CSD 2016 Marginalized Communities

18th-19th February 2016



Recognising the Contributions of Afghan Women under the Taliban

Violence or the use of force is often employed to create an ‘ideal society’. Within this ‘ideal society’ women commonly become the marker of political goals and cultural identity as their behaviour and appearance become constrained by the political and cultural objectives of a movement. This notion of ‘body politics’ is nowhere more prevalent than under the Taliban regime (1996-2001) in Afghanistan.

The Taliban’s oppression of women is a benchmark for their Islamic radicalism and their stated objective to ‘cleanse’ society. As a result, much of the rhetoric from this period engages exclusively with the Taliban’s harsh treatment of Afghan women and the restrictions imposed on them. However, this perspective wrongly portrays all Afghan women as victims of war – ‘someone killed, destroyed, injured, oppressed, or otherwise harmed by, or suffering from, the conditions of war’. This reductionist portrayal of passivity is far too simplistic: it ignores the many Afghan women who actively resisted the Taliban’s constraints on their lives and made crucial political and social contributions to society.

Afghan women were politically vital in demobilising men for fighting. In 2001, Barbara Ehrenreich wrote in the Los Angeles Times that Third World men were facing a ‘global masculinity crisis’. This was due to the entry of women into areas of employment and political participation. Ehrenreich used this analysis to account for the ‘hatred of women’ the Taliban exhibited, and deduced that the Taliban’s misogyny was the result of all-male madrasas devoid of the ‘potentially softening influence of mothers and sisters’.

This reflects an incomplete understanding of the position of Afghan women within their family. In fact, the victimisation of Afghan women wrongly focuses upon the visible, public sphere of society. This ignores private areas such as the household, in which Afghan women themselves claim to exercise the most political influence. The family context is central to women’s agency, as it was usually the mother who decided whether her husband, son or brother should go to the frontline. This is tied to the Quranic teaching that attaches supreme importance to the mother. She is seen as the gateway to heaven, and sons are required to obey her decisions in order to enter heaven. The power and value of an Afghan woman’s position in her family thus became critical to brokering peace through the demobilisation of men.

As social actors Afghan women worked together to create networks, norms and trust in their communities. This allowed them to operate underground services to support one another against the prohibitions of the Taliban regime. This was especially prevalent with regards to education. The desire for schooling ran deep in Afghanistan, rendering many women to turn their homes into underground schools.

Not only women and girls, but boys also benefitted from these schools that were organised and financed entirely by women. It was by word of mouth that news of these homes spread. Boys, girls and women hid their books and stationary, and risked their lives to attend these schools. Yet it enabled them to become educated in basic literacy and numeracy, as well as various other subjects at different levels. Running these underground schools also created income-generating opportunities for women, allowing them to survive financially: ‘[Ghamar jaan] secretly taught more than 800 students in her home. Many of us paid her as much as we could… This was very little money – she could hardly manage the household expenses – but it was better than nothing. Without her our daughters would have been illiterate’.

The survival of these secret schools was largely due to the levels of trust and support women gave to each other, and it created cohesion among networks, and solidarity within communities. The Taliban caught many women participating in these illicit activities. However, despite persecution, jail and torture, they continued their struggle. Hadeya Malekzad for example, continued teaching students in her home despite threats from the Taliban. She later became a key leader in the community, frequently discussing with other women the significance of education and employment.

Afghan women did suffer as victims under the Taliban – they suffered from human rights abuses that encompassed and imposed upon every aspect of their lives. But we should not fail to recognise the many empowered Afghan women who became aware of their abilities to organise and survive. To label them henceforth simply as victims, would be an injustice to both their political and social efforts.

By Anum Farhan


Marginalization of Muslim Communities in the US

It is becoming almost impossible to read the news without seeing comments about the upcoming U.S. Presidential Elections. Specifically the Republican candidates have made potentially problematic generalizations about Muslim communities in the United States. As of 2014, Muslims made up roughly 1% of the U.S. population, making them very much so a minority community and arguably the minority facing the most extreme discrimination in the country.

As someone born and raised in the United States, I have seen this discrimination happen. As a student of conflict and international relations, I have studied and researched such topics enough to realize that this discrimination is problematic.

Potential Republican nominee Donald Trump has been quite vocal about his ideas to shut down mosques where ‘some bad things are happening’, and to reduce or eliminate Muslim immigration and refugee intake in the United States. [1]

Florida Senator, and also potential nominee, Marco Rubio issued similar claims that he would shut down mosques where radicalization takes place.[2] The first flaw in his logic is assuming that radicalization occurs in mosques, and that religious centers promote extremism.

