Investing in education and young people to counter violent extremism

On 29 September, UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, addressed the Leaders’ Summit on Countering ISIL and Violent Extremism, hosted by the President of the United States, H.E. Mr Barack Obama, held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

President Obama was clear about the nature of the struggle against violent extremism and the most appropriate response: "Ideologies are not defeated by guns but new ideas," he said. ‎ "‎The path is not less democracy but more democracy, HR and the rule of law."

‎"We have to work together‎ to build diverse, tolerant, inclusive societies to defeat violent extremism," said President Obama, adding "We will win the battle and this requires diligence, focus, and sustainable efforts by all of us."

The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon underlined the importance of human rights in the struggle: "Terrorism and violent extremism prevail when Human rights violated."

He pointed to the keys for success as action to ‎engage all society, to reach out to youth, using also new media, combined with strong leadership and institutions, all guided by the moral compass of shared values -- at heart of his forthcoming comprehensive Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism to be presented to the UN General Assembly.

Prime Minister Abadi of Iraq said, ‎ "We have to stop foreign fighters, stop financing, stop the enslavement of women, stop theft of artefacts.‎"

His Royal Highness the King of Jordan was equally clear in saying that the battle against ISIL can only be won on the ideological plan, by winning hearts and minds, by giving hope instead of fear and destruction.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy highlighted the central role of culture in strengthening resilience of communities and in bringing back peace in the region stressing UNESCO's specific role -- with a special focus on the vital importance of protecting cultural heritage in the struggle against ISIL and violent extremism.

Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom, placed stress on the need to tackle the building blocks of violent extremism, as being more important than military action.

The Prime Minister of Malaysia said that Malaysia unequivocally condemns misrepresentation of Muslim: "No crime and violence is justified in the name of religion. Moderation in Islam and its associated values of humility and compassion are values that the extremists are lacking completely."

The French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, laid emphasis on the urgency of collective action in the struggle against ISIL and Violent Extremism. This was echoed by the Prime Minister of Belgium, who said: "only together can we make progress towards a safer world."

‎The Prime Minister of Sweden underlined the importance of integrating the gender perspective in the struggle: "violence against women and children in totally unacceptable‎ -- we need to find ways to enhance the role of women in the fight against extremism."

The Confederation of Switzerland highlighted that investing in technical and vocational training is key to engage youth in countering violent extremism, referring also to the need to engage the private sector in this regard -- this was echoed by the World Economic Forum.

Speaking for the European Union, High Representative Federica Mogherini said, "This is a fight of all of us together. Either we do it together or we don't do it at all."

"This is not a clash of civilizations," she said.

The Secretary-General of the Organization ‎for Islamic Cooperation shared information about current initiatives to counter violent extremism from cyber-security to fight cyber recruitment, to initiatives promoting intercultural dialogue and the appreciation of the diversity of cultures -- including a joint project with US State Department on clear interpretations of Islam across the region.

The head of Interpol spoke of the importance of intelligence sharing, data and information, to sharpen action in the fight against violent extremism.

On this occasion, the Governments of Tunisia, Nigeria and Malaysia announced their decision to join the Coalition countering ISIL.


© Bob Krasner

The UNESCO Director-General spoke the scale of the challenge: "We see an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in Syria and Iraq. We see cultural cleansing on massive scale, humanity’s shared heritage destroyed, looted and sold off,” she said.

The Director-General highlighted here the strategic importance of quality education to counter violent extremism -- noting the recent proposal of the United States of America to strengthen UNESCO's action in this respect to the UNESCO Executive Board "UNESCO's Role in Promoting Education as a Tool to Prevent Violent Extremism" -- this stresses UNESCO's primary role in the UN system to promote education for human rights and peace, to prevent violent extremism.

“This is the new frontline for hearts and minds. Young people learn to hate – we must teach them peace,” she said.

“We must provide young women and men in the region, across the world, with access to quality education, we skills to think critically, with media literacy to reject hatred, with competences for dialogue and tolerance, with aspirations to become global citizens,” she said.

Irina Bokova highlighted two forthcoming activities of UNESCO here. On 6 November, with the United States and partners, UNESCO is organising the first-ever High-Level Conference on Countering Violent Extremism through Education. The Organisation is developing also a Teachers’ Guide for Countering Violent Extremism, to support educators across the world

She placed this work in the UN Global Counter-terrorism Strategy as well as UNESCO's work to implement the 2030 Agenda. The Director-General highlighted UNESCO's work with partners to implement UN Security Council Resolution 2199 to fight the illicit trafficking of cultural goods.‎ 

She stressed the importance of the first transfer of a suspect to the International Criminal Court in the Mali investigation for the war crime of the intentional destruction of cultural heritage. 

"There can be no impunity for this war crime," she declared.

To counter the narrative of violent extremists, Irina Bokova went to the University of Baghdad in March to launch a global social media campaign #Unite4Heritage – to challenge the propaganda of hatred to strengthen unity around shared values and a single humanity.

 “Countering violent extremism calls for action in every society, especially with young women and men, who, in their aspirations and their diversity are our greatest ambassadors of peace,” said the Director-General.

“This is a generational challenge, to which we must all rise – together, I am convinced we can, starting with education.”

In all, 31 Heads of States and Governments took the floor‎, coming from all continents, from the Arab Region to Africa, Europe and Asia. Only UNESCO and INTERPOL participated as specialized technical institutions. ‎In addition, a wide range of international organisations as well as NGOs participated in the Leaders’ Summit -- including the European Union, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, as well as the World Economic Forum, the ‎Elman Peace and Human Right Centre and the Forum of Promoting peace in Muslim Societies.

On the same day, the Director-General participated in a Roundtable on “Conflict Antiquities: Forging a Public/Private Response to Save the Endangered Patrimony of Iraq and Syria”, organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the United States Department of State -- with Mr Antony Blinken, Deputy Secretary of State of the United States and Mr Tom Campbell, President of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Roundtable saw presentations from a wide range of officials from across the United States Government, including Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and the FBI -- all underlining the importance of reducing demand for illicitly trafficked cultural goods, halting the supply, raising awareness and building capacity.