By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
According to the Holy See, promoting a culture of encounter that fosters mutual respect and dialogue, supporting families which are the fundamental nucleus of society, and educating young people to the values of justice and peace are important elements in preventing violent extremism and radicalization that lead to terrorism (PVERLT).
Monsignor Janusz Urbańczyk, the Holy See’s Permanent Representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), made these proposals in two separate interventions during the 2021 Chairmanship OSCE-Wide Counter-terrorism Conference, which took place from 20-21 April in Vienna.
Highlighting some factors that have contributed to the spread of extremism and terrorism, Monsignor Urbańczyk expressed concern that the Covid-19 pandemic “has provided extremist and terrorist organizations with new avenues, through the exploitation of feelings of vulnerability and isolation, in advancing their goals of intensifying recruitments, and of spreading hatred and violence.”
Further lamenting a lack of decline in terrorism despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, he noted that extremist groups have “succeeded in rapidly adapting to the new circumstances, turning the social and economic fallout from the pandemic to their own advantage.”
Misuse of religion
Another aspect misused by terrorist organizations is the distortion of religious narratives “in order to increase support and achieve objectives that are political, economic, worldly and short-sighted.”
Terrorism, Monsignor Urbańczyk stressed, “is not due to religion but the misuse or misinterpretation of it.”
Re-echoing Pope Francis’ words during a meeting with authorities, civil society and diplomatic corps in March, the Monsignor highlighted that violent extremism and radicalization that lead to terrorism are grounded in a “fundamentalism incapable of accepting the peaceful coexistence of different ethnic and religious groups, different ideas and cultures.”
Comprehensive approach needed in fight against extremism
Monsignor Urbańczyk went on to note that violent extremism, is a “multifaceted phenomenon, driven by psychological, socio-economic, political, ideological and other factors.” Confronting it, therefore, will require an approach that encompasses all its dimensions.
In this regard, religious, political, civil, educational and cultural leaders must “recognize the need to promote a culture of dialogue, tolerance, acceptance of others and of living together peacefully,” he said, adding that these, along with “authentic teachings of religions, would effectively contribute to addressing the root causes of extremism and terrorism.
Role of faith-based communities
In addition to other components of society working against radicalization and extremism, Monsignor Urbańczyk emphasized the important role that faith-based communities and their leaders have through their particular sensitivity toward the community, notably with regard to detecting early signs of radicalization among its members.
On this issue, the Monsignor reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s commitment, through the various religious orders and Catholic NGOs, to remain engaged in countering harmful narratives that can give rise to radicalization. He also restated the Church’s support in promoting rehabilitation and reintegration programs in order to construct and maintain peaceful societies.
Support for families
In his intervention on Wednesday, Monsignor Urbańczyk recommended directing efforts in combatting extremism and radicalization towards assisting the fundamental nucleus of society and humanity – the family. He noted that since the pandemic has made us aware that many young people fall victim to radicalization online, mostly when there is a lack of education and attention at home, Parents, who are the first educators of their children, can be supported “as they impart values and solid instruction in the ways of sowing justice and peace within the societies they live.”
Starting from the grassroots
In light of the persistence of terrorism and extremism – “similar to a contagious virus”, the Monsignor stressed the importance of “multi-level action, particularly at the local level” as local governments and grassroots organizations are at the forefront of counterterrorism efforts, and can specifically provide education and employment opportunities, as well as rehabilitation and reintegration programs to prevent youths and others from being radicalized.
Recalling both Pope Francis’s and Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayyeb’s insistence on the role of religions in the construction of world peace, Monsignor Urbańczyk noted that education and authentic religious teachings are means to awaken religious consciousness in new generations in order to confront conflicting, selfish and individualistic tendencies, and also address radicalism and blind extremism in all its forms.