Countering Violent Extremism through Love and Tolerance

Maryam Lemu


Channel: Maryam Lemu

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This is Maryam lemo, I was asked to give a talk recently on countering violent extremism through love and tolerance. Now this is not my area of strength. In fact, I remember when I was invited, I told them, you've got the wrong label. My brother nuru is the expert in this topic. And he patiently painstakingly helped me understand this very, very complex topic. And then my husband and another good friend, Mr. Former school would also give me more insight in this topic. So I've got to give credit where it's due. And I also have my notes because I've now got all this stuff in my head. So first, I'm not an expert in this topic, neither am I a scholar, I'm actually a student. So with all

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humility, permit me to share the little I have learned from a layman's perspective. Now I shall be sharing four things with you. But first, let us recognize the complexity of the topic, love and tolerance with all the multiple interested voices we have in Nigeria, those interested in keeping us together, and those interested in dividing us. And yes, we cannot pretend that we do not know we have people in our midst who are trying to divide us camouflaging in the name of religion or anything else. And yes, love and tolerance are very, very important ingredients for peace. However, they are not sufficient, I can forgive you, my enemy for all you have done and learn to love you.

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However, if my enemy continues to inflict pain on me, it becomes very hard for me to keep turning the other cheek forgiving, and loving. It's no longer fair for me not to bring justice in justice is critical for long term peace, the rule of law is critical for long term peace. If you do not care about justice, then your love is fake. And then love has to be guided by knowledge, otherwise, it is blind. Some they are so head over heels in love, they are blind to the flaws of the person they're in love with. So for some people, their love for a particular thing or particular cause is so strong that they no longer see the negative in that particular thing they're in love with. And then

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tolerance is good. But we should have a zero tolerance to certain things like corruption, bigotry, xenophobia, and so on. And it's not good enough to just say I'm tolerating you, or I'm managing you as a Muslim, or a Christian or a non indigent in Nigeria, but I respect your rights that you are a full Nigerian just as much as I am. Sadly, many who really care don't seem united with those on the other side, who also really care. And then there are those who do not want peace. And it forces you to ask who thrived during the crisis, who raised the most funds from this narrative? Otherwise, why is it that they are not interested in peace for their own people and their own country, but that's a

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discussion for a different day. Having said that, let's look at the unique situation we have here in Nigeria. Currently, we have three major forms of violent extremism, conflict between herdsmen and arable farmers, between indigenous and settlers. And between Boko Haram, violent extremists, and others. And then in between, we've seen a rise in kidnappings, gang violence and so on. My brother broke it down for me with a metaphor that just made sense. He said violent extremism are like potholes. They look similar everywhere around the world, they seem very simple. From a distance. However, as you get closer, they start to get complicated. So it's easy to conclude that they have

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the same causes and the same solutions. Not true. potholes, yes, do similar damage to vehicles. And yes, if you leave them, they continue to expand. But you don't conclude that because Yours looks similar to mine, that they are the same, the causes may be very different, and the solutions will most likely be quite different. We cannot conclude that because people are being killed here and there. And people are fleeing for their lives and are being displaced here and there. And places of worship are being razed to the ground here and there, that the causes are the same. The things that may have caused your potholes may be quite different from those that caused mine. Yours may have

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been caused by the excessive weight of vehicles that are going on it or underlying soil, whereas mine may have been caused by poor quality asphalt, poor workmanship or corruption related issues. And there's over there may have been caused by excessive heat and in other countries, excessive cold or frost. One thing we do know about potholes, though, is that if you leave them they continue to expand, they get worse. So you cannot say that you're not going to do anything about violent extremism, otherwise it will engulf a society. And due to the complexity of the problem, what we find is that there is a strong need for the leadership to be very careful in its diagnosis.

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Otherwise, wrong diagnosis will lead to wrong prescription. This creates opportunities for opportunities to come in and exploit which in turn delays the suffering of the victims. So the first point is proper diagnosis.

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for proper prescription, and that leads me to my second point that we need to recognize that yes, we have prejudice. We have hate speech people, we have bigots. We have radicals and fundamentalists, and people who are extremists from all sides of the divides. But let us also recognize that while religious scholars have a role to play in countering their own heretics, their own bigots and extremists, and the ideologies behind their beliefs, very often we find that ideology alone does not produce a movement. ideology alone does not produce violent extremism, ideology needs grievances in order to mobilize people. This brings me to the second metaphor that my brother shared with me, and

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that is one of a ship, that society is like a ship, with the upper deck and the lower deck, and those in the upper deck of the leadership and the elite in society. And those in the lower deck are the common folks and the masses. If the people in the upper deck do not listen to the cries, do not meet the grievances of those in the lower deck and their basic fundamental needs and rights. Often what they say is, that's not our problem. that's their problem. Sadly, the people in the lower deck try to find solutions to their own problems. And unfortunately, some of those solutions end up being detrimental to society. When looking for water, and they can't get those in the upper deck to pass

