At UNESCO conference on Internet and Youth Radicalisation, youth voices though few, were the loudest

30 Oct -1st Nov 2016, Quebec—A play by Belgian artist Ismael Saïdi, Djihad focussing on the exodus of youth as almost 440 Belgians travelled to Syria to join Daesh, set the tone for the 3-day-long conference jointly organised by UNESCO and the Ministry of International Relations and Francophonie Quebec on Internet and the radicalization of youth: Preventing, acting and living together.

The play’s treatment of the subject— albeit light-hearted— was thought-provoking and underpinned the seriousness of the issue. Concerns of dissonance with multiple identities, unrealistic expectations from families, ghettoised existence, lack of opportunities despite being well educated, social stereotyping and humiliation— these were some of the  related concerns that Saïdi’s play touched upon.

In the audience, were four ministers of education or youth affairs from across the world, the DG of UNESCO and approximately 300 experts, researchers, educators, sociologists, political scientists, cyber lawyers and civil society representatives engaged in issues related to the fight against radicalisation leading to violent extremism.

The minister for International Relations and Francophonie of Quebec, Christine Saint-Pierre, and the Director General of UNESCO Irina Bokova, underscored the need for education systems that inculcated  an  understanding of different cultures and respecting diversity. Ms. Bokova  cited the recently-concluded international conference jointly organised by UNESCO and the MGIEP on PVE/E in New Delhi and said its conclusions rely critically on education and youth dialogues.

Speaking on the role that civil society has to play in the creation of counter narratives to radicalisation, M Ross Lajeunesse, Head of Google’s Freedom of Speech and International Relations services, reiterated that efforts made by governments and companies would only go a certain distance if civil society doesn’t do its bit. On its part, Lajeunesse said, Google does filter content  and works alongside  governments for enhancing digital security.

The plenary on multisector approaches to addressing the challenge of radicalisation and the internet saw some powerful opinions expressed and shifted the focus to the critical importance of youth dialogue to counter the challenge of radicalisation.

Firmion Matoko, Additional DG of UNESCO for Africa spoke about successful programmes and youth interventions started in Africa through community initiatives and Dr. Maria Mourani a Canadian sociologist drew parallels from her experience with adolescents affected by gang violence and radicalised youth.

Dr. Anantha Kumar Duraiappah, director of UNESCO MGIEP challenged the panellists and audience by asking thought-provoking questions about ownership of the internet and the benefits of the internet. Dr. Duraippah said that the solution lies in an education built on critical inquiry and empathy building. His intervention about “Firing the Gandhi neurons” received a great deal of interest especially when he elaborated that practising empathy helps bolster cognitive thinking and this is based on neuroscience research. And finally the fact that to be in the know and to be empathetic will not help unless one has the ability and courage to act, drew large consensus and applause from all present.

Interestingly, all speakers continually called for youth voice and dialogue as a solution to the problem, but not one panel had a youth delegate. Something that did not go unnoticed by the youth participants who voiced their displeasure.

It was understandable therefore that when UNESCO MGIEP put the youth at the centre of the dialogue at Talking Across Generations on Education (TAGe), its inter-generational discussion, the youth lapped up the opportunity to challenge policymakers with their perspectives.

The high-voltage one hour session witnessed participation by more than 300 people in a fully-packed room. Seated on high barstools with no differentiation made between youth, ministers, experts, the dynamics of hierarchy and authority quickly dissolved, allowing for a free-flowing discussion. Yan England, a youth icon in Canada, along with security expert Stephane Berthomet kept the discussion alive, energetic and bounced off issues from youth to relevant experts quickly.

Among the “experts” were Danial Gallant, a reformed white supremacist who works as a social activist, Mubin Shaikh a former-radicalised youth who now helps government agencies in their work for de radicalisation, Dominic Vezina, who founded the Institut Nouveau du Monde that works to teach responsible citizenship to the youth, Thibault Charteron from the UN Alliance of civilizations that works towards responsible media practices, Minister Amadou Koita Minister of Youth Mali, Latifa Ibn Ziaten and Prof. Vivek Venkatesh from the University of Concordia Education Department, who works on artistic interventions and innovative pedagogies to counter online hate among many others.

Dr. Anantha Duraiappah asked the audience if it would like to bring in a terrorist to the discussion table; unsurprisingly the youth seemed more open to idea than their older counterparts. The youth delegates voiced their concerns about protecting  digital identities and fear of expression online. TAGe evoked a very positive response from all present including Sebastein Goupil, SG of Canada to UNESCO and Julie Dechene, Ambassador of Canada to UNESCO. The inter-generational debate, which was also live streamed was viewed by 235 people from across 62 countries.

The international Conference sought to build a common understanding among senior education policy makers, experts from around the world, about the educational interventions and approaches that are needed to ensure that education systems contribute appropriately and effectively to the prevention of violent extremism. Most participants agreed that the internet was not the reason but only a vector for radicalisation. Youth-led solutions and multisectoral-approaches through education seem to be the viable long-term solutions to meeting the challenge, as was emphasised by Premier of Quebec Philippe Couillard at the closing ceremony.

Contact Information:

–Mr Abel CAINE, Senior Programmes Officer, Overall Coordinator TAGeQuébec:

–Ms Archana CHAUDHARY, Project Officer

–Mr Simon KUANY,, Programme Officer

–Ms Radhika BHATNAGAR, Communications Officer

Related news articles:

“Young people need to fire Gandhi neurons,” Dr. Anantha Duraiappah offers an alternative solution to combating youth radicalisation through the internet

Talking Across Generations on Education (TAGeDelhi): Youth keep dialogue raw and real

YESPeace Network Workshop: Youth demonstrate strength in diversity; offer solutions for a peaceful shared future

Kimmie Ahlen: From Radical to Reformist

–Watch the TAGe New Delhi Video here:

Catch glimpses of the conference here

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