The 4th World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue took place from 4 to 6 May 2017 in Baku, Azerbaijan with a goal to further promote peace, tolerance, understanding and dialogue among people and nations.
This year’s event was held under the theme of “Advancing Intercultural Dialogue: New Avenues for Human Security, Peace and Sustainable Development”. The Forum was organized in cooperation with UNESCO, the UN Alliance of Civilizations, the UN World Tourism Organization (WTO), the Council of Europe, the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the North-South Center of the Council of Europe. It gathered participants from some 125 countries. The Forum addressed many global challenges including building multicultural knowledge societies, dealing with massive migrations, xenophobia, discrimination and violent extremism, and discussed effective ways on how to cope with these challenges.
A breakout session, entitled “The cultural dimensions of countering extremism in cyberspace: The radicalization of youth leading to violence”, and moderated by Dr Boyan Radoykov from the Knowledge Societies Division of UNESCO, was held on 5 May. In his introduction to the debate, B. Radoykov presented the achievements of UNESCO in this important area and expressed his firm conviction that the created synergies both at national and international levels over the last two years, based on the work initiated by UNESCO, will ultimately lead to countering effectively the spread of hatred, intolerance and radicalization of youth leading to violent extremism.
Panel members included Ms Chafica Haddad, Chairperson of the Intergovernmental Council of the Information for All Programme (IFAP); Dr Mohamed Sameh Amr, Professor of International Law at Cairo University; Mr Farhad Hajiyev, Executive Director of the Youth Foundation of Azerbaijan; and Mr Daniel Da Hien, Coordinator of the African Youth Network of African NGO on information and training for youth.
Chafica Haddad said that information is a source of power that plays a major role in finding solution to many development issues. She stated also: “The last decade has witnessed technological development at a scale and speed unprecedented in the history of humankind… Information is central to development... Information is the pathway to understanding and peace. Today, we are witnessing the ever-growing rise of violent extremism on the Internet and social media… IFAP is determined to stand-up against youth radicalization in an active, holistic and efficient manner. It seeks to strengthen the role of youth as a positive force for social change around the world to promote social cohesion, intercultural and inter-religious dialogue, citizenship, gender equality, and the prevention of radicalization and extremism”.
Mohamed Sameh Amr pointed out that extremism is more easily wide spreading in places, where poverty prevails. “Prevention of extremism on the Internet is particularly important. UNESCO anticipated these problems and hosted in 2015 at its Headquarters a first-ever conference on radicalization of youth on Internet. This conference was very helpful to identify the problems at stake for young people that are vulnerable to extremism, which, in fact, has nothing to do with religion and ethnicity. The Internet is widely used for this purpose. Youth should fight against radical violent extremism on social media and the Internet. Internet providers should cooperate so as to block illegal propaganda websites,” he also said.
Mr Farhad Hajiyev, in turn, noted that the various ethnic groups and representatives of various religious denominations live peacefully in Azerbaijan: "Now everyone knows that the Internet is an integral part of our lives. The Internet is a completely new world, with more than 3 billion users around the world. Twitter and Facebook are sometimes used to spread negative beliefs. All States are suffering from the consequences of extremism. Socially marginalized young people are more prone to extremist radicalization. Azerbaijan attaches great importance to young people. We are one of the few countries whose Ministry of Youth and Sports have a Youth Foundation. Our Foundation creates the conditions for development of young people so that they can make positive changes," he added.
Mr Da Hien made a presentation of the ground work done by his NGO in Africa and emphasized the importance of gender equality, intercultural dialogue, entrepreneurship and social cohesion in the fight against radicalization and extremism on the Internet. Underlying that information is central to development and a pathway to understanding and peace, he also focused on the importance of equipping young people with media and information literacy skills in order to improve their critical thinking and abilities for development. “We advocate for preventing violent extremism through inclusive development and promotion among youth of the principles of tolerance and respect for diverse ideas and universal values,” he said, adding that to understand the roots of radicalization, “we have to take the cultural context as an important aspect, especially nowadays, when confronted with frequent migrations and different forms of multicultural societies”.
The panelists warned that violent extremists groups have considerably extended the outreach and recruitment by using a large number of websites, social media devices and interactive forums as easily accessible platforms for the dissemination of messages that incite hatred and prejudice, especially amongst young people. One of the main reasons contributing to the radicalization process is the lack of development opportunities, tolerance and respect, often resulting in their discrimination, alienation and marginalization.
Preventing and fighting violent extremism and learning how to live together regardless of differences in order to build safe and inclusive knowledge societies were central topics to which IFAP successfully contributed to this year’s event.