Building Civic Society in a Polarized World
تويزة/Twiza is defined as the act of a community coming together to build a material structure, such as a house or barn. The تويزة/Twiza project is a two-year collaboration of seven universities and three non-government organizations that will build an digital infrastructure to allow over 500 youth participants in Africa, the Middle East, Europe and North America to engage in transnational dialogues about the meaning of civic society and human rights in response to a global rise in extremism and intolerance. Twenty of these individuals will then be chosen as تويزة/Twiza Fellows to take part in a five-day workshop where they will build (then implement) civic society projects focused on human rights in their home communities. From the dialogues and workshops, educational materials will be then develop for use at additional universities and non-government organizations. Upwards of 20 university courses will also be revised to insure this project continues beyond the two-year funding period.
Sectarian divisions coupled with polarized debate have radicalized a politics premised on bigotry and hate. When such politics are placed within a global context, the results can be witnessed in the increase of hate crimes in local communities and a rise in global intolerance towards political/economic refugees. In this current moment, then, there is a vital need for platforms in which individuals, groups, and communities can engage in productive discussions about the meaning of tolerance, diversity, peace, and human rights. Such dialogues, however, must also then be turned into pragmatic actions within communities. Indeed, the need for such a dialogues and pragmatic actions are particularly important for global youth, whose actions as a generation will either solve or exacerbate the radicalized and hate-based politics in which they are moving toward adulthood.
تويزة/Twiza is defined as the act of a community coming together to build a material structure, such as a house or barn. In that spirit, this project will a digital platform which will enable among youth in the Middle East/North Africa, Europe, and the United States to use their unique personal and geographic locations to develop a space where the meaning of concepts, such as democracy, human rights, and civic society, became articulated as both a philosophical ideal and local set material set of practices. A select number of participants will then be chosen as تويزة/Twiza Fellows, attending a five-day workshop where they will develop a community-based project to support expanding civic-society rights in their local commnity.
Finally, through continual curating and publishing of these conversations/workshop in digital form, youth across the globe will have access to materials (in English/Arabic) which speak to their interests and can be used in the neighborhoods, community organizations, and university classrooms focused on the possibilities of civic dialogues, tolerant communities, and inclusive practices. In this way, a two-year international conversation among youth in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and the United States will produce an ongoing resource for dialogue and civic society development for non-government organizations and universities committed to civic society across the globe.
The Directors will coordinate with faculty from the participating universities/NGO’s to ensure that each semester over a two-year period, there will be three paired university/NGO classrooms where participants will engage in an online dialogues focused on civic society and democratic/human rights. Each semester will have a specific theme such as educational, religious, or gender rights. The dialogues will share common readings and assignments. Undergirding each dialogue will be a consistent focus on how the ideas discussed might be enacted into a set of community practices. For this reason, there will also be a workshop providing training in the digital/print/organizing skills required to make this possible. It is this movement from conversation, to engagement, to local change which provides the youth involved the ability to turn “concepts” into new forms of “community,” to move a politics of hate into a politics of inclusion.
Specifically, enrolled students will begin to read materials focused on the dialogue’s topic, such as gender rights, as well the cultural/political context of each university/country involved. After a period of in-class discussion, students will begin to discuss key terms/concepts with their international partners, first as a united group, then breaking into specific transnational groups focused on aligned concepts, such as issues of marriage rights within their local context. These discussions will lead to both research on each specific legislative/cultural context informing the protection/denial of such rights, as well as the development of pragmatic strategies to intervene in support of such rights. A workshop will then occur on each site where pragmatic organizing skills are taught to each class. The course will conclude with each set of transnational students within aligned topics (marriage rights) formulating potential public projects to be implemented locally. (Each local course will determine whether the plan will actually be implemented.)
At the end of each project year, the Directors will accept applications from all the involved youth, selecting ten individuals to be Fellows and inviting them a five-day workshop (to be held in a common location) designed to provide additional theoretical and pragmatic training in how to create and sustain civic society practice. To be selected, students must propose a specific project to support the expansion democratic/human rights within their local communities, expanding the meaning of (and opportunties within) their civic community. These Fellows will then embedded within an alumni network and asked to provide advice to youth seeking to do civil society work in their local communities. Finally, at the conclusion of the two year project, a series of digital publications premised on the work generated by participating students, and featuring pragmatic advice on how to build such conversations locally, that will be available for use by universities as well as NGO’s internationally.