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it to them. What do they do, they simply drill a hole at the bottom of the ship, then it becomes everybody's problem. And now they can't say it's their problem, it becomes our problem. Like I said, ideology without grievances, does not mobilize people does not produce a movement. ideology without grievances does not produce violent extremism. grievances are what ignites the fire. It is when folks feel violated when they feel oppressed, cheated, betrayed or hurt, that they go the violent way. Nelson Mandela said during his trial, that it would be wrong and unrealistic for African leaders to continue preaching peace and non violence. At a time when the government met our peaceful

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demands with force. It is only when all else had failed, when all channels of peaceful protests had been bad to us that the decision was made to embark on violent forms of political struggle. Imagine a peace loving person like Nelson Mandela saying this. Now this is no justification for violence do not get me wrong. However, there is a strong need for the government to consider realistic alternatives to violence in addressing human rights abuses and other real or perceived grievances. The famous Islamic scholar called Sheikh Abdullah bin Baya said in our approaches to removing in justices we should not create further in justices. So let us recognize that if we do not respect the

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rights of citizens, if basic needs are not met, and essential services, there will come a time where there will be another grievance, where another charismatic leader will come along, regardless of the faith they may belong to who will sink the ship for innocent people. And that brings me to my third point, the need for peace building, Peace Studies, bridge building and interfaith dialogue, opportunities where people get to share knowledge with key players, and the different pieces of the puzzle required for peace are discussed. So what is critical is community leaders, Christian and Muslim leaders at the grassroot level, have bridge building going on. Why? Because if the conflict

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is a tribal issue, they are the peace brokers, if it's a religious issue, they can intervene. And if it's an indigenous settler problem, well, they at the local level and the best position to diagnosis and if those benefiting from the crisis, those stoking the flames of discord are those in the upper deck? Well, the people in the lower deck appreciate the value of peaceful coexistence and will not take the bait. Usually, it's we in the upper deck talking on their behalf, unfortunately, misrepresenting and Miss diagnosing them that prolong the suffering of the innocent. There are two Maxim's of inclusivity that I want to share with you. The first is nothing about us without us. So

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nothing about women without women, nothing about the youth without the youth, in this case, nothing about conflict in local communities, without equal representation from all parties of those communities concerned. Otherwise, we simply go with our pre existing stereotypes, and we end up wrongly judging and wrongly prescribing. No correct doctor would prescribe drugs to a patient they have not seen. Why, because symptoms may sound similar, but some other visible signs may be missing until they see the patient. So the second Maxim of inclusivity is think local, act local. Yes, I know we've all been taught to think global act local. However, in this case, think local, act local.

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Why? Because some of these communities have never spoken to one another.

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Because it's a majority minority problem, it's tribal issues and sentiments, and each side is doing their own thing until something goes wrong. If religious and community leaders are the most experienced, then we need to look at effective bridge building methods. Let's look closely at what a solid well built bridge requires. First, it needs a solid foundation from all sides. That means communities. Both Muslims and Christians in the context of inter religious dialogue have to be on board. The Christians need to sincerely agree that they want to bridge the Muslims need to sincerely agree that they want to bridge the bridge must be owned by both parties. Also, you cannot be

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building bridges from one site to another, they have to come and meet in the middle. Otherwise, it will break they have to both meet each other halfway. Otherwise, there'll be no trust and no cooperation. So the bridge is built at the speed of trust. The other thing needed to build a solid bridge are competent engineers, some of the anger at the local level is too hot for them to handle themselves. Without sentiments. Too much damage has already been done by both sides most likely, there needs to be outside mediators that come in to facilitate peace. This is where some of those in the upper deck can play a role in better mediation, in teaching better conflict management, in

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better conflict transformation in better trauma, victim management, and better conflict resolution skills. Something important that has to be made clear is that when it comes to promoting peaceful coexistence, religious leaders have their limits. Traditional rulers have a role. Politicians have their roles. Some government agencies have their roles. The judiciary has a role to play, there has to be rule of law, and there has to be justice. Law enforcement agencies have a role to play. So it can't just be religious leaders alone building the bridge, they need support, or other stakeholders needed for peace need similar training and orientation. And then you can't have people building

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bridges in the daytime, while they're dismantling them at night. people involved in interfaith dialogue have to be very, very careful with what they say elsewhere. You can't be preaching peace in one forum, and preaching hate in the pulpit, otherwise, that bridge will never get built. Why? Because there's no trust. So the need for protection of the bridge is extremely important. Yes, we have our hate speech people. We have those in our communities who do not want peace. In fact, they want violence, we need to use respected members of the community, who will help calm them down and get them to appreciate the need for that bridge. Otherwise, you in your community will be building

