I met with Dr. Mokhtari to discuss my project on Friday for 15 minutes. We discussed how my interests have changed and become more specific over the course of the summer. My original interests focused on the way that gendered Orientalism is used to justify US military interventions, but after doing a literature review of that section of writing and research, I felt that my questions had been answered and my reading had started to go in circles. However, as US military interests and strategies have transitioned over the past few years, the landscape has changed and the narratives are re-shaping to fit new military strategies, creating room for new research and exploration.
In particular, we discussed an event I attended over the summer at the United States Institute of Peace called “Women and Countering Violent Extremism.” (Ironically, the event was originally called “Countering Violent Extremism and Women,” which could have been a more accurate description depending on your interpretation of the event.) The event featured representatives from the UN, Homeland Security, and the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor and discussed ways to include local women in efforts to counter violent extremism. Several of the speakers argued that in order to empower women, women should be trained to recognize “extremism” as defined by the US and how to “counter” it in line with US national security. The speakers seemed to justify this possibility by saying that while local men typically hold the majority of the power in public sphere, women were more powerful in “the home” and would therefore hold enough power (and want) to take action against extremism (1). However, this interpretation seemed much in line with past versions of “empowering women” that puts them at risk in their communities and forces them to make a choice between empowerment and siding with their families and communities. Dr. Mokhtari said that she hadn’t heard this before, but that she was not at all surprised to hear it.
For the next step, I’m going to look over the transcript from the event and put together the relevant pieces to go over with Dr. Mokhtari, the twitter feed with the event hashtag, and search for any other documents, events, articles, or policies that relate to or reference this particular way of addressing gender inclusivity in countering violent extremism.
During the meeting, my mentor and I realized that we were both a bit confused about the overall requirements and end goals of the program. Dr. Mokhtari had many questions about what I was expected to produce, and I wasn’t able to answer all her questions about the end product of our research should be since I was still confused about the timeline, the process of collecting information, and the general expectation for our research, since undergraduates are not generally not expected to do original research.
“Women and Countering Violent Extremism: Strengthening Policy Responses and Ensuring Inclusivity.” United States Institute of Peace, 2015. Sept. 12, 2015. http://www.usip.org/events/women-and-countering-violent-extremism.