An article on the meaning of current global events for European Expression, a quarterly review on European affairs, which aims to strengthen civil society and participatory democracy.
The world we live in is an evolving, exciting and enchanting place whilst also violent, confusing and unjust. Whether rich or poor, young or old, from the east, west, north or south, we all express emotions of fear and sadness, joy and love. We are all human.
Current global events, be it the devastating refugee crisis, the cataclysmic civil war in Syria or the numerous terrorist attacks across the world, are driven in part by hate, mistrust and misunderstanding. They are sparked by a lack of dialogue between different cultures and people, and exacerbated by poverty, marginalisation and discrimination. The notion of “us” versus “them” is suffocating and omnipresent, stirred up by extremists and populists and paraded in the media.
On 19th January, Julie's report on the role of 'intercultural dialogue, cultural diversity and education in promoting EU fundamental values' was adopted by the European Parliament. Initiated in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo and Danish attacks, the report focuses on the importance of dialogue between different cultures, cultural diversity and education as a way to strengthen society. It outlines how to tackle radicalisation, racism and discrimination to promote more open and inclusive societies across the EU. In short, it advocates no more “us and them”.
The report builds on the Paris Declaration, an agreement reached by EU Education Ministers after the Paris attacks which recognised that all of Europe needs to work together in order to prevent and tackle marginalisation, intolerance, racism and radicalisation, and to achieve equal opportunities for all. The report makes concrete recommendations for action, including the increased use of culture in diplomacy; putting young people at the forefront of policy-making and using inclusive learning and active citizenship to build strong, confident and cohesive communities for the future.
Intercultural dialogue needs to foster a positive narrative that celebrates cultural diversity and empowers marginalised communities - only in this way can we break down discriminatory barriers.
Too often, the dominant narrative in society is that somebody else is always to blame for the world's problems. This results in a culture of fear. Divisive language (as well as the cultural, social and economic discrimination) can cause segregation and alienation. This, I argue, is the genesis of violent extremism. However, when people come together and talk honestly and share in each other's culture, they learn that we're all human beings with common aspirations and concerns.
Intercultural dialogue addresses common stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination in society. Children are not born to hate, so tackling things from an early age is vital. We need to prepare a generation of young people, with the motivation, commitment and skills, to be audacious problem-solvers and develop the capacity to deal with different opinions, acquire media literacy and develop intercultural skills, which can include learning about cultural heritage. Education and intercultural learning are crucial to ensure sustainable citizenship and for building sustainable societies. It must therefore be part of a long-term political strategy to develop successful, functional and welcoming communities, proud of their rich heritage and united in diversity.
Promoting our fundamental values of tolerance, non-discrimination, social justice and rule of law through dialogue, diversity and education is a shared responsibility of societies. It's not only politicians who have a say in how the fabric of society is sewn together. Educators, parents, families and carers, faith organisations, youth workers, NGOs, arts practitioners, urban planners, local authorities and everyone else who has a role to play in ensuring a better living together are key if we are to create a cohesive society. More consideration must also be given to the power of civil society to pursue intercultural exchange, people-to-people dialogue, peace-building initiatives and citizenship engagement, in order to put the empowerment of communities at the core.
The European Union is at a particular point in history where notions of identity and belonging are being contested, reconfigured and defended with heightened emotions from diverse voices and divergent political perspectives. We need a solution. We need to talk and we need to listen. We need intercultural dialogue.