The soft power of mothers: Fighting extremism begins at home

Isabelle de Pommereau in The Christian Science Monitor:

Edit Schlaffer felt as if she was part of history in the making when 60 mothers from this southern region of Germany recently received their MotherSchools diploma from Bavaria’s social minister. Ms. Schlaffer initiated her MotherSchools syllabus nine years ago for women in Tajikistan who were concerned about Islamic extremists recruiting their children. The program has since become a global movement whose goal is to fight extremism not with soldiers, but with mothers. And now, Germany has its first batch of graduates – women with roots from Syria to Algeria. They’ve learned not only how to better detect, and respond to, early signs of radicalization, but also how to better connect with their sons. When Ms. Schlaffer initially met them, the women had tended to be shy, their hands often crossed on their knees and their heads bent down. But on graduation day, donning colorful headscarves and shiny suits, they mingled with top brass politicians in a castle overlooking the Main River here.

At the ceremony, Ms. Schlaffer knew that her tireless efforts to bring mothers to the fore of the fight against terrorism were beginning to bear fruit. For women who’d rarely received any type of recognition in their lives, the festive graduation was MotherSchools’ “crowning moment,” she says. “It was such a visible sign that at long last, society was looking at mothers as resources it needs to trust and support,” says Ms. Schlaffer, a native of Vienna who herself has two adult children. “Mothers are our security allies. They have the closest proximity to the children who might be at risk.”

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