Good morning, afternoon, and evening to all who are participating – I know that many of you are joining us from different time zones across the globe. Thank you, Ambassador Brownback, for that warm introduction and for your leadership in promoting religious freedom and mutual respect around the world.
I am honored to be part of this diverse group of practitioners. On first look it’s easy to see the differences among you—by geography, gender, ethnicity, and religion. But what stands out in my mind is how we are united by common principles: freedom of religion and belief and acceptance of others regardless of faith.
I am confident too that we agree that violence arising from intolerance, discrimination, and enmity over religion—against persons of any faith, against believers and non-believers alike—is a threat to stability, security, and peace in all of our countries.
Research, including some conducted or sponsored by the Department of State, has shown that intolerant, exclusivist, and supremacist ideologies can lay the groundwork for discrimination and violence, including terrorist radicalization and recruitment. These ideologies can inhibit the development of critical thinking and other skills, making some young people ill-equipped for the challenges of the global, 21st century.
All of us are here today because we believe firmly that education is one of our most critical tools for countering the propagation of hate. Through instruction in our educational institutions – from early educational programs to higher learning – our children and young adults are taught respect for human rights and dignity. Schools—and camps, clubs, teams—these are the everyday institutions where our children and adults, young and old, can learn to interact and form bonds with people who are different from them. It’s where they meet new people—hear about their differing beliefs, ideas, and backgrounds—and learn to practice empathy, and start to see others as they want to see themselves. It’s where teachers can inspire students to make the world a better place.
Children today are growing up in a global society that continues to see astonishing technological innovations in communication. With COVID-19 our children from primary schools through universities are learning on-line as we meet virtually. While we value technology, we also recognize it is a tool that must be monitored as it can also lead to the rapid spread of misinformation and intolerant ideas, which can deepen socioeconomic divides, create new psychosocial challenges, and contribute to the mobilization to violence.
At last year’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom Tony Blair, former UK Prime Minister and founder of the Institute for Global Change, said, “violence doesn’t come out of nowhere.” He called on us to deal with intolerance that “starts with the education systems of many countries, formal and informal, where either the practices or teaching, even the curriculum, promote a closed and bigoted view of the world in which other faiths are de-legitimized or disparaged.”
To support this aspect of our work to promote tolerance and fundamental values, the United State has prioritized advancing education-based approaches to promote resilience and respect. In support of the goals of this meeting, the Department is devoting an initial $75,000 to support small pilot projects in Indonesia, Kosovo, Nigeria, and Senegal that promote respect for freedom of religion or belief and community resilience through early childhood education programs, film, and youth engagement and educational dialogues.
In addition, we are planning for future programming to promote understanding and resilience among school-aged children so they can better recognize and counter intolerant and exclusionary narratives; and raise youth, teacher, and community awareness of terrorist radicalization and recruitment.
Each of you is here today because of your commitment and contributions to this important work. You have funded or implemented successful education-based solutions to address the threat of intolerant ideas and teach religious respect. You have researched and shared how education can help root out conflict and build better intra- and inter-group relationships—as well as help to reduce vulnerability to terrorist radicalization and recruitment.
The U.S. objectives for this program over the next three days is ambitious. We hope that participants will share best practices and promote local solutions; build an actionable, international policy and practitioner network; and catalyze partnerships to support education-based initiatives. Discussions will focus on how best to support peace; promote coexistence, pluralism, and other universal values through curricula and teacher training; and support initiatives that instill critical-reasoning skills, including digital and media literacy.
We hope that this week’s conversations are the beginning of an ongoing dialogue, that will develop into fruitful, long-term connections. There is power in the collaboration of dedicated practitioners, and your efforts are sure to contribute to our mutual efforts to build a more peaceful, inclusive society through education. Thank you for taking the time to be here and for all that you are doing to make a lasting change.