How to stop the escalation of intercultural violence

How to stop the escalation of intercultural violence

Flames, demonstrations, guns: It is scary to observe the uproar and violence in the Muslim world in reaction to a film obviously insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

Many of us are in a state of confusion; we are surrounded by rumors and assumptions that are spread via the media and the web: about the author of the films, about the possible reaction of the United States, about the future of dialogue between the West and the Arab world.

Regardless of what may come, a few things are already clear:

First, we have to rethink politics: The peaceful dialogue of cultures is not something “nice to have” on sunny days: It has to be at the very heart of international decision-making. War and violence ruin all nations’ plans for development, growth and stability – so, it is very easy to see the need for change. But in reality, grassroots activities for peace, intercultural exchange and peaceful conflict solution are constantly underfunded – in a ridiculous ratio, compared to the military budgets worldwide. This is a shame for the civilized world.

Second, we have to rethink peace building. We have to start much earlier – from childhood and youth on. Science has proven that the mental images of the world, empathy and a spirit of global citizenship are developed in early childhood and youth. Therefore, it is much easier and effective to intervene during this critical time than to un-program later. If we can help foster in our children a spirit of global respect and personal friendship, such films would maybe neither be produced nor would they gain such attention. Because everybody would know that the vast majority “of the others” are not enemies. If we would have more and better-funded intercultural exchange programs worldwide, many more young people would think “I have many friends in this region; I am sure they do not think like this, so let’s stay calm on both sides.” The virus of hatred and violence would not spread like wildfire as we see it today. This neglect toward younger generations (which will be the ones that have to face the consequences of the violent present) is an attitude the older generations should be ashamed of.

Third, we have to rethink media and media education: The movie was made possible by independent funders and spread via social media. So, it is very clear how important it is to create and fund national and global media environments that encourage young people to produce attractive and activating peer-to-peer media for peace and understanding. The “movie” had an incredible impact that it did not deserve. This shows how important intercultural media training is: An interculturally sensitive audience would not have a reaction like the one we saw.

If we agree on the things said, we have to rethink finance: The money to make the world a better place is there. Just two figures: according to the Global Peace Index of the Institute for Economics and Peace, $9 trillion could be saved if the armed conflicts worldwide were solved.

Another $21 trillion to $31 trillion are hidden in off-shore bank accounts, according to the research of James S. Henry, a former McKinsey & Co. chief economist and an economist for the Tax Justice Network.
So, it is pretty simple: If we can make such enormous financial resources accessible for development, dialogue and peace, we have very good chances of not seeing such events in future generations. Another world is possible.

Thomas Röhlinger is the founder and editor-in-chief of Radijojo and the World Children’s Radio Network. He initiated the World Children’s Media Foundation.