We must protect the youth from extremist manipulations - 23 April 2015 [fr]
The role of youth in the fight against violent extremism and in the promotion of peace. - Speech by Mr. Patrick Kanner, Minister of the City, Youth and Sports - Security Council - 23 April 2015
At a time when France has probably just managed to escape another deadly attack, this time targeting churches and Christianity, I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the Jordanian presidency of the Security Council for organizing this debate. I am convinced that the subject of youth should receive greater focus in our exchanges. I have no doubt that the Crown Prince of Jordan shares that belief, as he has just expressed.
France is an old country, but its population is young. We have the highest birthrate in Europe. Our demographic is our strength. It is also our responsibility. It is our responsibility to provide our young people with prospects, to give meaning to their life and, perhaps even more importantly, to give meaning to life in general. The ideology that threatens the world today is a morbid one that seeks to repress our desires, condemn our joy, and extinguish our vital energy.
The international community was struck by the horror of the massacre in Garissa, in which 148 Kenyans were killed for their beliefs. And let us not forget the murder of Christians in the Middle East. Let us not forget the plight of the 276 Nigerian highschool girls kidnapped one year ago from Chibok by Boko Haram. Extremists hate the otherness of women. Let us not forget either the atrocities committed against children and youth by Daesh in Iraq and Syria, or the martyrdom of Syrian youth by the regime of Bashar Al-Assad.
Young people are on the side of life and, as such, should be the best shield against obscurantism. It is necessary to both work with young people and also to protect them from the machinations of the extremists. The latter are extremely active on social networks and disseminate conspiracy theories that undermine institutional authority. They feed on the helplessness of the young. Girls and boys as young as 13 or 14 years old have been recruited from a number of countries, including my own. In France, we speak of several hundred young people, perhaps more. That is very few, but far too many. Even just one would be one too many. Therefore, my mission is to show each young person in France that the Republic remains valid; it is still our future and our ideal. I must convince my young fellow citizens that is in the Republic, and therefore in liberty, equality and fraternity that they will find the best conditions for their fulfilment and happiness.
The Jordanian initiative is right to remind us that the struggle against extremism cannot be military alone. It is a wider political and moral struggle in which society as a whole has a role to play. That is why France, after the terrible attacks in January, which both injured and killed, has decided to launch a national campaign for republican values. It is in that spirit that the Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, just announced a major national plan to combat racism and anti-Semitism with a special emphasis on the youth.
Starting in school we wish, through specific teachings, to focus on the concepts of citizenship and secularism, the French model that strikes a balance between fundamental freedoms, which allowed for the peaceful exercise of freedom of all religions and the conditions that enable us to live together since its consecration 110 years ago this year. Secularism is not an opinion; it is the freedom to have one. It is essential that every child understands the foundations of our collective foundation, that which makes us a nation, and beyond that, which signals our belonging to the same human community. Young people must understand that this is not just a matter of fact, but one of determination and responsibility.
School is a central institution in France, but other actors are mobilized with the same objective. Associations that do the same job of providing citizenship education in neighbourhoods where despair is the greatest have seen a considerable increase in their numbers. The State and associations are bringing this republican discourse to the Internet. We are launching a counteroffensive campaign against the arguments of our opponents in order to prevent the most absurd and dangerous theories from spreading.
On a large scale, we are developing mechanisms for citizen engagement, such as civic service. For 6 to 12 months, young French people who are interested will be compensated for accomplishing a mission of general interest within an association or administration. As such, 150,000 young people in France will be involved by the end of 2016. We now wish to develop this mechanism at the international level. The best ambassadors of humanist values among young people, are the young people themselves. In that regard, I welcome the remarkable work of UNICEF and its national committees, in particular UNICEF France, which, through its Youth Ambassador Programmes, turns young people into veritable global citizens that carry a message of solidarity and humanity.
Finally, let us not abandon those who have gone astray or have made a mistake. Everyone is capable of realizing their mistakes and to make sincere amends. We would like to show radicalized youth who return from combat zones their terrible mistake and offer them the possibility of reinsertion into their home countries in accordance with the values of those countries. France is aware that its response cannot be confined within its own borders; we are acting in concert with our European partners. My country took the initiative by, for example, convening a meeting of the Ministers of Education of the 28 member States of the European Union in Paris on 10 March. Measures need to be adopted to improve coordination aimed at combating terrorist propaganda and recruitment over the Internet through collective pressure on providers, to harmonize legislation with respect to the removal of online illegal material and to adapt the international legislative framework that governs the increasingly globalized flow of information.
Along with our fight to combat violent extremism, we want to bring to the United Nations the struggle to restore hope to our youth, as the Organization is the premiere venue of multilateralism. The anti-terrorist strategy defined by the United Nations remains more relevant than ever, and the World Programme of Action for Youth will doubtless take on new momentum. Next month will mark 20 years since that programme was established — a good age at which to become involved. It is crucial for that anniversary to be more than a mere formality. It should rather be seen as an opportunity for Member States to show youth around the world that we believe in them.