Maya Yamout has seen the root causes of terrorism firsthand. In her home country of Lebanon, Yamout interviewed more than 25 prisoners accused of terrorism-related charges and developed behavioral analysis profiles of what leads young men to terrorism.
Yamout was one of nine women from eight countries who came to the United States as part of a project on women preventing violent extremism.
The two-week project, developed by the U.S. State Department in partnership with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue in London, brought the women to the United States for meetings and training sessions with counterparts in Washington, New York and San Francisco.
“During the interviews we noticed that most of them have an absent-father-syndrome psychological problem,” Yamout said, referring to the prisoners she studied.
She said when fathers humiliate their sons in front of family and neighbors for a disciplinary issue, they develop a sense of shame. When that feeling is combined with economic worries and the influence of social media, the young men become susceptible to the influence of terrorist recruiters, she said.
Yamout said building awareness is key in combating recruitment.
The fight against violent extremism is particularly important for women, said Palestinian researcher and program participant Nadia Nuseibah.
“If women are moderate enough and tolerant enough, we can at least make sure that the fight of extremism is being beaten down at home,” she said. “If you love your son, your husband, your father — that power of love that a woman can give can really defeat lots of enemies within the fight of extremism.”
Community leader Priyanka Kanta of Bangladesh — where a blogger recently was hacked to death for criticizing religious extremism — said respect for other religions is the path away from extremism.
“The toughest thing to do in Bangladesh is to establish a secular country," said Kanta, adding that secularism doesn't have to mean a departure from religious duties. Instead, she said, it can mean a respect for people of other religions.
Yamout said the other women in the program, especially a Pakistani woman, inspired her with their work.
“She gave me a high motivation and support to continue and never stop, because I have my days where I want to leave this job and let it go," she said. "So every time I need moments where I need motivation, I think of her and remember what she said about her case, and she is still moving on and is still fighting.”
The women said that the connections they made have inspired them to go back to their home countries with new ideas and strategies from the grass-roots connections forged on their trip.