Preventing Violent Extremism through Education ~ the next big challenge
Director-General of UNESCO
We live today in a fragmented world. Where we see a rising global struggle for hearts and minds, especially young people. Violent extremism is promoting fear and division, preaching exclusion and hatred, provoking a split between those who reject living together, and those who believe in humanity as a single community. The very idea of peace – founded on equality, dignity and respect, taken forward through tolerance and solidarity between and within societies – is being threatened. In this context, we must do everything to empower the younger generation by promoting the values of inclusion, dialogue, and by building new forms of solidarity based on human rights, global citizenship, trust and tolerance.
Violent extremists are not born, they are made and fuelled. This is a process we disarm, starting on the benches of schools, through new forms of education, media literacy, and new opportunities for youth engagement.
Inclusive Quality Education to Prevent Radicalisation
In the last years, we have seen human rights and dignity flaunted, freedom of expression challenged and journalists killed, women and girls attacked and used as targets of warfare, cultural monuments and artefacts destroyed, pillaged and sold illicitly. All these crimes have been perpetrated by rising forms of violent extremism.
How can we stop this violence? How can we ensure millions of young women and men are not lost to the terrors of war and the lure of hate speech?
There is no single cause or trajectory leading a young woman or man to extremist violence. But what we do know is that ‘hard power’ is not enough to counter a threat nourished by an exclusive vision based on false interpretations of faith, hatred, and ignorance. These visions cannot simply be countered – they must be prevented.
Violent extremists are not born, they are made and fuelled. This is a process we disarm, starting on the benches of schools, through new forms of education, media literacy, and new opportunities for youth engagement. As Malala Yousafzai, the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate, said:
“If you want to end the war then instead of sending guns, send books. Instead of sending tanks, send pens. Instead of sending soldiers, send teachers.”
Today, violent extremism is supported by a global propaganda campaign deployed on the Internet and through social media. We are facing an information war, where conspiracy theories and stories about fraternity in combat are used to incite the radicalization of young women and men. Extremists use twitter accounts and propaganda videos, making the most of new means of communication. To address these questions, UNESCO organised in June 2015 the first international conference “Youth and the Internet: Fighting Radicalization and Extremism,” and we are preparing a high-level international expert meeting on youth radicalization in cyberspace for next autumn, in Quebec.
The diverse aspects of radicalization still need to be clarified, but evidence shows clearly that education is the most powerful weapon we have to respond with – by undermining prejudice, by fighting ignorance and indifference. This stands at the heart of the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – in particular of Sustainable Development Goal 4, which UNESCO helped shape, to ensure “inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”
The stakes are high, especially in crisis situations. Around the world, an estimated 1.5 billion people live in fragile or conflict affected countries – 40 per cent of them are young people, and of these 28 million girls and boys are out of school. Behind these statistics are stories – stories of young people who cannot go to school, who do not learn, cannot work and, ultimately, are not allowed to dream.
We cannot promote the values of inclusion, dialogue and peace if so many are deprived of quality education. The danger is that of losing a generation to despair, poverty, and the perverted lure of violent extremism. Education is a basic human right – it is also a transformational force for poverty eradication, for sustainable growth, for healthier societies. We need education to strengthen the resilience of these societies, nurturing the capacity of every child, every young woman and man to withstand the pressures of change and make the most of their opportunities.
For this, education cannot just be about transmitting information and knowledge. It must be about new ways of seeing the world today, new ways of thinking about our responsibilities to each other and the planet, new ways of acting and behaving as global citizens, to shape the values, skills and knowledge we need for the century ahead, to promote deeper understanding, constituting what the philosopher Edgar Morin called “the condition and guarantee of the intellectual and moral solidarity of humanity.”
Violent extremists today use ignorance to launch destruction campaigns, asking people to destroy their own history. . . recent terrorist attacks remind us that violence recognises no borders, attacking shared values and order in societies across the world.
Empowering Global Citizens in a Diverse World
This is the spirit of all UNESCO’s action to promote education to advance global citizenship, which is a pillar of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative, launched in 2012. We have worked closely with the UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development to take this vision forward and to develop new curricula for youth competences and skills.
Educating global citizens requires recognizing and accepting differences across the full spectrum of learners. It means inclusive schools that are crucibles of tolerance and solidarity, sharing the wealth of cultural and linguistic diversity as a force of renewal, belonging and innovation. It means new resources, teacher training and curricula, along with new modes of assessment and new capacities. Global citizenship is about empowering new generations to live in a diverse world, with human rights and dignity as our starting point and compass setting.
Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.
This idea is at the heart of UNESCO’s contribution to the United Nations Secretary-General’s Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, as well as to the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.
Violent extremists today use ignorance to launch destruction campaigns, asking people to destroy their own history. This is not restricted to conflict areas – recent terrorist attacks remind us that violence recognises no borders, attacking shared values and order in societies across the world.
Knowledge of history is the best counter-narrative to defeat extremism – it is an antidote to mass killing and to radicalization. UNESCO is acting to teach the history of the Holocaust and other genocides, to fight discrimination today, anti-Semitism and xenophobic feelings on the rise.
This is why education must go hand in hand with sustained efforts in favour of media literacy and intercultural dialogue, bringing together all those working for critical thinking and freedom of opinion to deconstruct the false narratives spread on social media, as underlined in UNESCO’s integrated framework of action against youth radicalization, launched in June 2015.
Knowledge of history is the best counter-narrative to defeat extremism – it is an antidote to mass killing and to radicalization. UNESCO is acting to teach the history of the Holocaust and other genocides, to fight discrimination today, anti-Semitism and xenophobic feelings on the rise. To prevent new violence, we are developing policy guidance to support the Ministers of Education to deliver education programmes that build young people’s resilience against violent extremist messaging and foster a positive sense of identity and belonging. We launched recently a Teacher’s Guide on Violent Extremism that can be adapted to different contexts, to accompany educators across the world. UNESCO is also investing in education for young Internally Displaced Persons and refugees in Iraq, in Syria, in Lebanon, in Jordan, so no one is excluded.
An International Conference on “Prevention of Violent Extremism through Education: Taking Action” for senior education policy makers will be co-organized by UNESCO and the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development on 19 and 20 September 2016 in New Delhi, India,
as part of our continuing effort to build global momentum for education for prevent violent extremism.
Boosting Soft Power
Changing the narrative of extremism requires efforts across the board. States need to invest in youth engagement in political processes, in building democracy, in promoting human rights. This must be a priority from the top, as a development imperative and a security imperative, involving not only governments but all actors, from civil society to the private sector. No strategy can succeed if we do not put education at the forefront. We need to get this right to allow societies to escape the nightmares of history, to give young people every chance.
UNESCO was created in 1945, in a world devastated by war. Its founders were determined to ensure such destruction would never occur again. The overarching idea at the time envisioned humanity as a single community, sharing values, a past and a future. Inspired by this ideal, UNESCO’s Constitution states that “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.” This message has not aged a day.