Reintegration of Combatants in Colombia

Colombia has suffered a century of extreme violence, which has left profound scars of mistrust, retribution, and social marginalization. In this climate, ICRD has been working to integrate a framework for social reconciliation into the efforts of the Government of Colombia’s Agencia para la Reincorporación y Normalización (ARN) to improve the sustainable reintegration of former combatants into society and reduce the driving factors for recruitment into criminal activity. The framework has been based on input from local faith leaders, from Indigenous faith leaders to Evangelical Christian pastors, on the shared values underpinning reconciliation. To date, ICRD has trained over 50 female religious peacemakers in conflict analysis and reconciliation practices who, in turn, have trained 300 more advocates for reconciliation in eight conflict-impacted regions. ICRD has also hosted dozens of local community workshops with faith leaders – from the diversity of religious practices in Colombia – and government leaders in three pilot regions, focusing on pluralist peacemaking and reconciliation, and launched locally-designed pilot engagements on reconciliation with communities and reintegrating combatants.

 

ICRD’s next step in this project is to conduct reconciliation between demobilized fighters and victims of violence, and pair them together to conduct reconciliation activities in communities slated to receive large numbers of former combatants. Finally, the generation of new employment opportunities will greatly increase social acceptance and facilitate the disengagement of former fighters from criminality and conflict.

Religious Tolerance in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

On behalf of the U.S. State Department, ICRD began a program in 2011 to monitor and support the efforts made by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to remove the inflammatory content from their national curriculum. Our initial review of the 2012 curriculum was the most comprehensive evaluation conducted to date and established a baseline to measure future improvement. Our findings confirmed that the Kingdom has made laudable progress toward reform, but that much remains to be done to fully complete the task. A second, thorough review of the high school curriculum is currently underway to assess the reforms made to the textbook content thus far and to make real-time recommendations to inform reform efforts that are ongoing in the Kingdom.

 

In 2017, President Emeritus Dr. Douglas Johnston testified before the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Non-proliferation and Trade on the status of Saudi educational reform efforts. Click here to view the testimony.

Global Impact of Saudi Textbooks

In 2012, ICRD conducted an assessment of the extent to which Saudi Arabian textbooks and educational materials have been disseminated to various countries around the world, the findings of which were presented to U.S. and Saudi stakeholders with the hope of informing cooperation on education reform. Through this assessment, ICRD sought to determine not only where these materials were being sent, but also how they have affected the surrounding communities. Building on this initial study, ICRD is currently conducting an in-depth analysis of three focus countries – Spain, Indonesia, and Tunisia – that are each emblematic of the way in which Saudi education materials have been distributed in various regions of the world. This study will inform ICRD’s ongoing diplomatic engagement with U.S. and Saudi officials.

Religious and Civil Society Collaboration in CVE

To support the international effort to deter youth from joining groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda, ICRD is collaborating with US and transnational organizations to create a replicable and transferable model for training religious and civil society actors to lead community-based CVE programs. In the summer of 2017, this model was piloted in North Africa, with a select group of 16 civil society actors – religious scholars, youth activists, and women religious actors – from communities with a demonstrated risk of recruitment to extremist groups. Participants were trained on international best practices in analyzing the drivers of extremism in their community, developing targeted programming, and utilizing a range of relevant community-engagement skills. Based on this training, participants have developed their own local projects, which will serve as an example for replicating this model in many other contexts.

Integrating Conservative Religious Actors into CVE

In light of the growing threat of violent religious extremism in the Middle East and North Africa region, ICRD has been exploring innovative strategies to counter the appeal of Jihadi-Salafi groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda. Specifically, ICRD aims to critically examine the constructive role that might played by conservative religious actors – who often possess unique influence with and access to those at-risk of radicalization. Drawing on field research with Salafi and other conservative religious actors (imams, religious students, and educators), ICRD has been developing recommendations for national and international policymakers and practitioners on how to more effectively integrate a range of religious actors and institutions into future initiatives.

In Morocco, ICRD is currently in the process of gathering data from a range of religious actors (including Salafis, Islamists, and others) from across the country, in partnership with a team of local researchers. The findings of this study will be released by the summer of 2018.

Pakistani Women Countering Violent Extremism

Recognizing the crucial role women play in both reducing and fueling violent extremism around the world, ICRD has developed a network of Pakistani female civil society leaders and religious educators from girls’ madrasas (religious schools) who are working to implement countering violent extremism (CVE) initiatives in their communities. Through this project, ICRD has trained four teams of women (in addition to some male counterparts) on CVE tools and practices to enable them to design and implement local initiatives in four cities across the country, which have reached over 2,500 individuals to date. This effort has not only empowered these women to increase their role in the community, it has fostered collaborative relationships between religious and nonreligious leaders and connected Pakistani participants with mentors and partners in the U.S., establishing the groundwork for an international network.

