Back from the Brink

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by Jennifer Crumpton

SEAL raids in Somalia, the Westgate Mall siege in Nairobi, church burnings in Egypt. From the Benghazi attacks to the murder of Sikhs in a Wisconsin temple, what modern issue affects the global family of humanity more than the rise of violent extremism and the roots and outlets of its ideologies? Since 9/11, we are all too familiar with these types of stories generating headlines, seemingly without end. After the Boston Marathon bombing, Americans are asking once again, what can we do to prevent it?

As tempting as it is to simply ascribe such ideologies to the consequence of crazed religious fervor, Muslim, Jewish and Christian majorities alike will point out that perpetrators of violence are not being true to the peace-seeking, life-affirming heart of those traditions. Rather, when conflict is piqued by a real or perceived threat to the status of a cultural, religious or political identity, elements of the tradition are twisted into an excuse for violent retaliation.

Yet underlying the ideological motivation, there is a also a practical problem that spurs unrest and leads to violence. Chelsea Clinton recently spoke to CNN’s Piers Morgan¬†about the organization she co-founded at New York University called the Of Many Institute for Multi-Faith Leadership, a program concentrating on multi-faith education for students who will make a career of reaching across religious lines and working together to solve social problems. Clinton referenced one of the biggest factors in the rise of militant terror groups in society: the large numbers of unemployed young men, a status that makes them vulnerable to radicalization. She argued that collectively investing in the education and future of youth around the world is key to mitigating extremism.

And laying a multi-faith foundation for such an effort is crucial. As ICRD has advocated since its inception in 1999, religious leaders and institutions can play a major role in building trust and overcoming differences in areas of conflict and unrest. A strategy of capitalizing on commonly-held religious values to bridge differences between adversaries and to promote peace, justice and human rights has proven successful in ICRD’s work, from inspiring curriculum reform in the madrasas of Pakistan and the public schools of Saudi Arabia, to freeing missionaries held hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan, to facilitating the social reintegration of former guerrilla combatants in Colombia.

Considering that 85% of the world’s population derives its sense of purpose and reason for being from religion, it is not so shocking that new understandings and solutions can be reached when common principles of faith – peace, justice, love of neighbor – are utilized to open the doors to reconciliation, improve education, encourage critical thinking and provide spiritual support for disenfranchised youth. We are grateful to make a difference in this way, and thrilled to see organizations like the Of Many Institute make their debuts on the world stage.

Consistent with the rationale for that Institute’s creation, ICRD recently produced a documentary called Back from the Brink: Combating Violent Extremism which addresses this phenomenon. The film highlights three diverse communities around the world and looks closely at why many of their often under-employed and under-educated youth resort to violence. It then explores how indigenous, commonly-held religious values have been used to reconcile these communities. Keep an eye out for information about a possible future screening of the film in Washington, D.C. In the meantime, you can download and¬†view the trailer here.

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