Arizza Nocum – Between the Cross and the Star and Crescent
Extremely Together’s Young Leader from the Philippines, whose initiative builds libraries to promote education and interfaith as a preventative solution to extremism
I was born in a space between two religions. With a Roman Catholic father and a Muslim mother, I was taught to live and identify with both the Cross and the Star and Crescent.
However, in the same space where my parents found love, the rest of my country finds conflict, tension, and violence.
The Philippines is 85% Catholic and 11% Muslim. Its minority Muslim population – concentrated in the South of the country – has been oppressed throughout more than 400 years of colonial and independent rule. Two million Muslim Filipinos have been displaced from their communal land, and hundreds of thousands are battered everyday by poverty and are refused equal treatment in employment.
In retaliation to this, numerous Muslim rebel groups have emerged. Most call out for an autonomous Muslim region and have used legal and political means. Others have resorted to violent extremism.
In a 2013 USAID study, the primary drivers of violent extremism and insurgency included socio-economic grievances, growing Muslim radicalization, a weak regional economy, and a flawed and corrupt government.
Violent extremism must be tackled by studying and addressing its economic, social, and political root causes.
In response to these, my family started a non-profit organization called KRIS Library that builds libraries, provides scholarships, and distributes books and educational materials in areas affected by conflict.
Our first goal is to establish libraries in communities where we could attract young people from different religions and backgrounds. We aim to expose them to one another to slowly dismantle the prejudices and biases that history and society has taught them.
The second goal is to attack the root causes of violent extremism by providing opportunities for more Muslim Filipinos to become educated and to have better chances for employment and growth.
Thus far, we have built six libraries, provided more than 400 scholarship grants, and distributed at least 50,000 books to communities affected by conflict and extreme poverty.
At the helm of KRIS Library, I have learned from the stories and grievances of both Catholic and Muslim Filipinos. I have witnessed deep gratitude in the faces of KRIS scholars who have graduated from high school and university, especially when they could not have afforded an education in the first place. In more than five years working with KRIS, I have felt the atmosphere among young Muslims and Christians change from one of enmity and ignorance to one of acceptance and friendship. The solutions we offer are simple but potent in addressing the complexities of violent extremism.
The voice I offer as part of Extremely Together is one that strongly believes in the value of interfaith understanding and collaboration. If we could appreciate the faith and culture of others as much as we appreciate our own, then we are one step closer to peace.
Coming from a systems engineering background, I also believe we must look not at the episode of violent extremism itself but the system producing the episode. Political, social, and economic factors commingle to create values, attitudes, grievances, and beliefs that are not understood enough.
In battling a system of root causes, we must respond with a system of solutions as well. I believe in education, employment, and communication approaches that address the interconnected issues producing extremism.
More than ever, the efforts to counter violent extremism must also be in a connected ecosystem – to share insights, resources, findings that can create more efficient and effective measures for peace. Extremely Together is the first step to creating such an invaluable system.