London Bridge terror attack
A person lays a floral tribute after a vigil at Potters Field Park, near the scene of the attack at London Bridge Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

Terrorism, along with the global refugee crisis, is probably the most pressing issue of our age. We face a stark choice: either we try to ignore it and hope it goes away, or we confront it.

In my view, we need to place the fight against terrorism at the top of our priorities. It is not enough to fight force with force, but rather we need to strike at the cultural and intellectual sources that allow extremism to thrive.

As a candidate vying to become Director General of UNESCO, I would put such an initiative at the top of my agenda if elected. UNESCO was founded with lofty goals in the field of education, culture and sciences. It encourages gender equality, freedom of communication and education for all, three of the most effective tools in the on-going fight against terrorism.

Addressing global poverty, educational ignorance, lack of equality, exclusion and marginalisation are all key elements in destroying the climate in which terrorism thrives.

It is essential that the fight against such a potentially destructive enemy should begin immediately.

Extremism thrives on the blatant rejection of any criticism and on blind submission to assumptions put forward as unquestionable facts. This results in ignorance rather than knowledge, and destroys the right of cultures, no matter how diverse, to coexist peacefully.

The thinking that fosters terrorism also destroys enlightenment, the civilising effect of learning throughout our history. This is why terrorism targets our collective history, consciousness and human memory as a whole.

Extremists have destroyed sites of human heritage in Afghanistan, Timbuktu, Libya, Iraq and Syria with the intention of wiping out evidence of peaceful co-existence between the various civilisations of the world, a co-existence that shows a diversity of cultures along with mutual understanding and exchange of ideas.

Like some horribly contagious plague, the more destruction and wars that terrorism engenders, the more fear and terror it spreads. As a result, people drift further apart. Diverse nations end up clashing instead of joining forces and peacefully co-existing.

If the spectre of fear takes root within society, it becomes even more dangerous than an epidemic and grows even faster due to the undermining of society itself.

We think that fighting terrorism is an inherent and collective responsibility, and as a stronghold of human values and a citadel of tolerance, dialogue and multiculturalism, UNESCO need to focus on this.

This fight brings together governments, civil organisations and international public opinion. It is impossible to build a secure bastion against terrorism without everyone agreeing that education is our fundamental weapon in this war.

Our work should be to stimulate the imagination of students and broaden their minds. Curricula that has simply relied on knowledge accumulation have never managed to change minds, barely going beneath the surface and failing to transcend and penetrate deep towards the core human intellect.

After the Second World War, and the horrors of the Holocaust, UNESCO's decision to dedicate a day of commemoration to the memory of the victims must be applauded. I would go further, and establish a World Cultural Day against Terrorism, which would be a renewed opportunity to pay tribute to the memory of victims, and to show younger generations the universal principles of peace and concord.

Our mission must be to encourage education and critical thinking, common and shared values โ€‹โ€‹of tolerance, understanding, dialogue among cultures, mutual respect and the fight against poverty and exclusion.

It is perhaps the critical spirit that is terribly lacking in our younger generations. Yet it is, I am firmly convinced, the only weapon against recruitment.

So, what better than culture to fight brainwashing? What better than education to eradicate fanaticism that leads to terrorism? What better than science to face obscurantism?


Dr Hamad Bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari is the State of Qatar's candidate for Director-General of UNESCO.