The recent terrorist attacks in France on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket left 17 people dead and Europe in shock. But the massacre also prompted unprecedented demonstrations by millions of protesters of every race and religion, not just in France, but across Europe, affirming their belief in freedom, freedom of speech and democracy. World leaders and citizens marched together, confirming the depth and extent of public support for Europe’s shared, democratic values. It was a popular, spontaneous movement proving that Europeans want to and can live together in peace.
Now Europe’s leaders must decide how best to respond.
Inevitably, the massacre has focused attention on the fight against terrorism and triggered calls for increased investment in law and order, security and surveillance. Here, at the Council of Europe, we are stepping up our work in this field, in particular, regarding the preparation of a new protocol to our Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism concerning foreign terrorist fighters.
But to be effective, legal standards, critical as they are, must go hand in hand with national programmes at grassroots level to address the underlying problems. This is why the Council of Europe’s response also targets the causes of terrorism. We will be concentrating on tackling radicalisation through our work on education, youth and interreligious dialogue and on preventing the spread of extremism in prisons.
Some might see the Paris atrocities as a result, in part, of a failure to integrate and socialise the perpetrators. And this is not an isolated example in that respect; the attacks bear many similarities to the massacres in Oslo and Utøya in Norway in 2011. Both were committed by home-grown fundamentalists educated in the country concerned and both were calculated and vicious assaults on Europe’s core values. What is certain is that these challenges to our fundamental values underline the importance of learning to respect human rights, democracy and the rule of law in school. We are not born knowing how to behave, but we can learn. Over the past few years, austerity measures at every level – European, national and local – have not favoured investment in the education of our young people. But, as events in Paris have shown, it is vital that no pupil, no student, no young person, feels socially excluded; it is vital that everyone feels democratic values exist both to protect and include them. This means special attention must be given to young people at risk, those from disadvantaged backgrounds, those from marginalised groups or vulnerable neighbourhoods, those in care institutions, detention centres and prisons.
The more we validate diversity in our schools and institutions, the more we counter discrimination, racism and xenophobia with messages of cultural understanding and tolerance, the better integrated our citizens will be and feel. Education must enable children, young people and adults to live together in peace by creating this democratic culture.
It is therefore essential for Europe’s governments to increase their investment in quality education and training in: schools, universities, local communities, youth centres and also prisons, so often the seedbeds of radicalisation.
This requires comprehensive and compulsory human rights and citizenship education programmes, with the content of the courses reflected in the way the trainers teach and the relevant institutions are managed. It requires specific training, so that teachers can ensure discussions on controversial issues in the classroom are constructive.
We are currently preparing a new tool to measure an individual’s skills and understanding of intercultural dialogue and democracy – key competences for living in today’s multi-cultural societies. And, we have already put a panoply of tools at the disposal of the 50 European States which have ratified our European Cultural Convention. These include: research, training programmes, lesson plans, educational films and policy instruments in the field of human rights and citizenship education, as well as tools on the linguistic integration of migrants. All these can be put to more intensive use immediately. We encourage European governments to translate them into their national language or languages and disseminate them directly to schools and youth centres.
Our No Hate Speech Movement, run by young people, trains youth leaders and organisations to tackle online hate speech and discrimination. The campaign has spread across Europe and beyond, but has yet to be taken up by a number of European countries. We urge those which have yet to do so – notably France, in the light of the Paris massacres – to set up national campaign committees rapidly.
Education is not a luxury; it is a necessity. If we create a democratic culture in the places our citizens learn – schools, universities, the community, prisons – extremism will be unable to flourish, because it will have no roots. European governments must therefore increase their moral and financial investment in education and youth work, youth policy and research, to protect the democratic security of our continent. I join Malala, in her Nobel Prize lecture, in urging world leaders ‘to unite and make education their top priority’.