Seran de Leede

Seran de Leede works on the topics of women, gender, and political violence as an independent researcher. Her research interests include the involvement of women in violent extremist groups and the relevance of gender in understanding and countering/preventing violent extremism. In her recent publications, she explored the motivations of women joining far-right extremist groups and lessons learned from German exit/prevent programmes aimed at far-right extremist women; the role of women in De Rode Jeugd (The Red Youth, a violent radical Left group active in the Netherlands in the 1970s); the position of Afghan women towards the Taliban; the relevance of adopting a gender perspective in efforts aimed to counter/prevent violent extremism; the motivations and roles of Western women supporting the Islamic State (ISIS); and the roles (and relevance) of women in jihadist groups from a historical perspective. Most recently, she co-edited a special issue for the Central Asia Program on the effect of gender structures and dynamics on violent extremism in the Central Asia region, and she co-authored a toolkit for professionals working with Islamist radicalised women and girls.

Christopher R. Fardan is currently a PhD fellow at the Department of Sociology at the University of Manchester and an affiliate at the University of Oslo. His doctoral thesis focuses on ways in which nationalist activism is sustained in contemporary Norway. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork, including participant observation and in-depth interviews, in nationalist milieus, Fardan specifically puts emphasis on the importance of understanding different nationalist ideologies, individual trajectories into activism, and group-level dynamics within such spaces. Key research interests include nationalism, activism, social movements, qualitative research methods, and ethnography.

She is a passionate human rights and rule of law-driven professional with a focus on understanding and countering violence-promoting extremism, using methods and tools that support young people in living better with difference and disagreement. She is also an advocate for seeing and promoting the relatives of youth in violent extremist milieus as critical resources in the work to counter violence promoting extremism.

Together with colleague Sacharias Wiren and in partnership with the University of Cambridge, Umeå University, and Uppsala University, Malena supports the work of IC Sweden, an evidence-based intervention for young people at the intersection of public mental health promotion and prevention of black-and-white thinking, extremism, and polarization. Her interests lie in understanding how to better support young people towards living well with difference and disagreement, and developing interventions based on these understandings.

Malena is a trained Middle East analyst with a focus on security policy. She has gained extensive operational knowledge of countering violence, promoting extremism and terrorism in her role as Chief Analyst for Counterterrorism at the Swedish Security Service. She has also investigated war crimes and crimes against humanity for the UN, headed the Swedish Red Cross in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe, and worked on security sector reform for the EU in Afghanistan. Malena brings practical experience as well as operational and strategic perspective to the programme.

Rabya Mughal is a developmental psychologist with expertise in atypical neurodevelopment, frontal lobe function relating to social conforming, and theories of Othering. She is interested in the interplay between the micro (neuropathological), meso (societal) and macro (global, including colonial-legacy) systems in relation to the phenomenon we term radicalisation. Her PhD from the UCL Institute of Education assessed the role of social deprivation on neurocognition and pathology in children and adolescents on the Autism and Fetal Alcohol Spectrums, and children in the foster care system. She has experience researching how social norms and environmental trauma can alter neural pathways as well as how frontline services and public policy can address atypical child development. She previously held postdoctoral positions at the UCL School of Medical and Life Sciences, assessing in-community public health measures for individuals with psychiatric needs. Prior to re-entering academia as a doctoral student, Rabya worked in public policy, focusing on education for special needs and vulnerable groups.

Dr Laura Zahra McDonald (PhD) is a founding director of ConnectFutures, an independent civil society organisation based in the UK, that works with young people, communities and professionals to prevent violence, extremism and exploitation. ConnectFutures applies learning from academic research and professional skills, to its practical, youth and community orientated programmes and training.

ConnectFutures programmes are delivered in a variety of contexts, from prisons to schools to places of worship, directly working with over 100 000 young people through educational and non-educational settings, and many thousands of professionals such as teachers, police officers and social workers, as well as members of the wider public.

With an early career in academia investigating state-community engagement in the context of security and conflict post 9/11, she highlighted the importance of community partnership with leadership from young people and women. Laura has extensive experience in innovative programme design, critical enquiry and evaluation for policy, practitioner and community-based organisations. She has worked to counter extremism, exploitation and inequality since 2003, engaging formally in understanding and developing preventative approaches to extremisms since 2005. This includes bringing young people together with the police for problem-solving in the community, and engaging ‘hard to-reach’ youth for dialogue and skills-building across diverse communities.

She has been a key developer – designing, testing and evaluating - in the OSCE’s Leaders Against Intolerance and Violent Extremism (LIVE) initiative, which is a long-term training and capacity building programme for young leaders in Western Europe, the Balkans and Central Asia to tackle extremism in their local contexts. Laura has also contributed to the development of an online course for UNITAR around countering violent extremism within a human rights framework.

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