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bridges, while others in your community will be burning bridges. If you are not careful, they will look at you the bridge builder as a traitor. Why? Because they never bought into the need for that bridge in the first place. So you have to be able to convince them that there are realistic alternatives to dealing with grievances other than going the violent way. And then lastly, on this point, there is a strong need for bridge building and peace education, especially for our young ones that need to start teaching peaceful coexistence from a curriculum level in our education system. Why? Because we realize that when you look at other countries who are more economically stable than

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we are, who have more political stability, who have a higher standard of education than we do, that these factors did not protect their communities from prejudice or violence. It is not true that the elite and the educated are the most objective, we find amongst the well to do the highly educated that they are as bigoted as bigotry comes. And we have to ask what went wrong with their education system, that it seems not to have immunized them against such sentiments. So we need to ensure that there are Peace Studies incorporated into the curriculum from the primary level all the way up to the tertiary institutions. And that proper TTC is done for those who are going to teach it. And that

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leads me to my fourth and final point. If every Christian would be more Jesus, like May God be pleased with him, we wouldn't be having these problems. And if every Muslim would be more like Mohammed, may Allah be pleased with him, we would not be having these problems. And so the need to look at our religious instructions, how much peace from a religious perspective, are we teaching our younger ones from home, in our neighborhoods, communities, and in school? As a mother and a wife in Africa? permit me to use the metaphor of cooking. If from a very young age I teach my son the art of cooking, I teach him what spices go with what and one day I tell him years later that there's a new

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dish I want to teach him so I tell him chop the onions he does fry them. Then I say add the pepper and the tomato no problem at the ice cream he says what ice cream? And then I was like oh no, no, no, nevermind. Add the curry he does. Then I say add coffee. At this time he's going to question my cooking abilities. I wonder if mama really knows how to cook. Now one thing my son knows for sure. Is that as nice as ice cream may be by itself.

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And as delicious as a cup of coffee may be, it does not go with that dish. However, if from a young age, I teach my son how to cook, and this time around, I tell him at the onions, at the tomatoes at the coffee, and he questions me the coffee and I say yes, edit and you know, as an African mom, that's how I would speak. And he adds it. Later on, I tell him at a spoon of Fanta and he does. The moment my son starts to accept things in an unquestioning way. Later on, when I tell him at the sand at the pebbles, he will do it without questioning me sadly, because he's become a blind follower. So let me put it this way. If I keep teaching my son love, justice, forgiveness, love, justice,

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forgiveness, the moment somebody tries to say to him, cruelty, vengeance, hatred, killing, he knows very well that there is something wrong with that. Many of our young people these days are being taught to hate from a very young age, instead of messages of peace from our faith, we confuse them with messages of violence, battles, messages of war. Now, I'm not saying remove these from the pages of history. Please don't get me wrong, but we need to keep them in context and emphasize the peaceful part of our religions. For example, many from the young generation do not know that all the battles fought during the time of the Prophet were defensive battles. It is when our kids have been

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immunized with values and principles of peaceful coexistence, justice, that when a half big scholar, preacher, teacher, politician or Group with extremist ideologies come along preaching hate that they are able to detect that this is not my religion, however, neither is it theirs, and they are courageous enough to question or challenge them, but most importantly, they will not fall prey. What we need is intellectual vaccination and spiritual immunisation, so that the innocent can differentiate between humane and destructive interpretations of the religion. It is in good caring Christians and good caring Muslims that the skills may be tipped from the direction it's heading

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today, where Muslims who do not care, and Christians who do not care who agitate each other, and drill a hole in our ship, and then we all suffer by just keeping quiet or doing nothing. There's a beautiful quote by Edmund Burke, where he said, all that is required for the triumph of evil is for good men to remain silent. The suggestion is, can we in addition to the compulsory subjects our children have to take in school at peace building from a religious perspective into the curriculum as well. I'm making this suggestion because I've seen this done successfully. Now we have a faith based school New Horizons college Amina, and we've run the school for 25 years. But our learners do

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not graduate without going through our TTC program in interfaith dialogue, comparative religion, conflict resolution misconceptions about Islam and immunizing them against atheism and radicalization. It is a TTC course, because it is our hope that when they go out there, they not only go immunized, but they will change any narrative that goes contrary to the true teachings of the faith. So back to my point, can we start deliberately teaching peace building from a religious perspective in the curriculum as well as at home, where for Muslims the heroes we call prophets are messengers like Mohammed, Jesus, Joseph, Moses, Noah, may Allah be pleased with them all. And they

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are companions. In other words, those who witnessed firsthand how those messengers practice what God wanted us to do on this earth heroes we respect we highlight their examples and messages of peaceful coexistence, equity, justice, love and tolerance. In the Quran, Allah says, We have created you male and female, and have made you into races and tribes so that you may know one another, not so that you may hate one another or kill one another. It is from the education I was given, and the teachings of my parents that I grew up knowing that hate speech and violence does not go with my religion. However, it does not go with Christianity either. We have many stories in Islamic heritage

