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Educating women undermines extremism!

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Where do you go when you feel hurt, lost, or discriminated against?  You might think to turn to groups that offer you comfort and support.  Community organizations, family, and religious groups are common sources of comfort in times of need.  In places like India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan unfortunately these groups sometimes encourage the use of dangerous measures to improve their situation. Women often face discrimination in South Asia, particularly Pakistan and Afghanistan, simply due to their society’s tradition and culture against female involvement in the public sphere.  This, coupled with the fact that this region has been in a constant state of warfare, create a dangerous and traumatic living situation for women there and, as a result, make them vulnerable targets for extremist groups.   


The majority of women living in South Asia are uneducated and rely almost entirely on religious organizations and religious meetings for support.  Inevitably this becomes their main source of contact with what is going on in the outside world.  Islamic militants have recognized this as an opportunity to recruit more individuals to their cause.  According to a recent article in the Huffington Post, a number of Islamic organizations that specifically target women in these societies have sprouted up because illiterate women who are dependent on their male relatives are widely considered to be easy recruits.  In addition, generally speaking women are not expected to take part in violence and this makes them a valuable resource for groups who seek to carry out surprise violent attacks.  Extremist groups see women as a key to developing the next generation of militants, and extremist groups seek to use their influence to transmit ideas of radicalism and militancy. 


Barakat sees a different role for women.  As transmitters of cultural ideas and practices, they have the biggest impact on the next generation and are able to pass down the importance of education rather than norms of violence and radicalism to their sons and daughters.  Because of the influential role women possess in their societies, communities should empower them to promote peace and economic development to ensure a hopeful future.  This is how the development of South Asia will occur; when education is the message passed down so that future generations will progress with peace building, not violence.


Barakat enables women and children to further their own lives and the lives of future generations. Our schools in these volatile regions are vital now more than ever because they educate women and children, making them less of a target for extremist propaganda.  Educated, empowered women are able to make decisions based on what is best for their family rather than being forced into a life of militancy because they feel that they have no alternative.  Education and literacy provide a sense of hope and empower women to affect their own destinies. A recent article by the Grameen Bank concluded that improving a woman’s economic standing in society increases her sense of self worth and decreases the likelihood that she will fall prey to ideas of extremism and terrorism. According to a recent Newsweek articleempowered entrepreneurial mothers instill a sense of imagination in their children and provide them with a sense of possibility and hope.  This is what we at Barakat want to see as a result of our programs!  Through education, Barakat encourages women with the tools to advance their economic standing, provide for their families and open doors that women would not have access to otherwise.