Friday, May 3, 2013

Youth Development Is Security: Djokhar Zarhyaev edition

There is nothing I or anyone else can say to fully explain or help us understand why anyone would plant bombs at a major civilian celebration like the Boston marathon.  There remains much investigation and profiling left to be done.  It’s not even been a month since the attacks in Copley Square. 

I write this knowing that for some, an attempt to understand or to truly address the root causes of terror, to the extent that we can identify them, feels like justification.  For what it’s worth, I had skin in this game in a way that was not true of 9/11.  Of course every American—and many around the world—still feel the outrage and pain of that attack, but the Boston bombing was different for me.  My family lives in Boston, my mother, my step dad, my sister, my brother in law, and my 4 year-old niece.  Not only do they live in Boston, they live two blocks from Copley Square and were walking home from the Sox game (my niece’s first!) near Copley Square when the bombing occurred.  Of course they were on lock down the Friday after the bombing, as the manhunt for Djokhar unfolded.  I had real, beloved skin in this one. The thought of 5 dearly loved ones all gathered up together in danger with me so far away remains unbearable. 

Perhaps nothing could have prevented those attacks.  As Americans seem to increasingly understand, a free society cannot promise complete security.  Intelligence experts will examine their processes, as will law enforcement.  FBI profilers will flesh out their dossier on whatever motive can be identified. 

As a peace educator, however, I don’t want the role and potential of schools to be overlooked.  In addition to “terrorist” when I look at Djokhar and even his older brother, I also see a student.  Classmates and friends expressed shock and I have to wonder, was there outreach a campus peer counselor or professor or Imam could have done that might have made a difference?  Perhaps not, but surely the effort is worthwhile.  I have long called for peace education in every classroom worldwide.  One outcome of peace education ought to be to inoculate students against extremism.  Professors, friends, bosses, faith leaders and anyone who can help integrate especially isolated young men into intercultural communities have a key role to play.  Campuses are ideal spaces for this, if faculty and administration are thoughtful and proactive about what peace educators often call educating against extremism.  (See Lynn Davies for excellent work on this.)  We can’t wait any longer to create and implement anti-extremist programing and curriculum. 

What would such curriculum look like?  Perhaps the most important feature it has is that it insists on critical thought, especially critical dialogue regarding anti-Americanism, Islamophobia and the underlying, too often unexamined cultural narratives which underlie both.  This entails bringing in critical media analysis and tough discussions of the histories of relevant conflicts.  Nothing will ever be a guarantee, but campuses have a vital yet often overlooked role to play in combating extremist violence.  Let’s not wait another day!