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Magdy Martínez-Solimán: Statement at the opening of Preventing Violent Extremism global workshop

Mar 14, 2016

I am delighted to welcome you today to UNDP’s global meeting on preventing violent extremism, and would like to start by thanking our hosts in Norway, with special thanks to you, Mr. Tore Hattrem, the State Secretary for Foreign Affairs of Norway.  I would also like to thank our other distinguished guest with whom I share the floor this morning – Ms Gulalai Ismail, a young Pakistani human rights leader, which reminds us that freedom and dignity are the result of principled tenacity, and courage.

Thank you to all of you who have joined us here to discuss the issue of our time. Yesterday, violence stroke again in Grand Bassam and in Ankara. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families.

Ladies and Gentlemen, at the start of my few remarks, I would like to share a personal story. I just come back from Madrid, where last Friday we commemorated the victims of the 11 March 2004 attacks at the Atocha railway station, in the main railway station of the Spanish capital. 12 years ago, 190 persons were killed and more than 2000 injured in a bomb blast by a jihadist sleeper cell.

As the son of exiled Spanish parents and a child refugee myself from Europe and in Europe – from a once intolerant South torn apart by post-war totalitarianism – I can relate to histories of human suffering linked to economic injustice, social cruelty, political intolerance and violence. In Spain, we suffered bitterly under a 4 decades-long regime of permanent human rights violation, from the Biarritz pact with Hitler to the mid-seventies last embers of the cold war. The regime triggered the peaceful response of a democratic opposition but also a minority and violent movement rooted in repression which appealed to a segment of young people, linked to and trained by armed networks in Europe and beyond. The movement extorted businesses, imposed totalitarian views on education and culture, and resorted to violence in politics, just like those it claimed to fight, whose rule was based on extortion, imposition and violence. Soon enough, the movement became an end in itself, a lucrative way of life for its leadership, jobs for the troops, and a fanatical ideology barely veiling a cult of violence behind an epic narrative of liberation.

I am not talking about violence as in throwing stones or Molotov cocktails on anti-riot police of the Dictator. Progressives, liberals and conservative democrats were bombed in their cars, in supermarkets, shot down at gunpoint, murdered at home, in their offices, in classrooms or on the streets, not during the repression periods of Franco’s command, but in full-bloom democracy – with the party of the violent people running unsuccessfully, for elections. And this is how they were soon called by all the peaceful actors of the Spanish and Basque society: the violent people. They murdered democrats: among them, in Madrid, the professor of Constitutional Law and Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court, Francisco Tomas y Valiente shot down in his office; in San Sebastian, a senior partner of my law firm affiliate Fernando Mugica Herzog; in Malaga, my fellow Local Councillor from the conservative party Jose Maria Martin Carpena; and in Bilbao, my friend and Basque Labour Party leader Enrique Casas. The romantic freedom fighter narrative couldn’t hide any longer the gangster back-office and the criminal record.

Let me tell you another story, not from my country, from far away: one about the recently arrested Muhammad Eshaq, a 40-year-old carpet seller from Nimruz. The bad news is that Muhammad is in reality the Mullah Abdul Rashid Baluch, the Taliban shadow governor of Nimruz Province: a man with blood on his hands and with direct links to the top Taliban leaders in Pakistan. Mullah Rashid embodies the evolution of the Taliban movement in Afghanistan. As a hardened insurgent, most notorious for planning a mass suicide attack in Nimruz during the holy month of Ramadan, he had become among the most powerful drug smugglers in all of southern Afghanistan. He was arrested during a drug raid, not a counterterrorism operation. Mullah Rashid is just one of dozens of senior Taliban leaders who are so enmeshed in the drug trade that it has become difficult to distinguish the group from a dedicated drug cartel.

I could go on and discuss the FARC and their links to the drug Cartels in Colombia and Mexico and many others initially presented as revolutionaries. The lesson I want to draw here is that we need to confront the romantic image of these criminals with their real actions, their sources of income and their reckless brutality. True freedom fighters don’t kill freedom. True Muslim scholars don’t preach violence. Some young people dream of liberation, religious exaltation and fight against the oppressor. But few young people aspire to become smugglers, drug traffickers, hijackers and hardened criminals. We need to show the real connections and the true colours of these gangs.    

Ordinary people all over the world now live in fear of latent, indiscriminate and uncompromising threat of violent extremism. Yet, there are examples of hope, experiences that have found the way.

