How to prevent the escalation of inter-cultural violence?

The spate of protests in the Muslim world has once again demonstrated the need to re-think politics, peacebuilding, media and finance in order to prevent the escalation of inter-cultural hatred and violence.

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By Thomas Röhlinger

Flames, demonstrations, guns – it is somewhat disconcerting to observe the uproar and violence in the Muslim world, as a reaction to a film obviously insulting prophet Mohamed. 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 US, 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 re-think 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. In reality, however, grassroots activities for peace, intercultural exchange and peaceful conflict solutions are constantly underfunded – to a remarkable degree when compared to the military budgets worldwide. This is a shame for the civilized world.

Secondly, we have to re-think peace building. We have to start much earlier – from childhood and youth onwards. 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. 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 towards younger generations – which will be the ones that have to face the consequences of the violent present – is an attitude that older generations should be ashamed of.

Thirdly, we have to re-think 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 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 re-think finance: the money to make the world a better place is there. Only 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 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.

This article originally appeared on UN Global Experts on Thursday 13th September and is available by clicking here.

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