27th General Conference of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs:
“The role of leaders and decision makers in spreading the culture of peace and confronting terrorism”.
Cairo, 11 – 12 March 2017
Speech by Andreas Kiefer, Secretary General of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe
Ministers, religious leaders
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As Secretary General of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, allow me to thank the authorities of the Arab Republic of Egypt for the kind invitation to address the distinguished audience of this Conference on the role of leaders and decision makers in diffusing a peace culture and to face the challenge of terrorism.
This is a subject that has been preoccupying us and I appreciate this opportunity to share our experience with you in these matters.
First, for those of you who are not familiar with the Council of Europe, let me explain that we are not the European Union. The Council of Europe represents a larger, historically linked European continent with 47 member States including countries such as Albania, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Poland, the Russian Federation, Serbia, Turkey and Ukraine, representing 820 million citizens of very diverse historical, cultural and religious backgrounds. In these member states we find orthodox, catholic, protestant or Muslim majorities and many religious minorities.
The Council of Europe was established in 1949 to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It comprised three political bodies: The Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress.
Only later, in 1957, the European Union (EU) was created to work on an economic and a political dimension and membership in the Council of Europe is a prerequisite for membership in the EU.
Within the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities 648 elected politicians represent over 200 000 cities, municipalities, provinces and regions. Our mayors, and councillors, the members of regional governments and parliaments, work hand in hand to ensure that the local and regional dimension is actively promoted in all activities of the Council of Europe’s core business which is the defence of democracy, rule of law, and human rights. Many international treaties and conventions have an impact on local government and the views of them therefore has to be heard.
Let me mention some examples:
- consultation on international treaties and conventions (and recommendations to member states: like the recommendation on lobbying and preventing corruption
- interaction with national governments and the Committee of Ministers:
o conference of ministers of Justice: à urban safety
o conference of ministers of Sport: à safety in sports events
- Monitoring body:
o European Charter of Local Self-Government every 5 years
o Observation of local and regional elections
Before presenting the concrete work of the Congress in supporting elected politicians, mayors, councillors, presidents and ministers of regions in our 47 member states let me briefly react to what we heard in the previous session(s).
It appears, that terrorist individuals or groups motivated by political-ideological and / or religious reasons, have one thing in common: they believe in a system of conspiracy which is about to take power and has become so threatening that a violent reaction of self-defence is justified and even indispensible.
And here we come to the need to enable our fellow citizens to be active and capable members of society who, based on a certain level of education, knowledge and information, know to distinguish between the reality and myths, to assess whether something can actually be true or is to be considered “fake news” or “alternative facts”. We have to distinguish between a theory - which can be confirmed or falsified – and a myth, which cannot be confirmed or falsified and therefore leads to imagination which some consider to be the reality.
Radicalisation as a threat
Coming to today’s theme, it is not surprising that, as terrorism and radicalization became a growing menace in our countries, the fight against this phenomenon has become one of the main priority areas of action of the Congress.
International cooperation and national level strategies are an absolute must in order to put a stop to the propagation of radical, fundamentalist ideas and terrorist action. I very much welcome this conference and to see the high and eminent representatives of the many countries participating today and tomorrow.
But in the long run, it is at the local level that we have to address and overcome the phenomenon of radicalisation, working with our citizens and residents, so that we can achieve to live together in peace and mutual respect.
I fully endorse the words of welcome by Prof. Mohammed Mukhtar Gom’aa, the Minister of Awqaf and President of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, who wrote in the programme of this conference:
“It is our human duty to establish the principles of just citizenship and promote the principles of peaceful and human existence for all human beings in affirmation, that all religions and human just norms respect the human rights to dignity and honourable life without the least discrimination for reasons of religion, colour, sex or race.
The countries, that believed in diversity and established the principles of just citizenship granting equal rights and obligations are the most stabilized countries; they achieve the highest rates of development and advancement”.
