World cities meet in Turkey for joint efforts to tackle extremism

World cities meet in Turkey for joint efforts to tackle extremism

Güneş Kömürcüler - ANTALYA
World cities meet in Turkey for joint efforts to tackle extremism Some 170 city administrators and authorities from 25 countries shared their experiences in fighting against violent extremism and building social cohesion in a bid to prevent radicalism in the first Strong Cities Network (SCN) Summit in the Mediterranean resort of Antalya on May 11-12. 

“In today’s world, radicalism and terrorism fuel each other. In the fight against these extremist movements, local governments play a crucial role. If any city’s locals categorize each other and exclude others due to their differences, the world cannot fight against terrorism and radicalism. We need to adopt the ‘we are all equal discourse’ mainly from the grassroots of our local communities,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said in his opening speech on May 11 for the summit, which was launched under the auspices of the United Nations in September 2015.

The SCN is the first ever global network of mayors, municipal-level policy makers and practitioners united in building social cohesion and community resilience to counter violent extremism in all its forms. Led by the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue, and supported by the U.S. administration, the SCN aims at strengthening strategic planning and practices among municipal-level policy makers and building the capacity of local practitioners to prevent the spread of violent extremism in all its forms. More than 40 cities from around the world are part of the network with membership being completely free of charge. 

The first summit was originally scheduled to be held in Paris, but the plan was later altered, with Antalya instead assuming the hosting duties, according to event planners. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was also slated to attend the event but was forced to cancel his attendance due to a heavy schedule, said Çavuşoğlu. 

In response to Çavuşoğlu’s tweet about the launch of event in Antalya on May 11, Kerry tweeted early May 15: “Thank you, Mevlut Çavusoglu, for hosting Strong Cities Global Summit. Together we can build strong, united cities.” 

SCN representatives noted that cities are uniquely positioned to safeguard their citizens from polarization and radicalization through partnerships with local communities. 

“All extremist groups have today utilized a series of global networks and social media platforms to grow and become stronger. It is only possible for us to defeat them by boosting local and global cooperation. Local administrations play a crucial role in fighting against such extremist groups for example by launching sports and educational programs for young people and by fueling communication and cooperation with religious authorities and other local leaders in line with an inclusive approach,” said Antalya Metropolitan Municipality Mayor Menderes Türel in his opening speech. 

The risk of violent extremism – across racial, ideological, political and religious motivations – is a concern for families, communities and governments, according to SCN representatives. Across the world, cities are on the front-line of building resilience to violent extremism and they can develop crucial preventive measures against violent extremism through solid educational and sports programs for young people or initiatives to boost closer ties among local communities, among others, they added. Here all cooperation models with global partners, national authorities, private entities, educational institutions or sports clubs are key as well as the effective use social media. 

“This is a platform to gain a deeper understanding about each other in a bid to tackle with extremism in our city and in the world. This is therefore an initiative that must be supported. People can take the information and best practices here and then apply them at home. Issues can be resolved through benchmarking, through understanding other approaches. What we need to do is to emulate best practices,” the governor of the Kenyan country government of Mombasa, Hassan Ali Joho, told the Hürriyet Daily News. 

He noted that it is of great importance to create a global strategy to prevent young people from joining radicalized movements, illegal gangs or others. 

“This is the most important thing. If we do not tell a good story to them, someone else will tell another story to them, which could be lies, which could be distorted things or something else. We created this platform and opportunities to tell them the right stories as we want to go back to being a peaceful world again,” added Joho. 

Special thanks to Turkish authorities for stopping youth from joining foreign fighters

Hans Bonte, the mayor of the Belgian city of Vilvoorde, said no young people from his city had fled to join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) for the last two years, thanking Turkish authorities for their support on the matter.

“After 2014, thanks to a remarkable closer cooperation between Turkish and Belgian authorities, there has been a significant decline in the number of young people who have fled to join foreign fighters in Syria or somewhere else. From my city, no such case was seen since summer 2014. In early 2014, when two young girls suspiciously disappeared, Turkish authorities gave a signal to Belgium that they might be at the Turkish-Syrian border to join foreign fighters and sent them back. The good news is that after they were rescued, they have been [reintegrated] into society. These two girls were enrolled in their schools again and a special program was launched for their families. They are doing very well now,” he told the Hürriyet Daily News. 

Bonte said his city’s law enforcement, education and social services institutions had been working together to fight back with strategies to pinpoint potential recruits and counter ISIL recruitment narratives. 

A number of key case studies and best practices were also shared during the summit. For instance, a series of short documentary films dubbed “Extreme Dialogue” related the personal stories of Canadians profoundly affected by violent extremism, depicting a former member of the extreme far-right and a mother whose son was killed fighting for ISIL in Syria. The films are accompanied by a set of educational resources that can be used with young people in classrooms or community settings and are intended to build resilience to extremism through active discussion and enhanced critical thinking, according to campaign representatives.