Local Counter-Narratives to Sectarian Violence in Pakistan

Beginning in 2015, ICRD has been working with a network of Pakistani religious actors from across all major Islamic sects to develop a locally-informed response to the pervasive sectarian prejudice that has divided Pakistani society and fueled numerous extremist movements. Working in concert with indigenous partners, ICRD brought together prominent religious stakeholders from the Deobandi, Ahl-e-Hadith (Salafi), Barelvi, and Shi’a communities, who collaboratively designed a Narrative of Sectarian Reconciliation that identifies and refutes the most prevalent and divisive beliefs about other sects. To build support for that shared narrative at the community level, and to foster inter-sect tolerance, ICRD has trained and mobilized local religious leaders representing each sect. These advocates have written numerous articles and conducted dozens of local programs to disseminate this unified message of inter-sect harmony in major cities in Punjab, Sindh, and KPK. Their efforts are supported by inter-sect groups of respected religious leaders who can mobilize rapidly, as needed, to address flashpoints of sectarian conflict.

Integrating Conservative Religious Actors into CVE

In light of the growing threat of violent religious extremism in the Middle East and North Africa region, ICRD has been exploring innovative strategies to counter the appeal of Jihadi-Salafi groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda. Specifically, ICRD aims to critically examine the constructive role that might played by conservative religious actors – who often possess unique influence with and access to those at-risk of radicalization. Drawing on field research with Salafi and other conservative religious actors (imams, religious students, and educators), ICRD has been developing recommendations for national and international policymakers and practitioners on how to more effectively integrate a range of religious actors and institutions into future initiatives.

In Pakistan, ICRD implemented a pilot research study with input from over 40 scholars, civil society activists, and conservative religious actors. ICRD’s 2016 report, Countering Violent Religious Extremism in Pakistan, summarizes the myriad of CVE strategies that have been employed or promoted in recent years, and provides guidance for enhancing engagement with a full spectrum of religious actors.

Global Impact of Saudi Textbooks

In 2012, ICRD conducted an assessment of the extent to which Saudi Arabian textbooks and educational materials have been disseminated to various countries around the world, the findings of which were presented to U.S. and Saudi stakeholders with the hope of informing cooperation on education reform. Through this assessment, ICRD sought to determine not only where these materials were being sent, but also how they have affected the surrounding communities. Building on this initial study, ICRD is currently conducting an in-depth analysis of three focus countries – Spain, Indonesia, and Tunisia – that are each emblematic of the way in which Saudi education materials have been distributed in various regions of the world. This study will inform ICRD’s ongoing diplomatic engagement with U.S. and Saudi officials.

Integrating Conservative Religious Actors into CVE

In light of the growing threat of violent religious extremism in the Middle East and North Africa region, ICRD has been exploring innovative strategies to counter the appeal of Jihadi-Salafi groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda. Specifically, ICRD aims to critically examine the constructive role that might played by conservative religious actors – who often possess unique influence with and access to those at-risk of radicalization. Drawing on field research with Salafi and other conservative religious actors (imams, religious students, and educators), ICRD has been developing recommendations for national and international policymakers and practitioners on how to more effectively integrate a range of religious actors and institutions into future initiatives.

In Tunisia, ICRD gathered the perspectives of 139 fundamentalist religious actors and nearly 50 government and civil society experts from Tunis (Ettadhamen and Djebel Lahmar), Sousse, Bizerte, Kasserine, and Ben Gardane. The findings of this research are summarized in the ICRD report Reimagining the Religious Sector, which explores the challenge of strengthening religious alternatives to Jihadi-Salafism.

Religious Prejudice in the US and Pakistan

In 2014, ICRD convened a meeting of conservative Muslims and Christians from Pakistan and the U.S. – groups that are widely thought to have fundamentally irreconcilable worldviews – to form the Interfaith Leadership Network (ILN). The purpose of this network was to provide a space for both groups to explore the factors that contribute to religious prejudice and fuel violent extremism in their respective countries. As a result of this exchange, the ILN members have formed an enduring coalition that has launched various projects to address xenophobia and protect religious minorities.

Islamophobia in the U.S.

To address the rising trend of religious intolerance at home and build on the establishment of an Interfaith Leadership Network comprised of Pakistani and American faith leaders, ICRD held a “Conference to Combat Islamophobia” in 2015. From this event, 40 prominent US Evangelical pastors emerged with a greater understanding of the prejudices faced by American Muslims and an enhanced commitment to act to promote tolerance and respect for all religious minorities. These include strategies for countering anti-Muslim sentiment, which are now being implemented in a number of communities. The participants’ presentations on various aspects of Islamophobia were published in special editions of the Dialogue Institute’s Journal of Ecumenical Studies and Fuller Seminary’s Interfaith Evangelical Dialogue. ICRD is currently exploring opportunities to launch the next stage of this program that will integrate effective methods for countering religious hostility into the training of clergy at seminaries and universities in the U.S.

Countering Violent Extremism and Addressing Local Conflict in Yemen

In 2014, the government of Yemen collapsed under the strain of intense internal conflict, which provoked a regional military response, a massive humanitarian crisis, and widespread community instability. In the midst of this challenging environment, ICRD has been working with various local partners, including Partners Yemen and the Dar Al-Salaam Organization, as well as the U.S. Institute of Peace, to strengthen the capacity of religious and civil society actors to resolve local conflicts and counter violent extremism. ICRD’s approach includes the training of local trainers, facilitation of local dialogues, and locally-driven community projects. By enhancing the capacity of conflict resolution practitioners, this project aims to reduce the operating space and influence of extremist groups such as Al Qaeda, who purport to establish law and order. Building on the lessons learned from these trainings, participants have gone on to develop and implement a number of initiatives that address the drivers of violence and extremism at the community level.