This raises several concerns. First and foremost, this is further marginalizing the Muslim community by assuming they are associated with radicalization and terrorism. According to FBI data, only 6 % of terrorist attacks in the United States from 1980-2005 were carried out by Islamic extremists. Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, 33 Americans have died as a result of terrorist attacks carried out by Muslims. Compared to the 180,000 Americans killed by mass shootings or reasons other than terrorism, Islamic extremists do not seem to pose nearly the same threat to the United States as do other individuals or groups.[3] In more recent years, Muslims were responsible for 0.3 percent of terrorism in Europe. They are clearly no greater a threat than any other religion or group.[4]

Another concern is how these candidates plan to identify Muslim refugees or immigrants. The Middle East and North Africa is home to only 20% of the world’s Muslims, and denying those from the region asylum or residence is not only discriminatory but discriminatory against many unintentional groups.[5] The color of someone’s skin, their birth country, nor their religion make them any more likely to be a member of an extremist group or a greater security risk.

Discriminating against and isolating Muslim communities in the United States is clearly wrong, both ethically and statistically. Including, rather than excluding, Muslim communities in the discourse on national security would benefit all involved. Closing mosques would not stop Muslims from practicing their religion, nor would it solve issues relating to radicalization and terrorism. Marginalizing an already largely discriminated against community is unfounded, especially within a country founded by immigrants seeking freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination.

By Melanie Gilbert







Can Language Barriers Radicalise?

This article raises important questions on Cameron’s new plans to tackle radicalisation and integration through the teaching of english. It was written by Shaheen Sattar, who recently finished her BA in International Politics at King’s College London.

In this piece, Sattar draws on her personal experience as well as examples of home-grown radicalisations to oppose Cameron’s stance that language barriers can lead to extremism. She questions: ‘If learning English steers women from extremist values, then how did the Kardashian-watching British-born girls of Hackney Academy become radicalised’? In her opinion, radicalisation is not a direct outcome of poor English skills, but rather a result of what she calls a ‘demonisation’ and isolation of the British Muslim population allowed, if not fostered, by the UK government itself.

By Aliaume Leroy and Zoya Javed

How Australia Day Marginalises Indigenous Australians

On January 26th Australia celebrates its national day. It was on this day in 1788 that Captain Arthur Phillip raised the flag of Great Britain and proclaimed a colonial outpost of the British Empire in Port Jackson (later Sydney Cove). For many Australians, Australia Day signifies a celebration of the values and freedoms that characterise their country. But for Aboriginals, the indigenous peoples of the island, it marks the day when the colonisers of Australia began to kill, reject and exclude their community. To them, Australia Day is a day of mourning connected to the destruction of their culture. It is known as “Invasion Day”.

On the 150th anniversary celebrations of Australia, William Cooper, a member of the Aboriginal Progressive Association, met with several activists and held a “Day of Mourning and Protest”. This event was aimed at securing national citizenship and equal rights for indigenous peoples, and began a tradition of using Australia Day to remember the history of the Aboriginals. This includes, most significantly, recognition of the violence of the Frontier Wars, a period of conflict between white settlers and Australia’s indigenous population that lasted from 1788 until the Coniston massacre in 1928. This was followed by government policies that imposed assimilation and separation upon the Aboriginals, and saw many people removed from their traditional lands and culture. As Nakkiah Lui, an indigenous actor and playwright, explains: “We mourn the declaration of Australia as terra nullius (land that belongs to no one) as well as those who have died in massacres, those who were dispossessed of their land and homes, those who were denied their humanity, those who were shackled, beaten, sent to prison camps, and made to live in reserves”.

These feelings of marginalisation are also evident when it comes to the socio-economic position of indigenous peoples in society. By every measure, Aboriginals remain the poorest and most disadvantaged people in Australia today. Aboriginal people die younger: an indigenous male born in 2005-2007 is likely to live 11.5 years less than a non-indigenous male. Aboriginal children in “out of home care” is at an all time high, and imprisonment rates for indigenous Australians are around twelve times those of the rest of the Australian population. In fact, an indigenous child is more likely to be locked up in prison than they are to finish high school. In July 2015, an indigenous AFL player Adam Goodes was “hounded” and booed, and told “he was not Australian” when he took to the pitch. Stan Grant recounts how “when we heard those boos, we heard a sound that was very familiar to us… we heard a howl of humiliation that echoes across two centuries of dispossession, injustice, suffering and survival”.

There is still no treaty between Australia and any of its indigenous peoples. Nor does the Australian constitution recognise its original inhabitants. Australia Day will therefore continue to marginalise the Aboriginal community until it is reshaped towards the acknowledgement of decades of genocide and colonisation. This will help begin a journey towards reconciliation and peace. “Many people just want a day to celebrate the place that they call home, to be part of a community, and to guide Australia into the future”, Nakkiah says. “I am one of those people, so why can’t we celebrate this on a day that includes all Australians?”

