UAE: Zayed Award winner, mother of a terror victim, aims to defeat hate with love

Moroccan-French activist has been working with families and communities to prevent youth radicalisation.

Supplied photo
Supplied photo

Ashwani Kumar

Published: Fri 18 Feb 2022, 3:52 PM

Latifa Ibn Ziaten, the mother of a terrorism victim and the winner of Zayed Award for Human Fraternity 2021, has dedicated her life to raising awareness against escalating extremism and violence.

The Moroccan-French activist has been working closely with families and communities to prevent youth radicalisation, and winning the award has given her greater impetus to achieve her goals.

It was a gruesome incident, a decade ago in southern France that changed her life. In March 2012, her son Imad, a 30-year-old paratrooper in the French Army, was murdered by Mohammed Merah, a self-proclaimed militant.

The heartbroken mother endured more pain in the neighbourhood of north-eastern Toulouse where Merah grew up. She was shocked to learn her son’s killer was hailed as a hero.

Ziaten felt it was lack of education and family support that drove immigrants like Merah, who went on a killing spree ending seven lives, and his supporters on the path of terrorism.

Seeking to change the narrative, she opened The Imad Association for Youth and Peace and became an activist against extremism.

“While small steps have been taken, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to make sure people are not involved in these activities. To address this, it requires education and people like myself who are campaigning for driving change with the goal of creating a better world, to ensure young people turn their back on these issues and avoid destroying their lives,” Ziaten told Khaleej Times.

A well-known civil society activist in France and across Europe, she said that the Award has made a significant impact in raising awareness and educating people about the dangers of extremism and violence.

“Prior to being awarded the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity, I went out on the streets and interacted with members of the local communities, especially youth, in France with the objective of turning them away from extremism so they can live better lives and fulfil their ambitions. This is something that I still do. Being an honoree of the Award has allowed me to help and support more individuals, families and youth, and, more importantly, it has been an integral part in motivating me to continue my mission. The Award has certainly given a lot of positive energy and I will continue to support families and the young generation for a very long time.”

Building youth centres with Award prize

Ziaten strives to combat radicalisation of youngsters by spreading the word through peace and love, and rather than hate. She has got a huge boost in her endeavours through the $500,000 prize money offered through the Award. She plans to build centres for young migrants in France and Morocco to develop skills and secure their future.

“This will be a specialised building where young migrants or people who are dreaming of going to Europe will have the opportunity to attend and receive quality education, with the long-term aim of finding jobs and being the leaders of tomorrow. Through this, they can support themselves and also build a better future for their families when they grow up. This is incredibly important as life is very precious and I want as many people to make their dream of travelling and settling in Europe come true.”

Ziaten praised the key role played by the UAE in promoting cultural and religious tolerance.

“The UAE has always been ambitious, providing a helping hand and making the nation a wonderful place for millions of people to live in peace and harmony and this is down to the vision of the country’s leadership.”

Next month, she plans to open a small nursery for boys coinciding with 10 years since the demise of Imad.

“The nursery will be full of toys and useful equipment. It would be a joy to see the smiling faces of young children, seeing them have fun and enjoying themselves while taking part in a wide range of activities. For me, this would be even more special considering it would be 10 years since the passing of my son Imad. I hope this project will be completed before March 11,” Ziaten added.

Separately, the Award is gearing up to honour the winners of the 2022 edition at a public ceremony in Abu Dhabi.

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