Empathy and compassion toward one another are on retreat in many societies and thousands of precious lives have been lost to violence, extremism, and terrorism. The United States is not alone in its bewilderment in the face of senseless acts of terror and hatred.
While radicalization of some members of the Muslim youth should not be seen as the only source of violence, due attention should be paid and an open and sincere dialogue should be conducted on curbing this trend. However, attributing guilt by association to all Muslims, spreading sweeping suspicions and expressions of hatred toward them can only lead to the marginalization and alienation that serves the ill-aims of hate-mongers seeking to radicalize the disenfranchised. They are quite capable of agitating the grievances of those who distance themselves from mainstream societies under the influence of indoctrination or of individual with mental issues.
In the process, religion is being hijacked and religious divisions are fomented; yet, an overwhelming majority of the 1.6 billion Muslims of the world reject violence and radical ideologies. The sanctity of human life is strongly stressed in Islam. Al Qaeda ideology and other misguided or self-proclaimed sources of hatred should not be given any credit to represent Islam or Muslims and should be perpetually and pro-actively challenged by the entire Muslim world, starting with prominent religious leaders.
What is clear is that there is a need for the international community to come together with a forward looking approach. Not every single act of violence can be prevented but we can collaborate to eliminate sources of resentment and prevent creation of new resentments that can easily be manipulated. Voices of extremism and hatred should not dictate our agenda but we have to diminish their appeal by challenging their messages.
Supremacy of freedom of speech cannot be questioned, particularly in the United States, as a prerogative of the First Amendment. Yet the international community could find a way to curb usage of the internet to incite violence, hatred and acts of terrorism. Due to the negativity and polarization surrounding the debate on combating defamation of religions, unfortunately the nature of incitement to imminent violence has been misrepresented by some circles in the West.
“Adopting measures to criminalize incitement to imminent violence based on religion and belief” is among the calls of the U.N. Human Rights Council resolution 16/18 which led in 2011 to the creation of “Istanbul Process,” putting an end to controversies and divisions between the OIC on the one side and US and EU on the other.
Prevention of Incitement to imminent violence as a component of the Istanbul Process provides a narrow window of exception allowed by the U.S. Supreme Court to limit freedom of speech and it is important that its nature and scope is correctly understood by all. Common understanding at the intergovernmental level to be supported by the public opinion could prevent unnecessary controversies and facilitate effective cooperation.
An equally important issue is incitement to terrorism on which the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) has been focusing for a long time to boost the international fight against the scourge of terrorism. Law enforcement institutions, social and educational authorities, and relevant non-governmental actors should be able to work together to counter incitement and violent extremism effectively while respecting human rights.
The compartmentalized approach in tackling individual challenges faced by humanity should be questioned. Peace, security, human rights and sustainable development will not be achieved if we leave certain challenges to be dealt with solely by military means instead of a comprehensive, all-inclusive action plan.
We should not be victims of the vicious circles of the past, perpetually dwelling on who first incited the trend of radicalization; though understanding of all aspects of the phenomena and root causes is necessary. However, we should devote more time and energy to dealing with simmering conflicts around the world emphasizing the importance of dialogue, compassion, empathy, justice and respect.
Seeking to facilitate free-flowing dialogue, sharing of experiences, best practices and challenges concerning the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1624 (2005) on countering incitement of terrorist acts, an international workshop will be held at the OIC headquarters in Jeddah at the end of May. Raising awareness of the necessary contributions of relevant non-governmental actors, including women, the private sector and the media in promoting effective implementation of the resolution by cultivating cooperative dialogue is vital in countering violent extremism.