Badar* has an incredible story.
Just by talking to a young boy who had been recruited by a militant organisation and was preparing to carry out a suicide bombing, he saved the life of the boy, along with countless others.
This is the kind of action that the International Day of Non-Violence celebrates. It falls on Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday and commemorates his nonviolent philosophy leading to India’s independence.
87 years since Gandhi’s famous nonviolent Salt March, joined by Martin Luther King Jr. and other peace icons, October 2 continues to promote and raise awareness for the use of nonviolent strategies to achieve sustainable peace.
As global violence surges in the form of humanitarian crises, racial injustices and political oppression, it is important to show just how non-violent resistance can transform lives and communities.
At a recent event before the United Nations General Assembly, Peace Direct’s local partner Saba Ismail spoke up about her work stopping young people turning to extremism in Pakistan.
She pointed out that in Pakistan, the youth are often seen as troublemakers, without agency for change, often left out. However, Saba and her sister Gulalai were just 16 years old when they first created Aware Girls, an organisation dedicated to countering violent extremism.
They use a unique peer-to-peer model to reach out to vulnerable young people at risk of recruitment by extremist groups and convince them to change their minds. It’s nonviolence that is stopping young people from becoming suicide bombers and saving hundreds of lives. One of the young people they have trained shares his story.
“When I got into University, I felt very happy. I could hang out with friends till late and listen to music and go to restaurants. Meanwhile, one of my friends recommended to me training by Aware Girls. When I went there and saw a young woman with short hair talking about peace and religion, I felt resentment and wanted to quit. But my friend asked me to stay for some time.
Gradually, I got involved in the discussions and spent the whole day there. I came the next day too and kept thinking about the issues discussed even after the session ended. Slowly I began questioning my beliefs about gender, religion and politics.
I was transformed from a rigid, intolerant and a bit aggressive young tribal man into a tolerant, non-violent peace activist. I felt more committed to my community and decided to play a role in peace and progress in my community. I joined several other forums and networks committed to social change and peace.
One day my uncle rang me and told me about 15 years old boy in our village who had joined a local militant organization. I left for my village the very next day and straight went to the house of that boy. The boy had been radicalized and prepared to carry out a suicide attack in Afghanistan.
When he came to say goodbye to his parents, they locked him in the room and informed elders in the community to help. This is how my uncle came to know about him.
The first day, the boy refused to meet me, but the second day, I was somehow able to engage him. I spoke to him for several hours and during discourse with the boy, the knowledge and skills that I had learnt during Aware Girls’ trainings helped me a lot.
After two months, the boy had totally abandoned the idea of becoming a suicide bomber and wanted to live a happy normal life. The boy learned car repair and found a job in a workshop. He has also resumed his studies and is planning to sit in the secondary school examination as a private candidate. My peace journey is continuing and now I work with street children and strive to make them productive peaceful citizens.”
Today, Aware Girls continue to stop young people turning to violence and support women to claim their political rights through nonviolent strategies.
Research finds that nonviolent movements are becoming more common and more successful than violent movements in sustaining peace. Maria Stephan, Director of the Program on Nonviolent Action at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), highlights that countries with nonviolent campaigns are less likely to experience a resurgence of civil strife in post-conflict situations.
While the idea may sound optimistic, Stephan and Erica Chenoweth point out that “nonviolent resistance is effective not necessarily because of its conversion potential but rather because of its creative, co-optive and coercive potential.” In other words, nonviolence attracts mass participation by including different people, slowly whittling away the power of injustice.
Even in the face of adverse conditions, grassroots movements can find ways to empower voices calling for peace and prevent atrocities.
Aware Girls and the story of Badar is just one example of the nonviolent approaches local people are taking to tackle some of the most urgent challenges the world faces.
Nonviolence is more than just passively waiting for peace. Peace is an active process that requires everyone’s participation, starting from the local people who bring about peace from the bottom-up.
*Name changed to protect identity.