By Anum Farhan

The motivations behind the mobilisation of Kurds in Northern Iraq

The internal conflict in Syria has generated momentum towards a Kurdish state, mobilising many Kurds in the region and within the diaspora. Currently, Kurdish minorities are the largest ethnic grouping of people without a state of their own; consequently, many reside in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. Additionally, many Kurds are marginalised socially and politically, within the nations aforementioned.

What we witness presently is a renewed attempt towards a sovereign Kurdish state in what is now northern Iraq. Created after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, a patchwork quilt of different ethnic and religious groups forms what is now Iraq. The three provinces consist of a Shiite majority in the south, a Sunni majority in the centre and a Kurdish majority in the north. However, after enduring years of trauma and political marginalisation inflicted by the Baghdad government, this has further incentivised the push for an independent Kurdish state. Moreover, with Iraq a shadow of its former self, for many Kurds in Iraq this is  a window of opportunity to finally solidify a nation state in the Middle East. Two years before we became accustomed with Kurdish Peshmergas fighters battling the Islamic State (IS), Masoud Barzani, the President of the Kurdish regional government, understood that the current state of affairs in the Middle East presented an opportunity for Kurdish statehood. In July 2014 he told the Kurdish parliament, “The time has come to decide our fate, and we should not wait for other people to decide it for us.” Barzani’s use of “decide our fate” hints not only at the opportunity but also at Kurdish wariness of western support due to western abandonment in the past.

Moreover, it can be argued what has led to the mobilisation of Kurdish minorities is not only the desire for nationhood but also survival. The IS massacre of Kurdish civilians at Kobani was a flashback to attempts of ethnic cleansing experienced by Kurds in recent history. The chemical attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988 is one such example, where an estimated 5,000 civilians were killed when Iraqi jets dropped poison gas on the town. Furthermore, many others later died of illnesses such as cancer. Halabja is still haunted by the legacy of chemical contamination more than two decades after the attack. The grievances arising from attacks such as Halabja and the IS slaughter are catalysts for Kurdish determination towards independence.

In addition, Kurdish mobilisation in the name of sovereignty and survival does provide some challenges for resolving the current conflicts within the Middle East. While western powers are keen to utilise the Kurdish Peshmergas in the fight against IS, the creation of a Kurdish state contradicts the aims of the external powers regarding the Iraqi border. For example, the sentiments of Masrour Barzani, son of Masoud Barzani and Kurdish intelligence chief, regarding Iraq’s current borders demonstrate the contradiction of western and Kurdish aims for the future of Iraq. He insists in his interview with the New Yorker that “Iraq exists only in the minds of people in the White House,” emphasising the need for Kurds to have their own sovereign state. Whether Kurdish statehood will materialise is hard to conclude. Nonetheless, the resolve to build such a state will never disappear unless the Iraqi state becomes a state where religious and ethnic factions are blurred to create a sole national identity.

By Chawahir Yussuf


Jihadi Brides: Victims or Agents of conflict?

The term “Jihadi Brides” has been stamped across the front pages of our newspapers since 2013. The phrase is used to refer to western women who have left the “west” to join ISIS. Media outlets jumped on what appeared to be a phenomenon. Moreover, having gained popularity in the media, the usage of the term “brides” perpetuates the assumption that many of the 550 women to have travelled to Syria have done so to seek companionship with ISIS soldiers. While a husband does facilitate their presence within ISIS-controlled territories, it is not their sole rationale behind joining the terror organisation. Also, the term “brides” deprives these women of their agency, binding their identity with men, and in a sense, absolving them of the accountability of their actions.

Additionally, for many it appears incomprehensible as to why western women would flee the comforts of their homes to join a conflict zone. As a result, recycled gendered stereotypes regarding female combatants are often spewed. Cloaked under the veil of feminine stereotypes, “jihadi brides” are generally viewed as misguided and impressionable victims. This is further compounded by the orientalist notion of Muslim women as oppressed, a view projected by many media outlets. In addition, the cultural stereotype of the oppressed Muslim woman and angry Muslim man continues to shape how we view Muslims and Islam. What these beliefs can cause is a sense of lack of belonging, amongst many in a society they have grown up in. The marginalisation of Muslim women because of these views can push those on the cusp of radicalisation to join. Unless such views become out-dated amongst the masses, tackling radicalisation becomes ever more unattainable.

Furthermore, a recent study by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue entitled “Becoming Mulan”—the reference to the Disney film was a result of a tweet by female ISIS recruiter Umm Ubaydah—lists out reasons why western women have joined ISIS in Syria. They conclude that women travel (1) to join their husbands; (2) because they believe the Ummah is under attack; (3) to build the caliphate and (4) due to a sense of religious duty. What this illustrates to us is that the rationale behind western women joining ISIS resembles that of their western male counterparts. Thus, it is misguided that we should be surprised by women joining ISIS. Throughout history and till the present, women have had diverse roles in conflict. Neglecting this would be foolish. For example, Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa (c. 1840–October 17, 1921), the Queen Mother of the Edweso tribe of the Asante (Ashanti), what is now modern Ghana, was an extraordinarily fearless fighter who, in March 1900, raised and led an army against the British colonial forces and successfully recaptured the Golden Stool, the Asante spiritual symbol of unity. While there is no comparison between Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa and the “jihadi brides” who have travelled to join the evil and repulsive ISIS, it is important to note that confining “jihadi brides” to the realm of gender stereotypes is ineffective.

