Special Remarks by Mr. Miguel Ángel Moratinos,
High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations
Roundtable discussion and the book launch of “Informing Action: Higher Education Institutions Countering Violent Extremism”.
1 November 2021 (12:00 – 2:00 PM EDT)
Harvard Club of New York City, New York
Dear Esteemed Guests,
I wish to thank the Hamad Bin Khalifa University for the kind invitation to this very timely round table discussion on COVID-19, countering violent extremism and education.
COVID-19 has disrupted virtually every aspect of our lives. The impact of which goes well beyond being a health crisis. It is for example clear that the pandemic has seriously disrupted education systems, with 1.2 billion students and youth across the planet affected by school closures.
But one of the most serious repercussions of the pandemic has been the spread of the hate virus, which has spiked and thrived, both off- and online. Racism, xenophobia and discrimination, have been exacerbated in the context of the pandemic. Moreover, violent extremists across the ideological spectrum view the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity for expansion, and young people are likely among the most at risk. Several violent extremist groups have used the pandemic to spread propaganda, including recruitment and incitement to violence. Similarly, the interruption of conventional educational opportunities caused by the pandemic has increased time spent on social media by young people, therefore increasing the risk of exposure to violent ideologies and narratives.
Since its inception in 2005, UNAOC has developed educational programming to enhance the resilience of young people to radical narratives, hate speech, propaganda, and divisive language, and their abilities to foster greater awareness, mutual respect, understanding and long-term positive relationships between peoples of different cultures and religions. This is in line with the SG’s plan to Prevent Violent Extremism, as one of its action points stresses the importance of “ensuring that every child receives a quality education which equips him or her for life, as stipulated under the right to education, including teaching respect for human rights and diversity, fostering critical thinking, promoting media and digital literacy, and developing the behavioural and socio-emotional skills that can contribute to peaceful coexistence and tolerance.”
One of the most powerful tools we have in hands to achieve that is Global Citizenship Education, which has the potential to not only respond to the negative consequences of this unprecedented health crisis but also to the needs of our complex 21st century: transformative education which nurtures shared values and respect for diversity, tackling the surge in stigma, polarization, racism, and hate speech against vulnerable communities. Young Peacebuilders is one of UNAOC’s flagship programmes that provide non-formal peace education to young grass-roots leaders to acquire intercultural competencies and build critical thinking skills to help foster cross-cultural dialogue and counter stigma and contribute to P/CVE efforts.
Recent research shows that social and emotional competencies such as empathy, compassion, self-awareness, and respecting diversity contribute to building the resilience of young people, especially in times of crisis. UNAOC is currently implementing “#YouthWagingPeace: The Whole Community Approach to Prevention of Violent Extremism through Education”, in collaboration with UNESCO MGIEP, empowering and training South-Asian youth leaders with the skills and tools to create and implement community-wide PVE activities, with a specific focus on enhancing socio-emotional competencies. We are also very proud of one other initiative with UNESCO MGIEP, in which we are creating guidance on how to use video games to prevent violent extremism by enhancing socio-emotional intelligence and skills.
Technology is a double-edged weapon. As much as it can be misused by hate mongers, it can also be harnessed to convey positive messages. It is imperative that we find innovative ways to harness the power of these new technologies to prevent and counter hate speech and violent extremism within the framework of rule of law and human rights.
In this context, UNAOC has also been working on exposing younger generations to media and information literacy and critical thinking skills with the goal to help them acquire a set of skills needed to create counternarratives against hate and intolerance and develop innovative techniques to create compelling content that promotes positive values and responds to misrepresentations of facts. Countering fake news, stigma and hate speech is essential to the PCVE effort. UNAOC and UNOCT co-implement the EDIN project (Empowering Dialogue and interfaith networks). The project provides young religious leaders, representatives of faith-based organizations and young media makers with a peer-to-peer learning space and builds their capacity to prevent sectarian violence and counter terrorist narratives, using efficient communication tools and strategies to reach their community. And, under the umbrella of our Plural+ youth video festival, UNAOC, in collaboration with IOM, awarded and encouraged talented and creative young women and men who created videos that provided a counter-narrative to stereotyping, racism and hate speech against minorities.
Before concluding, I wish to commend the State of Qatar and UNOCT for their initiative ‘International Hub on Behavioural Insights to Counter Terrorism’.
Since there is no single set of drivers that push or pull an individual into violent extremist action, therefore, many of these drivers have behavioural roots and require behavioural tools such as education, strategic messaging, rehabilitation, youth empowerment, employment facilitation, skills development, community engagement, gender equality, inclusion and conflict resolution.
Strategies to prevent violent extremism should make use of all venues that provide youth with learning opportunities: formal educational institutions, extra-curricular activities, non-formal training, media, playground, Internet, and others. UNAOC is committed to achieving the goals of global education, particularly since education and youth are two of the four pillars of our programming. For UNAOC, education is a vital component of developing tomorrow’s leaders.
I thank you and I look forward to the interactive discussion.