Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very grateful for the opportunity to offer some words at this event focusing on the fight against radicalization and extremism through education. I would like to thank especially the Permanent Missions of Albania, Jordan, Morocco, the United States and UNESCO for their co-sponsorship of this important Conference.
Violent extremism is fuelled by many complex factors, including psychological, socio-economic, political and ideological elements. Any effective solutions to counter this phenomenon must address these multiple dimensions.
While all components of civil society have a role to play in preventing radicalization and violent extremism, faith-based communities and their leaders are in the privileged position of being embedded within society. They not only serve local populations, but are also members of those very communities. Through their service and leadership, as well as their lived experience, they are singularly positioned to know the community and to respond to its needs and concerns. The leaders of faith-based communities include not just clerics but all those who influence religious narratives or institutions, especially those engaged in social, educational and charitable works. In a sense, we can say that leaders of faith-based communities permeate our societies and therefore have a unique opportunity to foster a more peaceful and just world.
Faith-based communities’ educational efforts not only form men and women in religious practice, but can also form them to be responsible citizens. This is especially important if we are to counter destructive narratives that engender radicalization and extremism. Such education occurs through formal and informal courses of study, preaching and through closer contacts with persons that appear most vulnerable. It also requires great vigilance by religious leaders and community members to be attuned to the signs of radicalization among their members, such as changes in behavior and in views that promote intolerance and hatred. So too they must encourage well-organized outreach to younger people who no longer practice their religious beliefs and who can become susceptible to lack of meaning and currents of extremism, especially in communities most affected by poverty, marginalization and conflict.
If faith-based communities are to be effective in combating radicalization and extremism, they must be open to dialogue with one another and the broader society. Inter-religious dialogue is a very important means of deepening mutual understanding, and thus overcoming the ignorance that underlies the attitudes of hatred and mistrust that fuel extremism. Dialogue, moreover, between faith-based communities and civil authorities is essential, as it promotes understanding and appreciation of the needs of the community. When there is authentic dialogue, the societal wounds that, if left untreated, provide a breeding ground for radicalization, are able to be identified and treated.
If faith communities and their leaders are to educate their members in the ways of peace and justice, it is becoming increasingly clear that support is needed. Closer cooperation between civil society and faith-based communities is required and must be fostered at local, regional, national and international levels.
With this support, which should include the allocation of appropriate resources, leaders of communities will be able to assist the most important unit of society – the family. Parents are the first educators of their children, as they impart not only faith but values and solid instruction in the ways of sowing justice and peace within the societies they live. The radicalization of young people often occurs when there is a lack of education and vigilance at home. The internet, which has so many benefits, also gives exploiters opportunities to attract and recruit vulnerable children and young adults.
All efforts to combat radicalization and extremism are ultimately rooted in the desire to promote peace across the globe, at all levels, individually and communally. Pope Francis has recently announced the theme for his forthcoming Message on the occasion of the fiftieth World Day of Peace: “Non-Violence: A Style of Politics for Peace”. In this statement, he says, “Violence and peace are at the origin of two opposite ways to building society.” With simplicity and passion Pope Francis reminds us that the proliferation of violence in the world produces extremely grave social consequences, while peace leads to positive social consequences and authentic human progress.
Pope Francis thus invites both religious leaders and secular authorities responsible for education to do more to combat radicalization to promote the path to peace.
I reiterate my thanks to all who have helped organize this Conference and I assure you of the Holy See’s firm commitment to work with all interested parties in encouraging education as an invaluable path to eliminating the grave evil of extremism and radicalization. Thank you.
1. Theme of the 50th World Day of Peace (1 January 2017), News Bulletin of the Holy See’s Press Office, 26 August 2016.