Preventing violent extremism with skills, education and dialogue

Skills, jobs, freedom of expression and more culture and history – these are the responses that must be nurtured in the face of violent extremism that is threatening our shared humanity, stated UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova at an event organized by Albania, Jordan and the Holy See in the margins of the 71st session of the UN General Assembly, on 20 September 2016.‎

High level participants included H.E. Mr Ditmir Bushati, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Albania‎, ‎His Eminence Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, The Holy See‎, H.E. Ms Dina Kawar, Ambassador Extraordinary of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to the United States of America, Mr David Saperstein, US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom‎ And Professor Abbadi Ahmed, Secretary-General, Muhammadan League of Religious Scholars. The discussion was moderated by Mr David L Philips from Columbia University. 

‎"Tackling this threat is a huge responsibility, of which UNESCO is deeply aware, and this is why we are acting across the board," said Irina Bokova.

"This goes to the heart of the UNESCO Constitution, to build the defences of peace in the minds of women and men, starting with education, starting with the soft power of learning, the sciences, intercultural dialogue, on the basis of shared values," she continued.

The event, "Countering and preventing violent extremism through education," aimed to promote awareness raising campaigns against hate speech and discrimination and to ensure the social inclusion of children and young people at risk through education, training and de-radicalization programmes.

The Albanian Foreign Minister said education is "the most comprehensive and long term action" to prevent violent extremism.

The Director-General commended the government of Albania, reminding that UNESCO is supporting Albania to develop a new module within their democratic citizenship education curricula on intercultural and inter-religious dialogue in the broader framework of the government’s efforts to prevent violent extremism.

Cardinal Parolin called for action to "address the multiple dimensions of radicalisation" including education and interreligious dialogue‎.

"Ignorance fuels hatred and extremism," he said. "We need authentic dialogue to prevent radicalization and marginalization and closer cooperation at all levels, international, regional, national and local."

Ambassador Dina Kawar stressed the importance of values in education, to deepen citizenship and tolerance. She pointed to vital need to reach refugees with education, and thanked UNESCO for its support to Jordan.

"The region cannot afford a lost generation," she said.

Ambassador Saperstein called for action across the board "to empower learners, teachers, school officials, families and communities" -- with a special focus on reaching and including girls.

He pointed to the UNESCO Guide on Preventing Violent Extremism through Education as "a best practice and a role model."

Professor Ahmed underlined the complexity of preventing violent extremism -- "there are no talismanic solutions" -- and underlined the importance of education in this "soft‎ power struggle."

"Violent extremists preach exclusion and racism --We must teach human rights and tolerance," said Irina Bokova. "‎Young people are learning to hate – we must teach them peace by strengthening peace education, teacher training, curricula reform."

In this respect, she pointed to the telling example of Malaysia‎, notably in the ground-breaking Malaysian Education Blueprint 2013-2025, which UNESCO supported, to strengthen inclusion and education for peace.

"This is prevention, strengthening the foundations for peace and non-violence, and this is an excellent example for many other countries," she said -- referring also to the YesPeace Network she launched in Malaysia in 2015, to support youth engagement and education for peace, with the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development, based in India.

Click here for the full recording of the panel.

Click here for list of panel participants and here for discussion notes.