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Speech: "Countering violent extremism is one of the most pressing international challenges that we face"

Statement by Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant of the UK Mission to the UN at the Security Council Open Debate on Maintenance of International Peace and Security yesterday.

Thank you Madam President.

I would like to thank his Royal Highness Crown Prince Hussein of Jordan for convening this important debate. Countering violent extremism is one of the most pressing international challenges that we face. It is a priority for my Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, and we greatly appreciate the leadership shown by Jordan on this issue.

Madam President,

The past twelve months have been horrifying for young people across the world. Hundreds of students brutally murdered in Kenya and Pakistan. Scores of children abducted and enslaved by Boko Haram. And countless young people manipulated and exploited by ISIL and Al Qaeda, including some from my own country tempted to join ISIL’s murderous cause in Syria.

The blame for these atrocities - and many more – lies in the generational scourge of violent extremism. We all have a role to play to defeat it. But we must particularly harness young people to aid us in this fight if we are to reach a long term solution. They are the victims, but they are also the solution as his Royal Highness pointed out. I will cover three areas where I think, together, we can make a difference.

First, we must resolutely counter the narrative of extremism. It is incumbent on all political and particularly religious leaders to speak out clearly with the message “not in my religion’s name”. But as others have pointed out, a counter narrative is not enough. We need to promote a positive alternative narrative of tolerance and inclusion.

We must support those brave youth advocates who stand up to extremism and promote this alternative narrative. We all recall the bravery and leadership shown by Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. Her speech at the General Assembly calling for global education, even for those who sought to kill her, was a powerful message against extremism. Her story gives hope and inspiration to young people everywhere.

Supporting youth advocates goes beyond giving them a platform. It is also about supporting countries to provide education for all, so that others have the chance to follow Malala’s lead.The United Kingdom is proud to have supported over 4.5 million children in primary education, mainly in South Asia and Africa. As Malala herself said, extremists attack schools because “they are afraid of the change and equality that we will bring to our society”.

It is partly through education that we can help expose the lies of Al Qaida, ISIL, Boko Haram and others. It can help us to see how they hijack religion for their own violent aims. And it is through education that we can give opportunity to vulnerable young people still searching for their place in the world.

But education is not the whole answer. As we have heard, the link between educational attainment and extremism is not at all straightforward. In the United Kingdom, too many academically gifted young people have also been radicalised.

So, secondly, we must look at the factors that push youth to extremism in our own communities.We must protect young people in our schools, universities and our prisons from the influence of extremism. The United Kingdom has trained over 130,000 public sector workers with that objective. We have a team of regional co-ordinators that help universities manage the risk of extremism. Our schools have clear safeguards to prevent the promotion of extremist views not compatible with our values. And our prisons protect vulnerable young inmates during, and after, their sentences to prevent radicalisation.

This is not about curbing free speech. Extremist ideas can only be defeated when people are free to challenge them. But we must recognise that not just violent extremism, but non-violent extremism – whether Islamist or neo-Nazi – can also incite hate and breed violence.

The internet of course plays a crucial role in this. ISIL and others have hijacked social media to propagate abhorrent propaganda. Since 2010, the United Kingdom has had to remove 75,000 pieces of content which encourages or glorifies violent extremism.

But civil society and industry can play a role too. They must take a zero-tolerance approach to the abuse of their platforms by extremists. The internet can be a powerful means of standing up to extremism; we must not let extremists use it unchallenged. And whether government, civil society or industry, we must ensure young people are front and centre of our approach, so as to present a credible, hopeful alternative to the hate-speech of extremism. The dream that Dr Atran spoke of earlier.

Madam President,

The third strand sits with this Council. Over the past six months we have adopted resolutions that target the financing of ISIL, and resolutions that oblige states to curb travel by foreign terrorist fighters. Through the Jordanian Presidency, we’ve held important gatherings of religious leaders, foreign ministers and experts to discuss practical steps to address this challenge.

But we can and need to do more. As Professor Neumann said, we still have much to learn about the root causes of extremism. Fragile and conflict-affected states can provide the conditions for violent extremism to take hold. Conflicted identity, economic and social marginalisation can also play a part. Effective UN peacebuilding can therefore play an important role. By promoting inclusive political and economic institutions and encouraging democratic processes, we can help present young people with an alternative to turning to extremism.

And in doing so, we have the chance to make this Security Council relevant to a new generation. Whenever the Council fails to act on an issue of global concern, we undermine the faith of young people in our work. And whenever we allow narrow national interests to hold international priorities to ransom, we erode confidence in the Council and our governments. In this generational challenge against extremism, we simply cannot afford this.

I thank you.


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