Ms. Zainab Al-Suwaij, Ms. Margaret McWeeney, and Ms. Amina Rasul-Bernardo answer queries from the audience during the open forum.

Communities are at the center of the fight against terrorism. While communities are directly affected by violent extremism, they could also be seen as a dynamic complement to anti-terrorism operations.

This was one of the key discussion points in the Foreign Service Institute’s (FSI) Mabini Dialogue, “Exploring Community Involvement in Fighting Against Terrorism.” The forum, co-organized by the Embassy of the United States of America in Manila, was held last 24 October at the Carlos P. Romulo Library at the Department of Foreign Affairs Building. Members of the diplomatic corps, officers and staff from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), FSI and other government agencies attended the event.

Featured speakers were Ms. Zainab Al-Suwaij, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the American Islamic Congress (AIC), and Fulbright Scholar Ms. Margaret McWeeney. The discussant was Ms. Amina Rasul-Bernardo, President of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy.

Ms. Al-Suwaij opened the forum by discussing the infiltration of extremism in educational institutions, which radicalize young minds and fuel resentment among the youth. One of the steps that AIC is taking to address this issue is educating the youth on terrorism and involving them in solving the problem. Project NUR, a student-led initiative of AIC, counters the rising extremist culture in campuses by empowering students to cultivate an environment of acceptance and mutual respect.

In her study on civilian targeting, Ms. McWeeney stressed that civilians are points of interest of terrorists who utilize them as resources and logistic support. Civilians are easily attracted to the promises of extremists and are lured by terrorist organizations. By involving the community in ceasefire mediation and peacekeeping, and implementing power-sharing peace agreements, it would be possible to disrupt the structural, psychological and societal causes of civilian targeting.

Furthermore, Ms. McWeeney underscored the strategic importance of peace stakeholders in countering terrorism by citing how the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) women influenced MNLF male leaders to return to the side of the government and continue the peace process.  

Discussant Ms. Rasul-Bernardo shared the evolution of community engagement in the peace process in Southern Mindanao and emphasized the role of religious leaders and women in resisting intrusion of extremist thoughts into communities.

The Mabini Dialogue (MDS) is a regular project of the Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies (CIRSS) of FSI. The aim of the MDS is to facilitate meaningful discourse among thinkers and practitioners on national, regional, and global issues that have political, economic, and socio-cultural impact on the Philippines.

Ms. Marichu Liwanag, Head of the Carlos P. Romulo School of Diplomacy (second from left) and Ms. Nina Lewis (second from right) of the U.S. Embassy in Manila pose with the speakers during the awarding of certificates.