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Women and Youth are Key to Countering Extremism

“We need to understand why people get radicalized into violent extremism and to provide the
women’s and youth’s perspectives on it,” said to Komuniti Muslim Universal Malaysia founder
and country director Aizat Samsuddin.

The key to effectively countering terrorism lies in focusing on everyday realities of women and
youth during the preceding stages of fundamentalism and extremism, instead of on state-level
punitive approaches to identified terrorists, said Aizat.

Definitions of violent extremism or terrorism are highly politicized and are determined by
political and religious actors, thus ignoring the platforms from which these individuals spring,
said Aizat.

He noted the hijacking of mainly three vulnerabilities of poverty, family problems, and youth
angst and rebelliousness that make them open to embrace a strong politico-religious ideologies
offered by the likes of Jemaah Islamiah, and the Islamic State, so they may achieve their anti-
establishment and life-fulfilling ideals.

“Women are also both targets and perpetrators of violent extremism. For women it means
embracing the framework of patriarchy, to be subservient to their husbands and fulfill their
roles,” fuelling further the subordination of women via the “tyranny of patriarchy”, by limiting
their workplace effectiveness, by confining them to the household, and by buying and trading
them as commodities and sex slaves.

On this, Aizat calls for collaboration on the collection of data to study the attitude and mindsets
of youth, to ascertain the reasons for increasing conservatism. Aizat was part of a panel on the
Regional Youth Caucus Meeting titled ‘Youth Setting and Leading the Agenda in Countering
Extremism Within the Context of Women’s Rights’, in Kuala Lumpur.

The “tyranny of patriarchy” as a trap is also prevalent in Indonesia, where transgender men are
pressured to exhibit patriarchal and masculine behaviours and perspectives, and who are
looked upon suspiciously should they openly fight to protect women’s rights.

Should that suspicion be investigated further, they may even face physical persecution and
public humiliation, according to another panelist Amar Alfikar, a Muslim youth transman living
in Indonesia who is regularly shunned by mosques and who seeks a different mosque each
week to perform the obligatory Friday Jumaah prayers.

“I challenge the community to move from patriarchal trends to perspectives of equality, to be
more respectful to women, and to think of gender equality through classical texts like the many
hadiths,” said Amar, who is the vice-principal of Islamic boarding school Nurul Hidayah.

A similar phenomenon exists in Singapore albeit covertly, with a rise in indirect Islamophobia,
societal policing of women’s dress, and more such examples, said researcher from Singapore
Nurshirah Tabrani.

Elements of progress such as female azatisas, who are in prime position to counter radical
ideology, are concealed by how much they too reproduce patriarchal structures rather than
challenge interpretations of Islam that support patriarchy.

“There are a lack of Muslim student bodies within universities that engage with gender and
sexuality discourses. There is a need to understand the intersectionality of gender issues and
the multiple structures that work together to harm women,” said Nurshirah.

While she also advocates for the youth to be main agents of change, Nurshirah cautions that
“youth activist groups must not allow Western ideals to dictate their work, but focus on
sustainability, not palliative solutions”.