U2 rock star Bono addressed members of the US Congress on Tuesday 12 April, calling on them to take action to deal with the global refugee crisis and tackle violent extremism.
Testifying before a Senate subcommittee that oversees foreign aid, Bono described the horrors of war people faced in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, and the horrors of fleeing – often the only option for survival.
Somewhat controversially, Bono suggested his own innovative approach to combatting extremism: sending comedians to counter the violent messages of militant organisations such as ISIS.
Whilst some celebrities reacted with shock, underneath Bono’s hyperbole is an important message: If we only speak the language of violence, we will never counter the real problems.
We should look to those who are already countering violent extremism on the ground and providing viable alternatives for those at risk of extremist recruitment. If we really want to tackle violent extremism and stop people fleeing from their homes, then we need to tackle the root causes.
Through our partner, Aware Girls, in Pakistan, we are supporting young people to turn away from extremism through an innovative peer-to-peer approach. In the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, we work with a group of Pakistani volunteers. They have formed a network of young people who dissuade their peers and marginalised youth from turning to violence and extremism.
This might mean training on conflict resolution skills, or holding one-on-one sessions for those at risk of recruitment. And through workshops, they provide a safe space for young people to discuss narratives of militants and extremism and develop their own counter-narratives of non-violence and co-existence.
Similarly, our work in Somalia focuses on supporting young people to gain skills training, earn an income, and turn away from militant organisation al-Shabaab. In the city port of Kismayo, southeast Somalia, we are supporting over 1000 young people into training, into jobs, and away from violent extremism.
These are just two examples of the work that local organisations undertake, often at extreme risk to their own safety. And it is right that celebrities were shocked at Bono’s suggestion that they were sent in to deal with ISIS. But this is the reality for many brave and dedicated individuals and organisations working in conflict zones around the world. It’s dangerous, it requires bravery and sometimes sacrifice, but it is crucial to building long term solutions to peace. And it is our mission to support them and raise their voices to the world.
After over ten years working to prevent violence, stop wars and build sustainable peace from the ground up, we have learned that working with local organisations is the only way to ensure peace lasts – for the long term. As Bono said in his testimony: “If you don’t do it now, it’s going to cost a lot more later,” he said. “I do know that.” We couldn’t agree more.