The transnational challenge of terrorism and violent extremist narratives

AAYLF delegate from Australia Monika Istanto explores terrorism and violent extremist narratives within the ASEAN-Australia region.

Back in 2018, a series of terrorist attack killed 28 people and left dozens more injured in Surabaya. The bombings were carried out by three separate families who seemed to lead a healthy life. The events left a worrying observation that violent extremism groups have modified both their strategies and patterns of attack into smaller units involving women and children. Exposure to radicalizers within their households poses a significant risk for the young and the clueless. 

Terrorism and violent violent extremist narratives are experienced differently by women and men. While it can be noted that men play a bigger role in terrorist acts, this fails to understand the extent of women’s roles in violent groups and the impact of gender dynamics represents a current gap in addressing this issue. Violent extremism is a complex phenomenon that the stakeholders need a thorough understanding to combat comprehensively. 

Recognizing the role of family in combating terrorism, mainstreaming gender perspective across efforts to prevent terrorism has become an urgent matter. The Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) found that women are well-positioned to detect impending violence as their rights are typically the first to be attacked by violent, extremist ideologies. Furthermore, women’s central role in caregiving, places them in an excellent position to recognize unusual patterns of behavior in the community. 

Combating terrorism and violent extremist narratives could be leveraged through capitalizing on women’s roles in the community. Equipping women with the skills to recognize signs of use of violent extremist narratives in their households would be a good start to curb the risks to children and youth in the early stages. Involving them with fellow women to create a community-driven effort to counter terrorism will create a trickle-down effect because they are able to share their experiences and learn from one another. Other than that, women-focused organizations are not only well placed to monitor shifts towards extremism in local communities, but supporting them promotes gender equality and women’s roles in society. 

Movements at a grassroots level are not enough to support women in the fight against violent extremist narratives. There is an urgent need to involve women and take into account their experience to get the whole picture of extremism narrative in the community. The common failure of stereotyping gender roles in terrorist acts could cause inefficient policy making and lead the efforts down the wrong path. Involving more women in policy making and leadership position could create respectful partnership between women’s groups and policymakers. Furthermore, women in leadership may attest to the role that religious counter-discourses play, that are not otherwise identified or accessible to governments. 

Based on ASEAN statistics, more than 4 million people from Australia travelled to ASEAN countries each year from 2012-2017, whereas around 1.5 million people from ASEAN made trips to Australia. Globalization of travel and information transfer, which increases the salience of economic disparities and ideological competition, facilitates the ability of far-flung but like-minded collaborators to undertake harmful activities. Recognizing the evolving risks of violent extremism, the urgency to have multinational cooperation on countering terrorism has never been higher. Terrorism is a transnational challenge which is not restricted to any nationality, ethnicity, religion, ideology, or gender. As the barrier that separates each country is blurring, it should be in everyone’s interest to create a safe and peaceful community for Australia and ASEAN through above measures.

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