Just two weeks after the Paris terrorist atrocities, the world is still in mourning. Left reeling by the barbarity of these latest massacres on November 13 – in which at least 130 people were killed and hundreds more injured – our thoughts and hearts remain, first and foremost, with the victims, their families and friends.
But the random nature of the bomb attacks, in bars, restaurants and a popular concert hall, the Bataclan, have also left many people feeling personally targeted. Many are concerned about further attacks, further stigmatisation of Muslims or refugees, or all three. Many are asking what can be done to stop the terrorists.
Our political leaders and security forces have reacted swiftly to deal with the immediate security challenges. But, contingency, and even more long-term, security measures will not be enough, taken alone. They must be accompanied by a deep and meaningful reflection on what must be done across Europe, both to counter the underlying causes of terrorism and to reinforce the democratic security of our nations.
The Council of Europe is tackling the problem from both angles.
We already have an action plan underway on combating the violent extremism and radicalisation that leads to terrorism. And, we are now finalising a complementary action plan on building inclusive societies, which has a wider focus, taking in education, anti-discrimination and effective integration. Only a balance between measures to combat violent extremism and measures to build inclusive societies can keep Europeans safe.
Together, the two packages contain a wealth of activities involving government at all levels, as well as civil society, the police, journalists, teachers, religious groups, arts and sports associations, the private sector, migrants, young people and children.
They offer the Organisation’s 47 European Member States blueprints to counter the terrorist threat, by resolving underlying problems and reinforcing Europe’s fundamental values, and to foster mutual understanding, tolerance and respect, to enable our citizens to flourish in our increasingly diverse societies.
Measures include: tackling the online recruitment of foreign terrorist fighters; “zero tolerance” for hate speech, through our No Hate Speech youth campaign; intercultural and interfaith dialogue; police training on overcoming racial discrimination in policing; promoting media diversity; special help for migrants; and, a new system for measuring pupils’ democratic skills and knowledge. Education is key, for many reasons. Our education systems must ensure young people become responsible citizens who are willing and able to participate fully in our multi-cultural, democratic societies, who are able to exercise their rights, respect the rights of others and value diversity. Schools and training institutions must include and empower people who are marginalised and ensure no-one feels excluded or humiliated. Pupils must learn to use Europe’s fundamental values – human rights, democracy and the rule of law – as an overarching framework for understanding and responding to controversial issues, other cultures, ideas and ways of life.
Clearly, Europe’s governments need to intensify their efforts to prevent social divisions from forming or deepening; but, they cannot build inclusive societies alone.
Everyone has a role to play in ensuring all citizens feel valued, useful and integrated, that no-one wants to throw their lives away, joining a vicious, nihilistic sect.
Some steps are easier to take than others. We can all try to avoid stigmatisation, stereotypes and generalisation. And, we should not underestimate the importance of individual initiatives, which can sweep quickly through cyberspace: the redrawing of a ‘peace and love’ symbol to include the Eiffel Tour, the hashtags #TERRORISMHASNORELIGION and #MUSLIMSARENOTTERRORISTS, and, the musician cycling to the Bataclan with his piano to play Lennon’s ‘Imagine’. This is democratic participation in action. This is how we reaffirm our fundamental values, how we reach out to others and, ultimately, how we protect ourselves from terrorism.