Baku, Azerbaijan. A fitting venue for the Seventh Global Forum on the UN Alliance of Civilizations, which promotes harmony among peoples and nations, striving towards processes of peace and reconciliation, intercultural understanding and inclusive societies, especially when Azerbaijani savages have been decapitating Armenians, the victims of Turkish genocide. See how words can create hatred?
Decapitating captives, as we have seen also in Philippines recently and as we saw in the Middle East at the hands of ISIS, as we saw in Kosovo, where Albanian terrorists decapitated Serbs, committing genocide, massacres, the practice mass war rape not only engenders hatred for generations to come, prolonging the cycle of violence but these acts are also as old as Humankind itself.
It is with this in mind that the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) strives to promote harmony among nations, countering narratives of hatred and mistrust which generate endemic violence and extremism. During today's opening session of the Seventh Global Forum in the Azerbaijani capital city of Baku, the UNAOC High Representative Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser declared "The Alliance is the soft power tool established to contribute to a more peaceful world by countering radicalization and polarization, by encouraging greater intercultural understanding and engaging in projects and programs that advance these goals".
This year's theme is "Living together in inclusive societies: a challenge and a goal" which walks hand-in-hand with the basic precepts of the UN Charter - namely peace and security, human rights, the rule of law and the key word, Development (not Deployment). Sustainable Development Goal 16 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development promotes "peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development."
With so many hotspots around the world - Kosovo, Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Western Sahara, various focal points across the African continent and unrest in many parts of Asia, despite the joint efforts of the UNO and its agencies and international, regional and local players, it appears that cycles are being repeated time and time again.
A lot of these hotspots are the direct result of a unilateral, Western approach to crisis management coupled with a neocolonialist policy of interference. We saw this in Iraq, where a stable country was destabilized to the point of becoming a failed State; we saw the same in Libya, formerly the country with the highest Human Development Index in Africa, relegated to what it is today - a failed State with Islamic State firmly implanted, no longer in the East, but in Tripoli itself, on the frontier of Europe; we have seen the same in Syria where imperialist messages such as "Assad has to go" when the majority of his people wish him to stay, where terrorist groups have been supported openly, point towards the abject failure of such policies. We saw the same in Afghanistan where a decade and a half later the Taliban is far from defeated, we have seen the same approach in Ukraine where the West gave open support to an illegal putsch staged by Fascists, and where massacres of civilians were carried out by armed thugs disseminating hatred.
The hand of NATO can be seen in so many of these conflicts, which does not mean that all players in the West follow the same negative policy of violence, which in turn creates hatred. In the words on UNAOC, "Many years of experience have proven that heavy-handed approaches and a single-minded focus only on security measures have failed".
It also does not mean that the root causes of all of today's problems around the world stem from interference in top-down approaches which do not take into consideration local needs, local customs and local lore. Other factors which create marginalization and exclusion are listed as disparities of wealth and opportunities within societies, gender inequality and unemployment, particularly youth unemployment. All of these are vectors which push people, particularly the young, towards extremism and radicalization, because they feel they have no hopes and no future.
With development comes education. It is easier to find the fuel for peace and reconciliation processes and a more balanced approach among the instructed, the better-read and the educated than among those whose daily reading material, at best, might be the sports pages in a tabloid newspaper, the type of person who spends Saturday afternoons bawling obscenities at the local soccer stadium and Saturday evenings smashing the crockery at home or beating the wife if his team loses.
However, the violence is only one end of the problem of marginalization, exclusion and extremism and in turn is fueled by human rights abuses and violations and the denial of aspirations for inclusion, the denial of the means to play a part and have a voice. Lack of prospects and lack of meaning create a lack of direction. An extremist or terrorist cause provides that sense of belonging, togetherness and presents an alternative path which can seem so appealing.
The point is to cut off the root causes of violence and extremism and hatred before they start to flourish, for once these processes have started, the endemic cycles are set in motion with loss of loved ones fueling generations of hatred and antagonism, waves of refugees creating more marginalization and exclusion, which in turn grow into polarization, radicalism, extremism...and more violence.
Here the media can play an important role in fostering mutual trust and respect, through messages of tolerance and understanding. It starts with reporting the truth and by so doing, the real root causes can be addressed. Unfortunately so many media are merely outlets for the agendas of those behind the mechanisms which engender violence and conflict.
Again using the words of UNAOC, "Stereotyping is dangerous and destabilizing. Sensationalism may sell papers, but it does not solve problems".
The key words once again are education and development, multiculturalism and tolerance, exchange of ideas in round tables, joint projects which see children - our future - playing, reading, painting and sharing experiences together outside the political arena. And the key aim of societies should be employment, giving people a purpose and a means to contribute in full. How can we describe our socio-economic model as successful if it cannot even create jobs for its citizens?
*Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey has worked as a correspondent, journalist, deputy editor, editor, chief editor, director, project manager, executive director, partner and owner of printed and online daily, weekly, monthly and yearly publications, TV stations and media groups printed, aired and distributed in Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Portugal, Mozambique and São Tomé and Principe Isles; the Russian Foreign Ministry publication Dialog and the Cuban Foreign Ministry Official Publications. He has spent the last two decades in humanitarian projects, connecting communities, working to document and catalog disappearing languages, cultures, traditions, working to network with the LGBT communities helping to set up shelters for abused or frightened victims and as Media Partner with UN Women, working to foster the UN Women project to fight against gender violence and to strive for an end to sexism, racism and homophobia. A Vegan, he is also a Media Partner of Humane Society International, fighting for animal rights. He is Director and Chief Editor of the Portuguese version of Pravda.Ru.