Written by Denise Chircop
On 17 November 2015, EP President Martin Schulz and Vice-President Antonio Tajani hosted a dialogue with philosophical and non-confessional organisations on the theme ‘How can education contribute to tackle radicalism and fundamentalism in Europe?’ The event took place within the framework of Article 17 TFEU, which commits the EU institutions to intercultural dialogue with churches and non-confessional organisations.
In his opening remarks, Vice-President Tajani emphasised that Europe embodies the basic civic and humanist values of freedom and acceptance and that we must be firm on this. Making reference to the very recent attacks in Paris, he said that Europe should not become inward looking; to be truly free we must not succumb to terror. He referred to schools as places where young people learn how to live and work with each other. Ideas should be discussed to give pupils the necessary skills to challenge prejudice and violent extremism themselves. Cultural and sports activities too can develop familiarity and openness. EU tools such as the strategic framework Education and Training 2020 and EU funding for Creative Europe and Erasmus+ need to be addressed in this direction.
In her opening remarks, the chair of the EP’s Committee on Culture and Education, Silvia Costa, noted that terrorists attacking Europe are often born and educated in Europe. Whereas poverty and social exclusion are important factors, better educated young people are not immune to recruitment. Neither can violent extremism be linked exclusively to religions as political extremism can also be violent. Terrorists consistently target culture to destabilise and dehumanise us and this can be countered by an ‘education of empathy’. Voluntary work and mobility are good examples, as they offer young people the opportunity to share different ways of living and thinking. Intercultural dialogue too plays a crucial role in promoting social cohesion and acceptance. At the same time, cooperation between formal and non-formal educational systems needs to be enhanced and extended to include families. She appealed for stronger cultural diplomacy including the Euro-Mediterranean dialogue and giving third country nationals the possibility to study in Europe.
Julie Ward (UK, S&D) rapporteur on the role of intercultural dialogue, cultural diversity and education on promoting EU fundamental values spoke of her work as an artist and an educator with young people. She noticed that those who were unaccustomed to other cultures progressed from fear to self-confidence and later became successful leaders in their communities. She pointed out that culture is never fixed and history and heritage are not tools for division. Knowledge of the past helps us build a better future. Arts-based educational programmes offer young people excellent opportunities to address conflicts. Educational efforts need to encompass the adult population as well.
Other speakers defended the notion of a secular society, claiming that this was not another dogmatic stance. The separation of the religious and political spheres ensured basic equality. They acknowledged that some immigrants might not share our notions of gender equality, human rights, individual freedom or scientific knowledge. Nonetheless, all children need to receive this type of education and adults need to be made aware that this is what we stand for. Open discussions are important to avoid feelings of rejection and antagonism. Some speakers, however, claimed that teachers admitted they were not sufficiently prepared for these difficult conversations.
Concerns were voiced about religious teaching in schools as a factor of segregation. Some participants favoured common classes about ethics, religions and their history. Others pointed out the need to sensitise religious leaders to European values by forming them within a formal educational set-up in Europe.
The role of media, particularly the internet, was stressed. Networking tools are used very efficiently by terrorists, but they also provide young people with opportunities to express their identities, concerns and frustrations and be heard by society.
We have explored these issues further in our short publications on the dialogue between the EU institutions and non-confessional organisations and on the role of education and intercultural dialogue as tools against radicalisation