UNESCO and United States promote education to prevent violent extremism

Paris, 6 November 2015 – Director-General Irina Bokova and United States Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken made a forceful appeal for respect, civic engagement and responsibility at a high-level event on Preventing Violent Extremism through Education, organized by UNESCO and the Permanent Mission of the United States during the 38th General Conference at UNESCO Headquarters on 6 November.

The event was supported by the Permanent Delegations to UNESCO of Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, France, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

“No one is born a violent extremist,” said the Director-General. “Violent extremists are made, they are nurtured, they are fuelled. Violent extremists offer destruction and hatred. We must respond with culture and knowledge. Violent extremists promote fear and division. We must respond with skills for critical thinking, with opportunities for civic engagement, with competences for dialogue across cultures."

Mr Blinken stressed that UNESCO’s role as a guardian of shared humanity was more needed than ever. “By arming young minds with a world perspective rooted in respect, social justice, diversity and critical thinking, we can not only counter radicalization as it arises, but prevent its growth in the first place,” he said. “In the 21st century, what really defines the wealth of a nation is its human resource, and that ability to maximize the potential of that resource to be creative, to innovate, to think, to argue and to create.”

He said that UNESCO’s Global Citizenship Education programme was helping to equip ministries with the latest in education policy, classroom curriculum, and internet guides in order to foster a learning environment based on the exchange of ideas.

“We recently saw the great depth of support that exists for these kinds of partnerships when the resolution on UNESCO’s role in promoting education to prevent violent extremism received an exceptional response of 80 co-sponsors,” he said, noting that “UNESCO’s mandate remains a pillar of international security and prerequisite for sustainable development.”

He said the United States would work with UNESCO to develop a dynamic digital education resource to help prevent and undermine the allure of violent extremism along with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation and Facing History and Ourselves.

During a bilateral meeting with the Director-General, Mr Blinken underlined that cooperation with UNESCO has a special significance for the U.S. given the fundamental role of the Organization in addressing issues such as countering violent extremism and radicalization, protecting journalists, enhancing scientific cooperation and protecting the Ocean.  He asserted that the United States are and remain a vibrant partner of UNESCO.

The event took place with 200 participants, including around 30 ministers of education and representatives of permanent delegations to UNESCO. It included a round table discussion moderated by Newsweek journalist Ms Janine de Giovanni with contributions from Mr Belio Kipsang, Principal Secretary, State Department for Education of the Republic of Kenya, Ms Fariha Peracha, Director of the Sabaoon Centre in Pakistan and Mr Ivo Veenkamp, Deputy Executive of Hedayah in Abu Dhabi. Topics included ways of promoting critical thinking, breeding grounds for and causes of radicalization among youth and how international cooperation could be strengthened in preventing and countering violent extremism.

It follows the adoption of a resolution at UNESCO’s 197th Executive Board on education as a tool to prevent violent extremism, placing UNESCO in a leading role in this domain. UNESCO’s action was recognised as essential to prevent and counter violent extremism, during the Leaders’ Summit on Countering ISIL and Violent Extremism, hosted by President of the United States, Barack Obama at the United Nations in September 2015 The preventive approach in addressing violent extremism is also part of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.