UNESCO General Conference Side-Event Education to Prevent and Counter Violent Extremism
Deputy Secretary of State
Ambassador, thank you very much for a wonderful introduction, and to all of you, good afternoon. Distinguished Ministers, Ambassadors, respected colleagues, it is a special privilege to join you today and express our profound appreciation for your commitment to UNESCO and to its mission.
Madam Director-General, thank you for your remarkable leadership, your very warm welcome, and the tremendous work you have done to enhance this remarkable institution and its global initiatives.
I have to say, being here today and thinking about UNESCO’s mission, it is self-evident that this mission is more important and more relevant than it has ever been. By giving voice to our principles and meaning to our shared values, UNESCO is helping to make real the hope of peace in our lifetime. For this and so much more, the United States is proud to stand with you.
I would also just like to take a moment to recognize members of our own delegation who are here with us today, including our terrific Ambassador Nix-Hines, our Assistant Secretary of State Sheba Crocker, and colleagues from the U.S. Mission to UNESCO, the Department of State, and the U.S. Institute for Peace. It is great to have all of you here today as well.
At a time when the world seems more uncertain, more complex, more dangerous than at any time in recent memory, UNESCO’s role as a guardian of shared humanity is needed now more than ever.
With so much of our energy and even our resources spent in an effort to manage disorder and mitigate crises—in doing that we look to UNESCO to shape a positive vision for our future, to nurture the good in each of us—the good that we know is common to all of us.
The stakes could quite literally not be higher.
As the Director General said, today, we face a threat that does not stop at borders and does not distinguish among its victims. In every corner of the globe, in every country represented here today in ways big and small, violent extremists have left their mark—murdering, terrorizing, and preaching an ideology of nihilism and fear that seeks to defy humanity.
And yet, despite the monstrosity of this challenge, we have a tool that is far more potent, far more powerful. It is a weapon surpassing any that extremists possess, and it delivers a blow that no agent of hate or intolerance can withstand.
And that is the bright, penetrating light of education.
Secretary Kerry said recently when he was here that the fight against violent extremism will not only be won in combat, but as we’ve heard, also in the classrooms. In the minds of our young people. In houses of worship. In community centers. At sites of cultural heritage. And in the perceptions and thoughts of individuals.
It is a fight that will be determined by our ability to come together as leaders and as nations to expand the horizons for students around the world through quality education. Since President Obama first hosted a Summit on Countering Violent Extremism nearly a year ago now, we have broadened our approach and united new partners in this effort. Together, we are tackling this challenge in our own communities, in our own schools, with the same energy used to defeat terrorists on distant battlefields.
By arming young minds with a world perspective rooted in respect, social justice, diversity, and critical thinking, we can counter radicalization as it arises and even prevent its growth in the first place. Nearly 70 years ago, at the very first meeting of UNESCO, Archibald MacLeish—who was a member of the American delegation—inscribed this mission into UNESCO’s founding charter. “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that defense of peace must be constructed,” he wrote. I would only make a slight addendum and add “women” to the inscription.
This charge has taken on a new urgency today, as we look out across a world in which an astounding number of countries have 60 percent of their population under the age of 30; 50 percent under the age of 21; 40 percent under the age of 18.
This rising generation needs quality education. It needs to build the skills and gain the knowledge that will make it possible for it to realize their full potential as creative, innovative, inquisitive, productive members of our global community.
By investing in their future, we secure ours. The alternative is too tragic to even contemplate. Without a quality education, these children are in danger of being exploited, forced to work, pressured into early marriage, conscripted as child soldiers, or become prey to the siren song of violent extremism.
This is why contributions to peace and security through education, science, and culture are prerequisites for sustainable development—allowing economies to grow, but also societies to flourish.
Through the Global Citizenship Education program, UNESCO is equipping many of your ministries with the latest in education policy, classroom curricula, and internet guides to help foster a learning environment that champions the exchange of ideas. If you or your home offices haven’t already explored ways in which these tools can be leveraged by your national education systems, I encourage you to connect with our UNESCO colleagues here today.
It is important and it is effective. We recently saw the great depth of support that exists for these kinds of partnerships when the resolution on UNESCO’s role in promoting education to prevent violent extremism received an exceptional response of more than 85 co-sponsors.
For our part, I am very pleased to echo Director General Bokova’s announcement that the United States will help develop a digital education resource to prevent and undermine the allure of violent extremism. We’re grateful to a growing network of partners in this effort, including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation, Facing History and Ourselves, and Greater Than One.
Like many of you, I have seen firsthand the impact that this kind of work can have. This past summer, I had the opportunity to visit a local religious school in Jakarta, where girls learn alongside boys and the curriculum reflects Indonesia’s proud tradition of faith and tolerance.
We need creative and inclusive approaches like these that protect, respect, and empower communities. Ultimately, that is what UNESCO’s work is all about—strengthening the fabric of our common humanity while preserving the wonder of its diversity.
Global in scale and generational in reach, it is a mission whose greatest asset is the ability to enrich the lives of individuals.
Just as it did mine.
As a young student at what was then called the Ecole Bilingue, a UNESCO associated school here in Paris, my classmates and I learned, in the words of our founder Jeannine Manuel, “de penser comme l’autre”—to see through the eyes of another, to walk in someone else’s shoes.
In doing this, we come to realize something else—that the wealth of our nations was not only defined by the size of their population, the expanse of their land mass, the size and power of their military, or the abundance of their natural resources.
Of course, those things still do matter.
But what we know more and more in this young century is that the true wealth of a nation is defined by its human resource, and the ability of each of our countries to maximize their potential, to allow that human resource that resource to think, to argue, to disagree, to debate, to innovate.
That is the wealth of nations in the 21st century.
And the work of UNESCO is helping to unlock that wealth for all of us here today. That is the work that all of you do and you do it with extraordinary commitment and extraordinary talent.
So the great challenge is now before us, and it will take all of our engagement, our leadership, and our creativity to chart a path forward that lives up to our highest aspirations and ushers in the very future that the extremists hoped to destroy: a world of renewed unity, justice, peace, and wisdom. Looking across this room today, at so many of you, I have every confidence we can work together to make that a reality for our children.