Voices of Reason: Speaking Out Against Da’esh – A Regional Project for Near East Asia and North Africa

Voices of Reason IVLP participants take a group photo at Meridian International Center in Washington, DC
Voices of Reason IVLP participants take a group photo at Meridian International Center in Washington, DC

On Thursday, July 6th Meridian welcomed twelve individuals from eight nations in Near East Asia and North Africa for the "Voices of Reason: Speaking Out Against Da'esh" International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). The IVLP brought together a diverse mixture of professionals including journalists, non-profit leaders, and government officials with the goal of discussing successful strategies for encouraging citizens to oppose violent extremist ideology. Participants were also able to take part in in high level meetings that examined best practices to defeat Da'esh and foster partnerships with U.S. organizations committed to similar campaigns. After convening in Washington, the group traveled to various cities including New York, NY; Charleston, SC; and Denver, CO before closing out their program in Minneapolis, MN.

While in Washington, the group had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Tamara Kharroub, Assistant Executive Director and Senior Middle East Analyst at the Arab Center Washington DC to discuss policy analysis and recommendations on what motivates violent extremism. The participants were also able to meet with Lieutenant Colonel Edward Powers at the U.S. Institute of Peace; Mr. Enrique Roig of Citizen Associates International, a non-profit that provides development services and offers sustainable solutions to global challenges; and representatives from Search for Common Ground. Prior to their departure for New York, the participants took part in the "Global Coalition Conference on the Defeat of ISIS" at the U.S. Department of State, the main goal of which was to discuss best practices in defeating Da'esh with public and private sector experts.

Voices of Reason IVLP participants take a group photo with Cadet Truesdale at the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina
Voices of Reason IVLP participants take a group photo with Cadet Truesdale at the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina

The State Department program branch in New York began the group's local itinerary with an appointment with the United Nations Security Council Counter Terrorism Committee and Executive Directorate. They also organized a meeting with the Arab-American Family Support Center, a non-profit organization that offers resettlement, cultural, and linguistic services to the local immigrant communities; a tour of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum; and a working breakfast with New York University Professor Dr. Collete Mazzucelli. Before departing for Charleston, the group had one final combined meeting with the Interfaith Center of New York and the Women's Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality.

Charleston's local community based member (CBM), the Charleston Council for International Visitors, welcomed the group and started their program with meetings and a tour of the Citadel and finished the first evening with a dinner cruise. The following day, the group met with the president of the National Action Network's South Carolina chapter, a representative from the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and a staff member at the Central Mosque of Charleston. While short, the participants found the program to be a rewarding city-stop before departing for Denver.

The CBM in Denver, WorldDenver, first organized a volunteer activity with Growing Colorado Kids, an organization that provides refugee youth a safe space outside of the challenges that they face in their daily lives. After a brief meeting to discuss how the organization had successfully engaged refugee youth, the participants worked on the organization's community farm. In the afternoon, the participants met with representatives from the Counter terrorism Education Learning Lab, a non-profit institution that hosts speaker series and training initiatives to educate individuals on the threat of terrorism and teach them how to prevent it; and Rocky Mountain PBS, which discussed coverage of local efforts to resist radicalization. Over the weekend the participants had the opportunity to enjoy Denver's national parks and have dinner with local families through an organized home hospitality. On Monday, the participants gathered for a meeting at the U.S. Attorney General's Office; staff members at the Colorado Information Analysis Center; and representatives from the Abrahamic Initiative, an interfaith program and forum facilitated by St. John's Episcopal Cathedral. The following day the participants set off for the final stop of their program: Minneapolis.

The final local itinerary was programmed by Global Minnesota, Minneapolis's CBM. While there, participants were able to meet with Mr. Dave Kleis, Mayor of St. Cloud, and discuss community integration challenges for newly arrived refugees; journalists from the St. Cloud Times; and staff from the community based organization #UniteCloud, a local grassroots social media movement that educates the local community to help bring individuals together. The following day brought opportunities to interact with Average Mohamed, an organization that provides counter-dialogue to radical messages; Heartland Democracy, a non-profit that runs programs to facilitate discussions in the local community; and the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office. After these appointments concluded, the visitors took part in a final debriefing by the organizing teams at the State Department and Meridian International Center. They departed for home shortly thereafter to apply what they learned in their respective organizations.

Sponsors

International Visitor Leadership Program, U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State

Project summary

Voices of Reason: Speaking Out Against Da’esh – A Regional Project for Near East Asia and North Africa
Number of Visitors: 12
Regions: Near East and North Africa
Countries: Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestinian Territories, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia
Impact Areas: Security
Program Areas: Exchanges
Partners: NGOs, Private Sector, Public Sector