The International Conference on “The Role of Education in the Prevention of Terrorism and Extremism”, co-organized by the Voice of Wisdom Centre of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and Naif Arab University for Security Sciences, was held in Riyadh on 9 April 2019. The event drew a large international audience.
Speaking at the opening session, the Secretary General of the OIC, Dr Yousef Al-Othaimeen, thanked the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for their continued support to the OIC, especially as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the host and headquarters country. He also expressed appreciation for the cooperation with Naif University in putting on the international conference.
Al-Othaimeen noted: “This conference comes in a context of major international transformations, including a remarkable decline in the activity of extremist groups after the military victory of the International Alliance over Daesh, and a global shift regarding the phenomenon of islamophobia after the New Zealand events that awakened the conscience of the world, and shook the international community off its moribund stance vis-à-vis this phenomenon threatening world peace and all the values of human civilization.”
He stressed that “the Organization of Islamic Cooperation is at the forefront of the international organizations that strive to propagate the message of moderation and consolidate the true Islamic values of tolerance, and to address the speech of hatred, violence and terrorism.” Ever since the adoption in 1969 of its charter, in which is outlined the Organization’s strategic plan to advance the universal values of peace and coexistence, the OIC has been working to unite the efforts of all states and official institutions to achieve unity and reject division, and to consolidate the values of tolerance and coexistence, in such a way to counter all manifestations of exclusion, extremism and terrorism.”
The Secretary General added, “The OIC has been a pioneer in understanding the dangers of the speech of exclusion and extremism in all its aspects and in its religious and ideological perspectives.” In this regard, he underlined, the OIC established in 2007, within the General Secretariat, a special observatory to monitor the phenomenon of Islamophobia.
He added that, “The OIC predicted very early its growing threat to Muslims and global peace in general. The recent terrorist attacks in New Zealand, on two mosques in the city of Christchurch, which claimed the lives of 50 harmless innocent Muslims, confirmed the accuracy of the OIC’s forecast and the credibility of its appeals to the international community to act against Islamophobia, a phenomenon that shares roles with the phenomenon of terrorism, both feeding off one another.”
The Secretary General pointed out that the OIC has developed its policies in addressing Islamophobia and terrorism in a flexible but resolute response to the requirements of the period and the settings in which these phenomena were emerging and increasing. With the emergence of social media and its increasing impact on public life and its exploitation by extremist groups to disseminate their ideologies and destructive ideas, the OIC established in October 2016 the Voice of Wisdom Centre, which is launched its first world-class activity during the conference. The message of the OIC is that effective countering of extremist ideology should take place at the level of discussion of ideas, and that the war on false ideology can only be achieved by supporting constructive and positive ideology, and that confronting discrimination and exclusion trends can only be achieved by establishing and consolidating the principles of coexistence and tolerance.
He went on, “The best way to fight terrorism, extremism and Islamophobia together is through education, and this conference showed us successful international experiences that have managed to develop a sophisticated and civilized model to combat all manifestations of violence and extremism through the use of the soft power of school and education in general.”
He also pointed out to the “Strategy for the Development of Education in the Islamic World”, adopted by the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) at its First Conference of Ministers of Education (Tunis, 2016). The strategy, in its amended version, aims to contribute to the development of education systems in the countries of the Islamic world, emphasizing the need to strengthen the role of educational institutions in deepening awareness among young learners about the threats of violence, extremism and terrorism to them and their communities.
The Secretary General also called on Muslim countries and educational institutions to “strengthen the role of education, develop educational curricula and link them to the purposes of our tolerant Islamic religion, national goals and the higher interests of the Muslim Ummah, and raise them to the required level, while adopting binding laws that instil the values of balance and intellectual moderation in students, with a view to building critical and creative minds that are difficult to penetrate for extremist ideas.”
For the record, alongside the Conference, the OIC and Naif Arab University signed a memorandum of understanding and cooperation.
The Director General of the Cabinet of the OIC Secretary General and Senior Advisor, Dr Abdalla Altayer, presided over the Conference’s first working session themed “Efforts of International Organizations”, with the participation of experts from UNESCO, the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, and the Office of the Council of Arab Ministers of the Interior.
The two-day Conference reviewed successful international experiences on education’s role in countering the threat of extremist ideology. The aim of this international event is to create a specialized academic program to counter extremism.