Speech by Fran Belisle – November 22, 2016

On Tuesday November 22nd, WFF held a photo exhibition “Women Against Islamic Extremism; Faces of Courage and Commitment” in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Professor Fran Belisle, who has served in the U.S. diplomatic corps in Algeria, Turkey and Canada spoke at the event.

She stressed that “Throughout history women have been the first targets of religious extremism. From Eve taking the fall for the apple to Daesh practicing sexual jihad, women have borne the brunt of fundamentalism.”

While showing the faces of women in the photo exhibition, Fran Belisle continued on, “In addition to the faces of courage that you see around you, let me point out two of my favorite examples who use very different tactics – showing just how versatile women can be:

Dounia Bouzar is an Algerian/French woman who set up the first deradicalization center in France called: The Prevention of Sectarian Trends Linked to Islam.  While her methods are quite controversial and she is no longer with the center, I find her particularly interesting.  Part of her methods include creating a hot line for families in distress whose children had gone to Syria and physically going to the airport to prevent young girls from flying to Syria via Turkey.  Despite the controversy, I admire her because she approaches the deradicalization process not from a religious or rational perspective but from a very maternal perspective.  She uses emotional cues to deradicalize young people: memories of childhood, like smells, tastes, and music… a very “motherly” process to bring a child back to safety. This is particularly important in France as 1 in 5 French radicals in Iraq and Syria are women or girls.

On the other side of the spectrum are The Peshmerga Ladies… as my Algerian sister calls them.  They have become legendary across North Africa as an all-female fighting unit in the Kurdish part of Iraq made up of Kurdish and Yazidi women trained by the Italian coalition.  About 1000 women have been trained and there are more volunteers than openings in the military so women are trained and waiting to be called to service.

The legend across the Maghreb is that Daesh is scared to death of the Peshmerga Ladies because they believe that if they are killed by a woman in combat they will not go to heaven.

img_3709As a former US Air Force Officer, that just brings such joy to my heart!  These gorgeous women in military fatigues armed with AK-47s and perfectly coiffed eyebrows… now that is my idea of a Covergirl.

Although these two examples are very different, one thing that they and all women who stand up to extremism have in common is they are not silent.  Their voices are heard and we must ensure that the voices of the women we are surrounded by today are heard through education and events like this.

So as you can see there is not only “one” way for women to fight Islamic Extremism.

The beauty of being a woman is that we excel in so many roles, making us so complex.

We need to recognize our strengths and address the fight against Islamic extremism with all the diversity of our assets”.

Leave a Reply