Charlotte Littlewood is the Founding Director of Become The Voice CIC. A grass roots youth centred community interest company that she has built in response to the need to tackle hate, extremism and radicalisation within communities and online. Here we talk about the work with Palestinians.
When I opened about Become The Voice (BTV) as an activist organization, I wanted to suss out some of the details about the organization. Behind every organization, we can find inspired thinking about its title and foundation, values and mission, and so on.
Littlewood explained, “Become The Voice was created in January of this year. What I had noticed working in counter-extremism and in Prevent (which is the soft end of counter-terrorism) in the UK, is a distinct lack of coordinated work on the central ground, we have seen politics divide with an increasingly illiberal far-left alongside a far-right. Identity politics have taken front stage. We have seen radicalisation taking place Left and Right, but definitely not in the Center.”
Noting this, she founded BTV to empower, enable, and equip youth with progressive values to be vocal in their fight against extremism. The idea is to create a resilience or a resistance against the narratives of the extremist elements of society.
These are built with progressive and positive messaging. One of the big projects is outreach to the young. The knowledge about extremism can embolden the young in countering their narratives. One of those outreach methodologies is social media.
“So one problem was a lack of grassroots work. Another problem was any attempt to create youth work was coming from a top-down government effort rather than the young doing this from their own media platforms, their own ways of engaging with each other. That is a second unique thing about BTV, it is truly youth lead,” Littlewood stated.
But increating activists on the ground, this leads to questions about the people. Why these people, the Palestinians? How do they get their message out into the communities in order to expand progressive and positive voices and combat negative and extremist ones?
Littlewood said, “What we did in Palestine was a gender equality women’s program, through this we were, naturally, opposing extremism in itself. It is important to give an understanding of Hebron, Palestine first. I took this quote from Rateeba, who runs the largest youth forum in Palestine. She spoke to me about extremism in Hebron and the history extremism in the women’s movement.”
Rateeba spoke at length about the women’s movement starting in the late 17th century and emerging, with prominence, in 1965. According to Rateeba, women and men worked to bring about political and economic equality.
“After the first Intifada in 1987, political Islam started to influence the culture of the Palestinian people. They moved our society far away from the leftist leading parties. They use and continue to use religion to influence people, coming into conflict with our leftist political parties,” Rateeba opined, “The Islamist groups started recording successes in the peace process as successes for themselves, which increased their popularity. The Left has essentially disappeared.”
This gap of the Left, of the progressives as one example, creates a need for more progressive coalitions and community building to combat the Islamists, the extremists found in political Islam. Rateeba continued to speak on the lack of a Left or a Center, where the Islamists continue to gain ground and fill the political vacuum or void.
She reflects on the rise in “Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and now Turkey.” Indeed, women are forbidden from things that they did before, including dancing. There were nuances and community differences in Islamic beliefs. Those are gone now.
She lamented that the separation of people was on nation, language, and culture. Now, the religion of Islam works to dominate them.
Littlewood said, “I think this really demonstrates the shift in Palestine towards extremism and a push against progressivism. So, working in gender equality was interesting, because it is gender equality that organizations like Hizb ut-Tahrir have really been working to prevent; it has, in the last year, prevented a shelter for battered women being created. In the last couple of months, they prevented a marathon from taking place that was running through Hebron because it was a mixed gender marathon: men and women were running together.”
As noted in prior articles and work, the moves, internationally, for the advancement and empowerment of women are important in the well-being and wealth of nations. To further bolster this case, it also becomes something extremists work to prevent, as part of their strategies and ‘activism’ of oppression of women.
Littlewood described the work to prevent gender equality and the equality of women with men. BTV, thus, added gender equal, also one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, to the dossier of its work.
“We aim first to identify the issues facing people in an area and gender equality definitely was a prominent issue. We then work with organizations who are working in that area on the ground,” Littlewood further explicated, “so we can get some professionals involved to do some training with the young people — so they get hands-on workshops with people working on this day-in-and-day-out.”
BTV had a number of women’s rights organizations work with women. They know the issues and ways to create dialogue and bridge communities’ work. Now, BTV and others work to upskill the knowledge about social media for the activists and others.
The organization, BTV, has a digital expert as a director, who knows Twitter and how to blog in the right tone, place the right #s/hashtags, and the timing of release for materials on social media. This social media training is given in stages or step-by-step for the activists and others.
It becomes a means by which to effectuate proper change. The BTV Facebook and Instagram platforms were important in helping with training and outreach for the social media of the activists. The organization has more than 300 people following BTV Facebook, mostly Palestinians from Hebron.
Modern communications technologies permit more women to have a platform, especially as women and girls tend to have less economic independence in most countries of the world. BTV trained people in how to utilize social media communications in an effective manner.
Littlewood stated, “BTV trained young women in how to use social media effectively. It gives them organizations, including ourselves and other organizations within my network, to tweet at and include in their posts. So, we can reach a wider audience. What is really, really useful about social media, it is completely free. There are no economic restrictions on this. Even some of the cheap phones, smartphones, they have the ability to take a photo and put things on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.”
The ease and accessibility help with the outreach of the progressive activists in order to fight extremist narratives. Littlewood reflected on the ongoing #MeToo social media campaign. 4.7 million people engaged with 12 million posts in the first 24 hours of the campaign.
Littlewood concluded, “It started with an activist standing up for a young woman who had been sexually abused. Then an actress used the hashtag, her name escapes me, she was the first to use it in the public sphere. That was in 2017. Within 24 hours, 12 million posts using #MeToo. It shows the impact and the reach we can have. Obviously, it influenced discourse, particularly if it was discourse in the UK. It has given the feminist movement a big kick up the ass once again.”
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Image Credit: Charlotte Littlewood.