“Being part of a ʹcommunityʹ transcends everything”

Zahra Nedjabat 12.09.2018
Attending this yearʹs Vienna International Christian University, Algerian extremism researcher Dr. Dalia Ghanem-Yazbeck, resident scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, talked to Zahra Nedjabat about the role of women in jihadism, the roots of violent radicalisation and possible antidotes.

Dr. Yazbeck, this year you taught for the second time at the Vienna International Christian Islamic Summer University (VICISU) in Altenburg, Austria, which aims to bring together students and professors from around the world to study intercultural topics from a range of different academic perspectives. What is the value of such a programme and do you think it can have an impact on the prevention of radicalisation?
Dalia Ghanem-Yazbeck: I do believe that a programme such as the Vienna International Christian-Islamic Summer University(VICISU), which is both a cultural and an artistic programme, can contribute to preventing violent radicalisation and defusing conflict. Meeting and interacting with people from different countries, cultures and religions undoubtedly opens minds, thus having a positive influence on the perceptions that students have of “others”. The “othering” process is central to violent extremism because we create an “other” we believe is deeply different and highly dangerous to the “us”. Cultural initiatives such as the VICISU can have a decisive influence on fostering common interests and mutual understanding.
At this year’s VICISU you are teaching participants from countries such as Afghanistan, Morocco, Egypt, Saudi-Arabia, Lebanon, India, Uganda, Indonesia, Turkey and Pakistan about the role of women in jihadism. Why this topic?
A lesson that still needs to be learned: “a military response is never enough, never satisfactory on its own. Jihadism is above all a social phenomenon. No one is born a terrorist. Consequently, a failure to engage with it on a social level may mean it rears its ugly head again,” says Ghanem-Yazbeck
Ghanem-Yazbeck: Too much attention has been given to men joining jihadist organisations and not enough to their female counterparts. Whatʹs more, the involvement of women has been subject to many cliches – think of the “Jihadi bride”. In my class, I deconstruct these assumptions. The news of Western and Arab women joining Daesh made headlines, as if violence by women was new and unprecedented. Violence by women is not a new phenomenon; women have been active in logistical missions, not to mention in combat roles and suicide bombing attacks, in numerous conflicts.
Women were active during the conflict in Southern Lebanon against the eighteen years of Israeli occupation. They were active in Iraq with al-Qaida and are likely still active in the Palestinian territories. Chechen women, called the ‘black widows’, have carried out several attacks against Russian government forces; the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) also used women to attack the central Turkish government. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka used females to carry out attacks. The course asks what is it that leads women to join a jihadist group like Daesh – what entices women into jihadist violence and how can we understand the phenomenon to counter it better.