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Countering Violent Extremism: An International Town Hall

US Public Radio Series

America Abroad is an award-winning documentary radio program distributed by Public Radio International (PRI) and broadcast on public radio stations nationwide. Each month, we take an in-depth look at one critical issue in international affairs and U.S. foreign policy.

Recent terrorist attacks on Western soil, including the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris and the shooting in Garland, Texas, have galvanized people on both sides of the Atlantic to take stronger action to counter violent extremism in Muslim communities.

Women around the world are striving for full gender equality in how they speak, work, and pray. But feminism takes on new meaning when viewed through the lens of Islam.

“I started growing opium nearby my village, because we were all very poor,” says a man in his 40s, who wants to remain anonymous. He lives in Tonzang, a small town of around 6,000 inhabitants, high above the clouds in the mountains of northern Chin state in Burma. It’s one of the country’s poorest and most underdeveloped regions.

“There are no jobs there that can give you a sustainable income. Many families around us were already growing it and making money from it, so I decided to start too.”

In this video, reporter Emily Johnson looks at the 969 Buddhist nationalist movement, which has been blamed for inciting violence against Burma's minority Muslim population. She talks to U Wirathu, the movement's spiritual leader, and visits the burned out remains of Meiktila's Muslim quarter. 

While working on this program, we looked for young people who could speak about the experience of living in Burma as the country goes through some major changes. We met Bawi Za Kham through one of his teachers, Deb Fowler, shown here. He inspired her (and us!) with his courageous story of leaving Burma to pursue his education, and his endless drive to help his family. Some of Bawi's story is below.

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