Therefore, when attempting to find a solution to stem the exodus of “jihadi brides,” it becomes unproductive to retreat to out-dated stereotypes regarding gender and culture. “Although statistical data on Jihadi brides is tenuous, an estimated three thousand Westerners have travelled to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria, of which more than 550 of them are women and girls, according to a report by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue in 2015.”1 Viewing many of the women who have travelled to Syria as victims disregards their agency in conflict, including their roles as recruiters and suicide bombers. Moving away from such stereotypes enables us to understand the thought process and motives of extremists, aiding in our combat against extremism. Recognising diverse roles can thus resolve conflict.

By Chawahir Yussuf


1 Jacoby, Tami Amanda (2015), “Jihadi brides at the intersections of contemporary feminism,” Intersectionality for the Global Age, Vol. 35, No. 4, pp. 525-542.









Defining ‘Marginalized Communities’: A Framework for the Conference

green logoDecember 7, 2015 – Revolving around marginalized communities, the 2016 CSD conference will generally address three guiding questions: Who do we mean, when speaking about marginalized communities? What is the role of marginalized communities in the evolution, process and termination of conflict? How can the international community improve its response to marginalization?

Moreover, the conference will centre on four precise themes:

1) the link between marginalization of youth and radicalization;

2) the role of women as victims versus agents in high-conflict zones;

3) the Western use of ethnic minorities in conflict zones; and

4) the integration of marginalized communities in wider society.

By Christiaan Triebert

As indicated by these overall questions and more specific topics,  the expression ‘marginalized communities’ encompasses a wide range of meanings. It is thus essential to define the framework within which the 2016 CSD conference will unravel. Offering a fresh viewpoint on the matter, this year’s discussions will aim to breakdown popular stereotypes. When thinking of marginalized communities, people often apply racial and geographical distinctions. The West is often viewed as a place where all communities are well integrated, leaving the concept of ‘marginalized groups’ to the ‘under-developed’ or ‘developing’ world. However, as shown by the following exercise, marginalized communities are present all over the world. Consider the photograph provided by CSD student and photojournalist Christiaan Triebert. Try to pin down the location depicted in the photograph on a map. It is nearly impossible; it could actually be anywhere ranging from the outskirts of London to Kabul or some poor African nations conventionally linked to marginalized groups in the popular psyche. Another great example is the fate of the French Muslim population after the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. The following video by The Guardian shows that marginalized communities are a key issue that needs to be addressed in the West.

The CSD 2016 conference thus acknowledges the multiple layers of the expression ‘marginalized communities’. It is not about geographies and races; it is rather about the interactions between a state and some of its people. There is no universal definition of the concept of ‘marginalized communities’. It is often looked at as two separate issues, with ‘marginalization’ on one hand and ‘minority’ on the other. Shifting from this angle of analysis, the CSD 2016 conference will combine both elements in order to offer an all-encompassing set of discussions.

Its take on the definition of ‘marginalized communities’ is as follows. In broad terms, ‘marginalized groups’ refer to a small collection of people that is intentionally and systematically separated from the political, economic, social, cultural and moral spheres of the state they live in by the ruling institutions or other larger groups within the population because of their race, identity, age, gender, sexuality, religion, ethnicity or political opinion. Such seclusion occurs through a variety of means implemented by the state, such as economic, political, judicial, educational, physical, cultural and geographical exclusion to name a few. It can be either a systemic ‘silent’ oppression or involve the blunt use of force. This definition incorporates broader categories than the commonly used notion of ‘social exclusion’. Levitas et al.  define in their report, The Multi-Dimensional Analysis of Social Exclusion, this latter expression as ‘a complex and multi-dimensional process. It involves the lack or denial of resources, rights, goods and services, and the inability to participate in the normal relationships and activities, available to the majority of people in a society, whether in economic, social, cultural or political arenas. It affects both the quality of life of individuals and the equity and cohesion of society as a whole’. Their view nonetheless adds more specificity to the way in which the CSD 2016 conference will address the issue at hand.

On a final note, the definition expressed above is by no means the enshrined truth. Its main objective is to lay the ground for debate as well as raises questions among the conference attendants and speakers. It is a framework within which the sessions will operate and something to keep in mind as you read the coming blog posts.


By Aliaume Leroy, Chawahir Yussuf, Zoya Javed, and Aaditya Dave

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