Irina Bokova: The number of cities that have been targeted by violent extremists continues to grow
To combat this hatred we must teach peace and empower men and women to defend humanity's shared cultural heritage
Editor’s Note: Irina Bokova is director-general of UNESCO, and the honorary president of the Global Hope Coalition, which is committed to establishing a global platform to empower and amplify the impact of courageous individuals who stand up to terrorism. The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
London. Mumbai. Boston. Paris. Tunis. Beirut. Brussels. Manchester. Barcelona. As the list of cities that have been targeted by violent extremists gets longer, the need to find remedies to this scourge of our time becomes more pressing.
Across the world, we see individuals and initiatives leading the way. There are heroes struggling every day at the grass-roots for a better world, for girls and women, for the rights and dignity of refugees, to defend humanity’s cultural heritage, to advance compassion against hatred.
These everyday heroes often take great risks to stand up to the extremists in their midst. The true front line of the fight against violent extremism passes through villages, towns, suburbs, youth centers, sports clubs and religious seminaries. This is where the everyday battles for hearts and minds are fought. This is also where the difference is made.
I therefore salute the men and women who have launched the Global Hope Coalition as a global support network for these heroes: to train, network and empower these courageous individuals, and help them to amplify their impact in their local communities.
One such hero is Nadia Murad, a young Yazidi woman, whose parents and brothers were killed as she was sold from one ISIS warlord to another. She is now dedicating all her efforts to preventing other young women from suffering the same fate. Another hero is Sammy Rangel, the former gang member who co-founded the Chicago-based NGO Life After Hate. He co-founded the organization with former members of the American violent far-right extremist movement and, through powerful stories of transformation and unique insight, Life After Hate seeks to heal individuals and communities.
This list could go on. We need to shine light on each of these heroes and to stand by them. This is the goal of the new Global Hope Coalition. The coalition is not a single project, it is a newly established international platform to help amplify the impact of community efforts already underway by courageous individuals. The coalition is about spotlighting grass-roots action and empowering it through training, networking and support. It is about joining forces for respect, dignity and tolerance at a time when they are under attack.
UNESCO member states adopted the landmark decision (Decision 197EX/46) to enhance UNESCO’s capacity to provide assistance to states as they craft sharper strategies to prevent violent extremism. Among other efforts, UNESCO is committed to building the capacity of various individuals and stakeholders to develop and amplify innovative responses against extremism; all while promoting the protection of freedom of expression, privacy and other fundamental freedoms.
Violent extremism seeks to destroy the foundation of humanity as a single community, united by aspirations and values. There is no single cause for its rise – nor is there a single trajectory leading someone to extremist violence. What we do know is that “hard power” is not enough to counter a threat that draws on exclusive visions of the world and false interpretations of faith, mixed with hatred and intolerance. We need “soft power” to win this battle of ideas – we need the message of the UNESCO Constitution to build the defenses of peace in the minds of women and men.
No one is born a violent extremist – violent extremists are made and fueled. Young people are learning to hate – we must teach them peace. Violent extremists promote fear and division – we must respond with opportunities for civic engagement, with skills for intercultural dialogue. Violent extremists breed on mistrust and fears of others, on a lack of confidence in the future. We must provide young women and men with a renewed sense of belonging to society and a new vision of the future.
This means empowering young women and men with the right values, skills and behaviors to make the most of diversity, to engage fully in their societies, to find decent employment and live as global citizens. All this calls for a new focus on advancing cultural literacy to defend humanity’s shared cultural heritage, along with new approaches to bolstering digital literacy to strengthen the resilience of societies against the false siren calls of violent extremism and strengthen the unity of all women and men as members of a single family.
The Global Hope Coalition is taking action to engage, mobilize and strengthen the global network of everyday heroes fighting to end violent extremism. It is working to preserve cultural heritage and promote intercultural dialogue through the development of support networks, training programs, evaluations, and more while enhancing fundraising capabilities.
A thousand points of light – everyday heroes – are beckoning around the world. Let us join forces, and help their light shine ever brighter. They are the harbingers of the end to the obscurantist ideology of hate and destruction that is posing a grave threat to our lives, to our common cultural heritage, and to the fabric of our intercultural relations.