Countering violent extremism - halting cultural cleansing

On 28 September, UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, spoke to the annual symposium of the International Economic Alliance on “Culture and Countering Violent Extremism,” held at the Council on Foreign Relations, New York.

Participants included S.E. Rama N’Diaye Ramatoulaye Diallo, Minister of Culture of Mali and Ms Grete Faremo, Executive Director of the United Nations Office for Project Services, chaired by Ambassador Cynthia Schneider, as well as Ambassador Thomas Pickering.

“Today we are seeing unprecedented attacks against culture,” said the Director-General. “All this is part of what I call cultural cleansing, fuelled by violent extremism,” to spread fear and hatred, to eradicate cultural identities and to weaken the grounds for peace.

“This is why protecting heritage and fighting against trafficking is a peacebuilding imperative today,” she said, "and this stands also for education, for human rights, for global citizenship, for peace."

The Director-General spoke of her mission to Mali with the President of France, François Hollande, and her promise made to rebuild the mausoleums of Timbuktu‎ -- this promise was fulfilled in July 2015.

UNESCO is acting across the board to mitigate the risk of destruction and pillaging through monitoring and capacity-building, to fight illicit trafficking with neighbouring countries and all international partners, to document what has been destroyed and prepare for reconciliation and to counter the propaganda of hatred through new forms of communication -- including the launch at the University of Baghdad in March of a global social media campaign, #Unite4Heritage, to engage youth in challenging the propaganda of violence and to strengthen unity around shared values. 

“Attacks against culture are attacks against identities, against the ties that bind us together,” said Irina Bokova.

 “This is what we are fighting for today -- culture is what gives us meaning and strength, to resist, to recover, to join forces.”