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IOHR hosts Women in Extremism: Causes Concerns and Consequence seminar at the University of Rostock

25 September 2018

As right-wing extremists take to the streets of Rostock in north eastern Germany, to drive their anti-immigration agenda, IOHR in partnership with the University of Rostock brought international experts to share their insights on de-radicalization, women who have joined Islamic extremist groups such as ISIS and how to counter both right-wing and Jihadism.

‘Women in Extremism: Causes, concerns and consequences.’ was moderated by world renowned academic expert, Dr Nina Kasehage who has recently published her seminal PhD paper “The current Salafi Scene in Germany- preachers and Adherents.” Nina, based at the department of Religious Studies and Intercultural Theology at the University of Rostock, conducted 175 interviews with Salafi preachers and followers in eight European countries to gain her unique insight into the role of women in extremist circles.

Dr Kasehage presented her in depth research on female IS-returnees and highlighted that the aim of the conference was “to match experts from the field of research with those practitioners working in the field of right-wing extremism and Jihadism.” Kasehage noted that the event was the opportunity “to give deep insights for the audience, members of the University and of the Mecklenburg-Vorpommeria Prevention network. By bringing these two fields together we can identify their differences as well as their similarities.”

Valerie Peay, Director of IOHR opens the conference in Rostock University

Valerie Peay, Director of IOHR opened the conference with a challenge to the audience to engage and forward the debate on the role of women in political and religious extremism. She encouraged the students to join the IOHR #NotBornARadical campaign. ”

The joint chairwomen agreed that the desired outcome from pulling together the knowledge from the different speakers “might help us to forward a policy paper to the authorities in politics in terms of a feministic approach in this area to enact real change.”

Guest speakers (from left to right): Franziska Madmouj, Social Worker, Hanif Qadir Former Al Qaeda Member/CEO Active Change Foundation, Dr Nina Käsehage, University of Rostock, Simon Cornwall, GIRDS, Dr Steffi Bruning University of Rostock, Dr Katherine Brown, University of Birmingham, Valerie Peay, IOHR.

The keynote speaker at the event was Simon Cornwall, Fellow of the German Institute of Radicalization and De-Radicalization Studies (GIRDS). He posed the question “is the rise of right wing violent extremism due to politics, or in response to the opposite jihadist activities?” Drawing on his 40 years of global experience in this field, Cornwall also identified that “women are often over-sentenced in extremism cases – disproportionally punished.” He highlighted that over 100 million euros funding has been granted in Germany this year to fight extremism and yet like the rest of Europe, there are still few standards to monitor success across the very many NGOs engaged in delivering services in this arena.

Dr Steffi Bruning won the Johannes Stelling Award for her work in right-wing extremism in Germany. She described how women have been fundamental in enabling the rise of the right wing in main stream politics in Germany. It is women who have repositioned the stereotype of the brutal neo-Nazi extremists with a more main stream image with publicity that “supports German families”. Bruning described women as being better networkers with the ability to organise effective grassroots movements and mobilise a far greater base to reach political circles. However, they were still expected to even give up their hard-won seats at election time to their male counter parts.

Fransizka Madmouj is a social worker who has been spearheading direct counselling of young women. In her presentation she described how sometimes “women are not in charge of their own bodies” often facing sexism as a response to their more radicalised views. Girls who chose the to wear the Hijab were at time being told that they were just afraid of being seen as fat. She highlighted how recruiters for extremist networks could prey on the insecurities of these young women simply by praising them when families and friends did not. Madmouj described the importance, “that we see women as individuals and not just victims.” She went into depth around some of the cases she has managed, speaking of the sexism that was rife in defining women’s roles which often lead to extremist tendencies.

Dr Katherine Brown, a senior lecturer at Birmingham University, questioned why “ many activities are classified as terrorism that weren’t classified as terrorism in the past.” She described gender mainstreaming and eloquently made the case that policies relating to counter-extremism are not fully grounded in human rights – which, of course includes women’s rights. Brown reminded the audience that women had had a role in founding human rights, including prominent women from the Muslim world. She concluded by emphasising that governments need to be held to account for “bargaining away women rights in the name of security.”

As the final speaker Hanif Qadir, the reformed Al Qaeda reminded the room that when conducting fieldwork researchers should approach subjects with an objective and balanced ethical stance as, “sometimes the strategy of extremists is to lie, to deceive, it’s fake news. What you are being told is often what they want you to hear.” Hanif closed the conference with a call for interfaith dialogue and a collective understanding of the similarities rather than the differences in faiths.

Finally, Nina Kasehage provided a specific reminder of the importance of this topic by sharing an anonymised transcript of one of her interviews with a young radicalised woman. [insert link here to excerpt]

Nina is about to publish her book on Salafismus als transnationale Bewegung am Beispiel von Frauen im Dschihad (Salafism a as transnational movement illustrated by the example of women in Jihad).

The speakers retired to a private workshop session to set the agenda for planning future work together.

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