What works to prevent violent extremism

06 November 2017

The UNESCO Intersectoral Team on the Prevention of Violent Extremism and the UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP) organized a side event “What Works and What Doesn’t in the Prevention of Violent Extremism: A Discussion on UNESCO’s Actions and Launch of UNESCO’s Latest Publications”, as part of the 39th session of the UNESCO General Conference on 3 November 2017 at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. The gathering highlighted UNESCO’s efforts in preventing violent extremism with a variety of approaches across all sectors of society.

Irina Bokova opened the event with UNESCO’s vision of how to respond to this complex challenge. “Across the globe, societies suffer horrendous acts of terrorism, minorities are persecuted, cultural diversity is attacked.… journalists are being silenced… schools are destroyed, children are taken hostage.… humanity’s cultural heritage is being pillaged and looted, to finance more terrorism … cultural cleansing is pursued to weaken the grounds for peace…Violent extremism is a red thread tying this picture together,” she said. “There is no single cause for its rise -- nor is there a single trajectory leading someone to extremist violence. But we do know it is not enough to counter this threat -- we must prevent it, and this is UNESCO’s leading strength.”

UNESCO’s unique approach to PVE was presented through the publications launched on this day, including UNESCO’s intersectoral brochure Preventing Violent Extremism Worldwide, the Education Sector’s Preventing violent extremism through education: A guide for policy-makers, the Communication and Information Sector’s publication Youth and Violent Extremism on Social Media: Mapping the Research and Terrorism and the Media: A Handbook for Journalists, and UNESCO MGIEP’s #YouthWagingPeace: A Youth-led guide on Prevention of Violent Extremism through Education.

Various approaches to prevent violent extremism

The opening was followed by a discussion on different approaches to the prevention of violent extremism. “Education is the key […] every child should find his or her place as an active member of society” said H.E. Pekka Puustinen, Permanent Delegate of Finland to UNESCO and co-chair of the Group of Friends of PVE. However this requires ‘’equal opportunities for all; otherwise we feel that some bricks are missing in the prevention of violent extremism.”

Chafica Haddad, Chair of the Intergovernmental Information for All Programme, underlined the importance of ‘’nurturing a responsible internet behavior to teach youths to live together peacefully’’.

Reflecting on the challenges engaging youth, Carolyn Nash, one of the leading co-authors of the MGIEP publication, called to go beyond tokenism and proceed to a ‘’cultural shift [as we need] to include unheard voices in the conversation’’. Participation is key. ‘’Peace and compassion have to be lived, they cannot be learned’’, stressed Carolyn Nash.

Arts and culture can help trigger the needed transformations. As indicated by Leonardo Párraga, Executive Director of the Fundación BogotArt, an artistic experience can help breakdown prejudices that lead people to see each other as enemies. This is necessary to prevent violent extremism, and extreme violence that is prevalent in Latin America.

Linked to the event, the Anne Frank House’s traveling exhibition “Let me be myself - The life story of Anne Frank” connects the life story of Anne Frank to contemporary experiences of discrimination and exclusion. The exhibition is on display until 4 November 2017.

UNESCO addresses PVE through an intersectoral approach, which includes education, youth engagement and empowerment, media and online-coalitions, and the protection of cultural heritage and diversity.

Learn more about UNESCO’s work on Prevention of Violent Extremism and the UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP).

UNESCO’s publications on PVE are available for download