We all agree on the need to respond effectively to imminent threats to, or attacks against, our collective safety and security. But we should also all agree, that when security authorities need to respond, we have in fact already failed in our longing for peaceful coexistence. When we’re forced to respond through security measures, it is because we have failed to deal with the factors that lead first from alienation to radicalization, and then from radicalization to acts of mass violence.  UNDP believes that as development actors we need to address the root causes of extremism, in the context of the governance of increasingly diverse and multi-cultural societies. Therefore, the focus of our global meeting is on preventing violent extremism, rather than responding or countering it. Our success will be the acts of violent extremism that never occur, and the lives that contribute to peacebuilding, rather than conflict-making.

As development agents we cannot ignore the fact that political environments without freedom and power-sharing may fuel grievances leading to violent extremism. The Secretary General of the UN in his Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, which we will discuss later this morning, notes that “narratives of [violent extremism] …become attractive where human rights are being violated, good governance is being ignored and aspirations are being crushed…and [that] prolonged and unresolved conflicts provide fertile ground for violent extremism.”

This brings me to the centrality of Human Rights in preventing violent extremism, demanding a balance in the focus towards initiatives that aim to address the underlying grievances that foster violent extremism and terrorism. The old and ever current debate between liberty and security is relevant, precisely because in some countries, the VE agenda has been abused to suppress political opposition or ideological dissent. The Special Rapporteur on Terrorism has alerted us not to lose [I quote] “the valuable rights and freedoms of our citizens in the rush to find new measures to protect them”.

NGOs have identified a number of recent examples of legislation relating to extremism that has been used against the activities of non-violent groups, against journalists and against political actors critical of State policy. Civil society has a very important role in countering the appeal of violent ideologies. Extremism cannot be used to justify greater intrusions into the digital privacy. We need to avoid risks such as unjustifiably restricting citizens’ freedom of movement or increase discriminatory profiling on religious or racial grounds.

Marginalization, profiling or alienation of particular communities, causes public humiliation and can be a powerful driver of radicalisation.  The opportunity to be healthy, to become educated, to be productive, to have one’s identity acknowledged, and to be protected from harm and injustice are fundamental human rights.  If these rights are denied, and one really has nothing to lose, it’s not strange that the promise of rescue, retribution, and reward seems tremendously appealing. This is what UNDP’s Administrator Madam Helen Clark has described as the magnetic effect of violent extremism.  A magnetism based on the Machiavellian belief that the cause justifies the means, even when the means are incompatible with the cause.  

Fragile and conflict-affected situations, as seen in northern Nigeria, Somalia, Kenya, Mali, Yemen, Libya, Syria, Palestine and Iraq, have increasingly been incubators of violent extremism. UNDP plays a special role in these situations through the provision of support for conflict-sensitive development, governance, conflict prevention, the rule of law, the restoration of core government functions, and security sector reform. A part of our work that our Norwegian friends support in particular.  

In these and other contexts, we know that violent extremism is driven by particular local factors as well as by the global draw of ideologies that offer a perverse but compelling narrative of empowerment. As development actors we must become better at supporting societies in which disputes whether based on religion, race, citizenship, class or conviction are resolved peacefully.  In Pakistan, for example, UNDP is supporting initiatives providing strong mentorship for young people by both peers and authority figures, including religious leaders, as well as providing viable job opportunities with training and financial credit.  

Over the course of this global meeting we will focus specifically on the role of some key agents for peace and co-existence:  youth, women, small businesses, religious authorities and media.

Excellencies. Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the end of this intervention, I wanted to return to my personal story.

My wife’s family came from Ireland and the South of Italy to the American shores, with no more than a pair of earrings, strong arms and great hopes to build a new life on hard work and opportunity – and so they did. As did the Spanish side of my family – who flourished in newly democratic, peaceful, inclusive and prosperous Spain, which was rebuilt on tolerance and economic fairness, with the support of other European democracies.

My family has lived what we now see others experiencing. We have boarded North-bound trains because of the lack of opportunity in the South, just like today other people board North-bound boats away from their Southern land of sufferance. We have been at risk of surrendering to anger and animosity – because of the obscene privileges enjoyed and the ferocious cruelty shown by our oppressors, in climates of fear, predator economics and violence. But our travels did not end in cycles of violence, hatred and despair. They found a resting stop in lands of asylum, refuge, solidarity and peace like Norway. And that has put me in the business of hope – an industry every individual in this room is somehow involved in.

With the certainty that we will continue to grow this important business of hope over the coming days, I wish everyone a productive and enjoyable meeting and thank again those who generously host us, our Norwegian Government friends, the Oslo Governance Centre of UNDP and those who travelled close and far to discuss how to prevent violence in today’s societies.