ICRD’s 2017 publication, Empowering Yemeni Peacebuilders: The Intersection of Conflict Resolution and CVE, offers a systematic overview of that methodology with personal reflections from those impacted by the work on the ground. ICRD is currently working to expand this program to engage additional religious leaders and civil society partners throughout the country.

Yemen’s Marginalized South

Following the overthrow of a long-standing dictatorship in 2011, the Yemeni government began a delicate political transition. The process failed to overcome challenges with certain political interest groups, leading to a spiral of violence that has left the country in chaos. In an effort to understand how this transition could have been conducted more effectively and inclusively in order to inform future efforts, ICRD began a study of Yemen’s southern governorates, which have been the site of multiple political and religious insurgencies. In 2014, in partnership with local researchers, ICRD conducted surveys with over 400 southerners to assess their attitudes toward Yemen’s 2013 National Dialogue Conference, in addition to various aspects of the political transition and prospects for future stability.

The findings of this study – along with recommendations for ensuring a more inclusive transition process in the future – were published in a 2016 report, titled A Fractured South: Addressing Separatism and Other Challenges Amidst Yemen’s Political Tumult. Drawing on these recommendations, ICRD has developed a program to strengthen the political inclusion of Yemeni communities and to facilitate reconciliation between divided factions.

Integrating Conservative Religious Actors into CVE

In light of the growing threat of violent religious extremism in the Middle East and North Africa region, ICRD has been exploring innovative strategies to counter the appeal of Jihadi-Salafi groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda. Specifically, ICRD aims to critically examine the constructive role that might played by conservative religious actors – who often possess unique influence with and access to those at-risk of radicalization. Drawing on field research with Salafi and other conservative religious actors (imams, religious students, and educators), ICRD has been developing recommendations for national and international policymakers and practitioners on how to more effectively integrate a range of religious actors and institutions into future initiatives.

In Yemen, ICRD engaged more than 200 religious and civil actors from Sana’a, Aden, Abyan, Taiz, Lahj, and Hadramaut. This study highlights the important role of community actors in CVE, even in the midst of violent conflict. The findings can be found in ICRD’s report, Addressing Jihadi-Salafism in Yemen.

US-Iranian Inter-religious Delegation (Completed Program)

Over a four-year period between 2003 and 2007, ICRD embarked on a number of multi-track diplomatic initiatives between US and Iranian religious and civil society actors and policymakers. These included: cultural visits and exchanges; informal dialogues on Capitol Hill; a conference in Rome of American, Iranian, and Norwegian scholars; and a personal exchange between ICRD’s then-President Dr. Douglas Johnston and then-Iranian President Ahmadinejad regarding a proposed ‘peace game’ for selected political, academic, and religious leaders from each country.

ICRD is currently exploring new ways to keep open informal channels for constructive dialogue with Iranians, with an eye toward issues concerning religious tolerance and freedom.

Religious Education in Pakistan (Completed Program)

Since 2004, ICRD has engaged teachers and faculty from over 5000 Pakistani madrasas (religious schools) in teacher training programs that promote the enhancement of pedagogy and curricula, with an emphasis on religious tolerance, human rights, and critical thinking. To meet the growing demand for this program, ICRD successfully transferred ownership to a local organization, which we continue to support. In local hands, the program has continued to grow and recently achieved two significant milestones: (1) the development and implementation of teacher training certificate programs for madrasa teachers at several prestigious universities in Pakistan and (2) the development of new resources for teaching peacebuilding and conflict resolution, based on Islamic principles, which have been used in newly established Teacher Training Centers.

Faith-Based Reconciliation in Syria (Completed Program)

ICRD conducted faith-based reconciliation seminars for prominent civil society leaders from tribal Arab, Kurdish, Alawite, Syriac Christian, Shi’a and other Sunni communities aligned with the Syrian opposition. This program promoted peaceful coexistence among local communities, even in the midst of the national civil war, and prepared communities for rebuilding a future Syria. This led to the creation of a social contract in which community members committed to promoting inter-group reconciliation, collaborative problem-solving, and civil society empowerment. ICRD hopes to continue with this effort as future circumstances permit.

Sudan Inter-religious Council (Completed Program)

In 2005, political leaders signed a peace agreement which brought to a close the 21-year civil war between the North and the South of Sudan that cost more than two million lives and displaced four million from their homes.

Two years earlier, thanks to extraordinary indigenous leadership on both sides of the conflict, ICRD helped to establish the Sudan Inter-religious Council (SIRC) consisting of representatives of both the Islamic north and Christian/African Traditionalist south. The SIRC was instrumental in paving the way for the peace process, and mobilizing Muslim and Christian religious leaders on a regional basis to work together in support of the agreement.