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as we have in Christian heritage of legacies of peacebuilding. Some of those shared with me from a very young age were those of the Prophet trusting the lives of Muslim refugees of persecution into the hands of an Abyssinian king in modern day Ethiopia. Now I am not a scholar of Christianity, but from the little I was taught, there are many stories of peace. And I know Christians refer to Jesus as the Prince of Peace. We have many common statements in both the Koran and in the Bible, that what many would want us to believe one that my father told us throughout our lives was written evil with that which is good. And you will see that he between whom and you there was animosity shall become

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as you were devout friends, and this is from Surah, two facilite chapter 41 verse 34, in efficients, chapter four verse 26, it says, in your anger, do not sin and do not allow the sun to go down while you are still angry. And in Matthew chapter 18, verse 21, and 22 Peter came to Jesus and I

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How many times shall I forgive my brother when he has sinned against me? Is it seven times? Jesus answered? I tell you, not seven times, but 70 times seven times, for god sakes do the maths. The Prophet taught us that God shows mercy to those who show mercy to others, and God forgives those who forgive others. It is similar to what the Christians have in the Lord's Prayer, forgive us our sins as we forgive those who trespass against us. Now, if I may point out, nowhere does it say in either scripture, except if it happens to be a Christian, or except if it happens to be a Muslim. The Prophet said, I swear he's not a believer. I swear he's not a believer, I swear he is not a

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believer, and he was asked, Who is not a believer or messenger of Allah and he said, one whose neighbor does not feel safe from his evil. Imagine when the disciples were asking Jesus what was the greatest commandment he said, Love Your Lord with all your mind with all your strength with all your heart, then Love your neighbor as yourself. In both cases, they were no exceptions made. If it happens to be a Muslim, or a Christian neighbor. We have more areas in common than those divisive, vile evil individuals and preachers want us to believe my parents raised us preaching peaceful coexistence. They raised us to stand up for justice, even if it's against ourselves or our loved

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ones. I would never stand with any religion that condones oppression, kidnappings, raping of women killing of the innocent hatred, bigotry or divisiveness, I swear in a last name, that whoever is doing it in the name of Islam is not a Muslim. We live in a society where we need people to develop an atmosphere conducive for bridge building. And we have to give credit to all those organizations and groups inside and outside Nigeria, that are trying to support us and help us build this atmosphere of peace. So to summarize, in my humble opinion, what I believe are possible solutions. My first point is the emphasis on the metaphor of potholes, different problems require different

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solution. And don't miss diagnose. And then the second point is the metaphor of the ship, that there needs to be fair and equitable distribution of resources and equal access to opportunities for all citizens. And remember, ideology without grievances, does not create a movement. And the third point is the metaphor of the bridge. We need holistic bridge building to be going on, and all that's required to build a solid bridge. Don't forget the maxim nothing about us without us, and think local, act local. And my fourth and final point is the cooking metaphor. We need intellectual vaccination and spiritual immunization starting from our homes, our places of worship, and we need

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to incorporate it into our curriculum into our school system. We have scriptures on the tip of our tongues, we carry the religion in our looks like it's a uniform that you wear. Sadly, many do not translate the message and the teachings from our books and scriptures into actions. They are just words that sound good, the input does not produce the right output. The litmus test of true religiosity is compassion. Compassion requires courage, strength, trust in God. We are taught that to travel fast, go alone, to travel far go with others. So to travel far with others, we need compassion. We need love. We need tolerance. We need understanding and we need justice. Justice is

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critical for long term peace. The rule of law is critical for long term peace. Also, we need to stop pointing fingers, we need to recognize that we are all victims and recognize our common enemy and our common destiny. There is no other Nigeria for us to go to Muslims, you cannot flush Christians and non indigenous out of Nigeria, Christians, you cannot flush Muslims and non indigenous out of Nigeria. This is our home and we live here we die here. Nobody actually wants us voluntarily. Go to any foreign country, go to the airports and see who welcomes you. Trump has already said he doesn't want us. We have to settle our differences. Internally, we have to settle it ourselves. There are so

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many angles to fixing the numerous potholes we have here in Nigeria. This is just my humble submission. With all the problems we have. Everybody has a role to play. Because if you're not a part of the solution, you're part of the problem. While not everyone is guilty of creating this negative climate change. Everybody is responsible. We cannot afford to say it's their problem. We pray that with love and strength and faith, as it says in our national anthem, that Nigerians will stay together, faiths will get together and the forces of good will triumph over evil. And I pray that God continues to give us the courage to defend our unity and uphold our honor and glory. So

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help us God.