Living together in the face of violent extremism: Perspectives from Europe and the Arab World


On 25 February 2015, the Aladdin Project and UNESCO co-organized a conference on the theme: “The Future of living together in the face of violent extremism: Perspectives from Europe and the Arab World”, at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.

This conference took place within an international context marked by pressing issues that touch upon the fundamental values of democratic societies. This calls for thorough reflexion on how to open new opportunities for dialogue, mutual understanding and learning to live together peacefully in a globalized and increasingly multicultural world. To this end, the conference brought together distinguished personalities from the political arena as well as from academia, as well as religious leaders and media professionals from Europe and the Arab World, to address the challenges raised by the recent attacks in Paris, Copenhagen and elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa.

The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, opened the conference in the presence of Mr Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, Former President of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, Mr André Azoulay, Advisor to the King of Morocco, Mr Eric de Rothschild, President of the Shoah Memorial, Ms Bariza Khiari, Senator of Paris, Mr Mohamed Moussaoui, Honorary President of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, Mr Moshé Lewin, Executive Director of the Conference of European Rabbis, Mr Turki Al-Dakhil, CEO of Al-Arabiya, Mr Mansour Al-Nogaidan, Director General of Al-Mesbar Center for Studies and Research, Mr Mohamed Al Hammadi, Editor of Al-Ittihad newspaper, and Mr Jameel Al-Theyabi, Editor in Chief of the pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat.

“In response to violence that seeks to divide, we must show that cultural dialogue is not only possible, but already exists, as a fundamental aspect of human rights,” declared the Director-General. “In response to extremism that distorts religion, we must show the wealth of constant exchanges between cultures through history,” continued Irina Bokova, calling for a new cultural literacy and intercultural skills.

The Director-General underlined UNESCO’s commitment to promoting knowledge about the darkest chapters of the history of humanity to strengthen the fight against all forms of racism, intolerance and hatred. She highlighted the Organization’s work in Holocaust Education, the Slave Route project, engaging young women and men, defending journalists and advancing media and information literacy, calling for the need to work together, globally.

Abe Radkin, the Executive Director of the Aladdin Project, launched the conference as a “call to mobilize the forces of civil society in Europe and the Arab world”.

"Terrorism is a cancer that metastasizes," which we must fight with determination, said the Ambassador of France to UNESCO, HE Philippe Lalliot, “to fight, we must understand and reflect with precision about its causes and its nature."

In an applauded statement, the Former President of Mauritania declared "as a Muslim, as an Arab, as an African, I deny anyone the right to use Islam to justify violence. Islam states that he who kills a man kills all humanity. »

Many journalists and leaders of the Arab world's media shared testimonies and views on the role of the media. André Azoulay, Advisor to the King of Morocco reiterated that "we must learn more about all the examples of successful dialogue. Every year, in Essaouira, Jews and Muslims gather for the music festival but nobody talks about it. We must multiply the places of dialogue, meeting platforms, such as UNESCO, and convey the message of tolerance."

The conference reflected the spirit of the actions called upon in the International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures (2013-2022), spearheaded by UNESCO, to: “promoting respect for human rights and cultural diversity, while acknowledging the importance of intercultural and interreligious dialogue to fight against new forms of racism, discrimination, intolerance, extremism and radicalization, thus forging ties among peoples and nations.”