Political leaders, at national, regional and at local level, are elected to achieve notably this for their people: development and advancement. I am happy to see that this unites us here in this conference and I wll speak about the role of local leaders.
Initiatives on radicalisation
Individuals can become radicalised for a multitude of reasons, such as a lack of integration into society, a perception of being left behind, political disengagement or exposure to extremist individuals. The growing radicalization of young people that we are seeing is best handled through prevention initiatives, intercultural and interreligious dialogue and the reintegration into society of individuals who have become radicalized.
We believe that, in the long run, preventive measures will prove to be more successful and more effective than repressive measures (which are necessary as well). Peace – and an inclusive society - cannot be obtained through security measures; security measures can only achieve public order. For real and sustainable peace, we need people to learn to live together in spite of their differences and to learn to appreciate the differences and the diversity. To achieve this we need local leaders who are both aware of the issue and ready to work with the local citizens in order to make it a reality. Local leaders in turn need national political leaders and the influential religious leaders to build this climate and atmosphere of inclusiveness, respect and peace.
With this perspective, the Congress as a political assembly of mayors and councillors, worked on two paths: first it adopted standard setting texts, calling on member states to put emphasis on the cultural dimension of religious beliefs and their social utility in education. It invited local authorities to be in regular contact with religious organisations.
In 2015, following the terrible terrorist attacks in many cities of Europe, the Congress adopted a strategy to combat radicalisation at grassroots level. The Strategy includes proposals for activities to be carried out in the short, medium and long term. To start with we issued guidelines for local and regional authorities on how to prevent radicalisation and manifestations of hate at grass-roots level.
And secondly, the Congress got together with other international bodies such as the European Forum for Urban Security, the Strong Cities Network, the European Union’s Radicalisation Awareness Network “RAN”, and individual mayors of different European cities, to set up an Alliance of Cities against Violent Extremism”. We decided to hold a Summit of Mayors every year, the first of which was in Aarhus, Denmark, in November 2015. The second Summit was held in Rotterdam last year (2016) and this year we will get together in Barcelona in November 2017. This Summit is a great occasion for both elected representatives and security experts to get together and exchange experience, good practice information and ideas for future action to identify, prevent and fight radicalisation leading to terrorism.
Tookit, interfaith dialogue
The Congress believes that local leaders, mayors and councillors have a key role in countering both radical religious rhetoric and hate speech. Islamophobia is a new, growing menace in European societies. Therefore, the Congress has actively supported the Council of Europe’s No Hate Speech campaign (2012 – 2014) to raise awareness about hate speech online.
To promote awareness of the need for dialogue, we developed a Toolkit, promoting best practices on the fight against radicalization and the organization of intercultural and interfaith events at local level – by cities and municipalities.
The objective is to build inclusive societies, through education and general knowledge of religious principles. Such education can involve visiting places of worship, bringing together people of different faiths and cultures around shared practices, or marking and celebrating the various cultural agendas of countries of origin and of residence. This affirms the cultural heritage of different religious, ethnic or cultural groups through performing arts, sports, and exploration of cultural heritage.
We also encourage the setting-up of local safety partnerships, providing adequate training to the different actors involved, including frontline practitioners working with individuals or groups at risk, such as prison staff, social workers and teachers.
Ladies and Gentlemen, our vision of cohesive, peaceful societies which can overcome the temptation of using violence to achieve political goals, requires that local leaders become both prime actors of dialogue but also act as an interface, a link between individuals of different cultural or religious communities. Leaders must show the way but they must also know how to work and to cooperate with civil society. The Congress supports them in this endeavour.
Both sets of documents are available electronically: the Guidelines for local and regional authorities on preventing radicalisation and manifestations of hate and the toolkit for local authorities with the 12 principles for organising intercultural and interreligious activities (in 36 languages) and I will make the links available to the organisers of this conference that all of you can make us of them and I have the pleasure to hand a copy to the chair of this session now.
Thank you for your attention.