India launch of the Youth Waging Peace guide
25 May 2018
(check against delivery)
It gives me great pleasure to join Dr Karan Singh, the Chair of the UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development; its Director, Dr Anantha Duraiappah; and Ms Shreya Jain, to launch the new Youth Waging Peace guide for the prevention of violent extremism.
Dr Singh’s three part exposition of the challenges facing society reminds me of the time I moved from working at the Office of National Assessments to the Department of Climate Change. A dear colleague of mine who worked on monitoring nuclear proliferation issues told me that I was going on to something of much greater importance.
He said that he spent his days looking at the prospects of nuclear war which, while catastrophic, was remote. But climate change had a 100 per cent likelihood of occurring.
And Dr Singh’s third challenge of violence, extremism and terrorism was not just a likelihood because it is happening now.
Which is why countering terrorism and violent extremism are such high priorities for the Australian Government. We were proud to help fund the development of this youth-led guide as a valuable resource for students, teachers, community leaders and policy makers.
Violent extremism today
Violent extremism threatens the peace and cohesion of societies across the world.
The Australian Government defines violent extremism as the beliefs and actions of people who support or use violence to achieve ideological, religious or political goals. This includes terrorism and other forms of politically motivated and communal violence. It seeks change through fear and intimidation rather than through peaceful means.
A brief review of events and trends shows that no country or region is immune.
- According to the START Global Terror Database, there were over 70,000 terrorist incidents between 2011 and 2016.
- Eighty-three per cent of attacks and 90 per cent of deaths occurred in Islamic countries.
- In Europe, a report by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies found there were 142 failed, foiled or completed terrorist attacks in just eight member states in 2016 alone.
Australia, too, shares the challenge of preventing violent extremism.
- We have experienced attacks and violence motivated by a wide range of factors.
- We estimate that around 220 Australians have travelled to Syria and Iraq to support groups involved in conflict.
- Australians have been targeted and fallen victim abroad including in the bombing of the Sari Club in Bali, Indonesia, in 2002 in which 88 Australians lost their lives.
A concerning trend is the increasing vulnerability of youth to extremist influences. Studies have shown that young individuals are at a higher risk of resorting to extreme violence, particularly when faced with few opportunities for civic participation or to effect change.
Understanding the causes of violent extremism
This puzzles us. Policy makers such as myself ask the question how does this come about?
There is no single path to violent extremism. Its drivers are complex and diverse. For some, it is a matter of ideology while others are motivated by socio-economic factors or political causes.
A recent two-year study by the UNDP drew on interviews with about 500 voluntary recruits to extremist organisations in Africa. It found that deprivation and marginalisation, underpinned by weak governance, were the primary forces driving young Africans into violent extremism.
Individuals are particularly vulnerable to extremist influences when they are marginalised in society or targeted by prejudice.
Sadly, prejudice can be found everywhere. Those negative attitudes and behaviours towards others based solely on aspects of their identity – be it gender, ethnicity, religion, sexuality or race –can encourage exclusion; undermine cohesion; and destroy the social fabric of our communities.
Challenging prejudice, embracing diversity
As such, this is a long-term challenge. There are no quick fixes or short cuts to challenging prejudice and preventing violent extremism.
It requires a coordinated, holistic approach which engages everyone. It requires strong leadership, inclusive communities and empowered individuals.
This is easier said than done. But what does it look like?
There is a clear role for governments to demonstrate leadership and set the framework for activity. Governments can play an important role in creating space for respectful dialogue and civic participation by all members of society.
But in the end, it is communities and individuals that have the biggest role to play.
To challenge extremism, we need to build people’s resilience, critical thinking, compassion and respect for diversity.
These are attributes that cannot be instructed. You cannot go to a course and learn these things. Rather, we develop them over time through our lived experience and interactions within our community. Time is the greatest resource.
These attributes are particularly important for diverse countries like India and Australia.
India is perhaps placed better than most to make a profound contribution to peace and tolerance. Since independence, India has experienced great transitions with the challenge of inclusion on a scale beyond any other country. It is home to:
- Over 1.3 billion people
- Over 400 languages
- 2,000 ethnicities and a multitude of religious and spiritual beliefs including as the birthplace of Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism and Jainism.
For a population of only 24 million, Australia is also one of the most diverse countries in the world.
Nearly half of Australians were either born overseas or had at least one parent born overseas.
Australians come from almost 200 different countries. More than 300 languages are spoken in Australian homes. There are over 100 religions practiced by Australians while at the same time about one-third of us do not subscribe to any religion whatsoever.
So, we face similar challenges.
In Australia, governments and communities are working together through our Living Safe Together program to build resilience, promote cohesion and foster tolerance and respect.
Our work comprises four layers of activity:
- Identifying, intervening and rehabilitating individuals influenced by extremist ideology.
- Addressing and challenging hateful, divisive and extremist messages, particularly online and through social media.
- Encouraging participation and inclusion in vulnerable communities. This includes giving community leaders a voice, mentoring youth and providing communities with the tools and information to challenge extremist ideologies.
- And building strength in diversity and social participation. This involves promoting respect and embracing diversity in schools and community programs.
The Youth Waging Peace guide
This brings me to the UNESCO Youth Waging Peace guide.
We funded the guide because it provides individuals and communities with tools to build those attributes I spoke of earlier: resilience; critical thinking; compassion and respect for diversity.
The guide draws strength from diversity. Over 2,000 young people participated in its development from more than 50 countries and it features 150 distinct voices.
However, the real journey has only just begun as we work to roll out the guide in communities across the world.
I genuinely hope the Youth Waging Peace guide will become a valuable resource, which transcends political, religious, ethnic and national boundaries.
As I mentioned earlier, overcoming the threat of violent extremism is a long-term goal and requires everyone to contribute. For teachers, mentors, leaders, policy makers and students, this guide offers a path to building resilience and challenging extremism.
Each of you today has a role to play. Challenging prejudice and embracing diversity are sure steps towards a more tolerant and inclusive future.
For those that have completed the YES Peace workshop this week, I hope you are better equipped to be strong voices in your communities. You are doing a great thing.
If you take one thing from my speech today, then my message for all of us is to practice inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not prejudice; and respect and awareness, not disdain and ignorance.
With these in mind, I think together we can build a better, kinder and more tolerant world.