The event gathered about 200 participants including scholars, policy makers and researchers from 20 countries: Algeria, Botswana, Egypt, France, Ghana, Grenada, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Netherlands, Oman, Russian Federation, Senegal, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and Qatar. Participants stressed the urgency of tackling the issue of violent extremism in cyberspace, which is affecting lives of many people including children.
In his address to the Conference, Mr Andr' Kassass, who was representing the Lebanon Minister of Information, reiterated that officials, media and civil society must find a common space to counter deliberate attempts by extremist parties to distort religion. 'It is imperative that we address the emotional approach in religious discourse to prevent the dissemination of hatred, by adhering to moderation and staying away from extremism and exaggeration. This requires constructive dialogue through mutual trust and a common conviction that there is a need to change misconceptions, which are at the core of fanaticism and which are distorting knowledge and the facts,' he said.
Chafica Haddad, Chair of UNESCO's Information for All Programme (IFAP) and a co-organizer of the Conference, said, 'I look forward to the outcomes of this major event that will draw the way ahead for our efforts to nurture Internet for peace and dialogue, and teach young people how to live together peacefully regardless of their religious, ethnic, cultural and other differences. We need to give them hope, sense of worthiness, provide them with jobs and education and allow them to participate in building a peaceful future."
Prof. Henri Awit, the President of the Lebanese National Commission for UNESCO, highlighted in his speech that the extremism, regardless of its patterns, methods and manifestations, is based on refusing to acknowledge differences and relies on hostility and violence. 'This international Conference provided an opportunity for participants, particularly the youth, to exchange ideas and experiences with the objective to explore ways of preventing radicalization leading to violent extremism as well as discrimination and hatred on the Internet,' said Prof. Awit.
In his keynote address to the Conference Marc Hecker, from the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI), stressed the three different methods that are currently used to address the issue of violent extremism in the cyberspace. The first one is intelligence, which aims to identify the individuals who produce illegal contents and to gather proofs that can be used in the judicial system. The second one is blocking or taking down illegal content. The third one is counter-narrative. 'Several governments have developed online campaigns in order to deconstruct radical arguments. However, the most efficient campaigns are often led by private actors. Hence, it is crucial to mobilize the civil society ' especially youth organizations ' to fight against violent extremism in the cyberspace,' said Hecker.
Dr Boyan Radoykov, from UNESCO's Knowledge Societies Division, outlined the remaining challenges and emphasized the results obtained to date. According to him, the prevention of youth radicalization leading to violence requires long-term mobilization and greater consistency in the application of the working solutions. "History teaches us that there is no undestroyed evil! Each generation must face its own evils with courage and determination. We have a huge responsibility - to transmit to the next generation a world with the current evils duly annihilated,' stated Radoykov. He also noted that young people deserve to receive from us knowledge, universal values "and a peaceful environment that are essential for their personal and collective fulfilment. 'Knowledge will give them confidence in facing the pitfalls of illusory promises made by the traders of abject atrocities.'The humane values, for centuries, have paved the way for the victory of civilization over barbarism. The peaceful environment is indispensable for empowering people and transforming societies," he added.
Speakers at the Conference also voiced commitment to facilitate access to all types of information and communication platforms, and to promote narratives that condemn violence and hate speech, encouraging inclusion, equality, intercultural dialogue and peace. '
On 19 May, the Conference adopted the Final Statement, which calls for effective measures to prevent and combat the online propagation of violence, as well as for using Internet to promote a culture of peace.
The Beirut Conference was the third in a series of events organized by UNESCO and the Information for All Programme (IFAP). The first international conference on the subject was held at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris on 16 and 17 June 2015, under the theme Youth and the Internet: Fighting Radicalization and Extremism. The second one, Internet and the Radicalization of Youth: Preventing, Acting and Living together, was organized by UNESCO and the Government of Quebec from 30 October to 1 November'2016 in Quebec, Canada.