THE BLOG

Extremism and the Battle Against Ignorance and Misinformation

29/07/2015 11:34 BST | Updated 27/07/2016 10:59 BST

The collective despair and anger at the lives snatched away by terrorism, most recently witnessed in the horror of Tunisia, France and Kuwait, continue to remind us how a perverse ideology is polluting the minds of people in our communities.

David Cameron was clear in his speech in Birmingham last week: the root cause of the threat we face is the extremist ideology itself. But with all due respect, what he is proposing is merely damage limitation. There is already a generation for whom the die has been cast.

Especially concerning is how more and more young people are being drawn to this ideology of extremists, who seize upon ignorance and misinformation about the diversity that exists in the world today. As I found for myself, whenever we make the effort to learn about other religions and cultures, we discover untold wonders. This effort also brings another great reward: ignorance and mistrust melt away, to be replaced by knowledge, understanding, and respect.

Such efforts are especially important when almost half of the seven billion people in the world follow the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I believe that one of our most sacred duties as leaders, as educators and as parents is to teach children that these three faiths share many of the same fundamental beliefs, and that there is far more that unites us than divides us. As the fifteenth-century Persian poet and philosopher Jami said: "Each tinted fragment sparkles in the sun, A thousand colours but the light is one".

Contrary to the message that extremists push, all three faiths share the belief that we must treat each other with love, kindness and dignity, regardless of faith or nationality. No religion, nation or individual has a monopoly on truth; we all have much to learn from one another.

With extremism we are in the midst of a battle against ignorance and misinformation. In such a battle, education is the only answer. This is why I have been urging nations around the world to invest heavily in education, especially at the grassroots level, where it will be most cost effective. We should begin to teach the new generation to open their minds and their hearts from a young age - while they are at primary school.

This requires us to support and work constructively with teachers and schools to ensure they have all the tools and training they need to tackle extremism. Teachers are not security agents, they are not psychologists, anthropologists or criminologists - they are educators. We need to empower them to do exactly what they are trained for: to teach.

At the Maimonides Interfaith Foundation, which I founded in 1995, we have used our extensive experiences to develop the essential tool our schools need. It is an UNESCO-supported on-line education programme, www.interfaithexplorers.com which helps children respect and embrace religious and cultural diversity. Feedback from teachers, pupils and parents has been overwhelmingly positive, as we continue to roll it out to 18,000 primary schools in the UK. It is simple to implement, it is free and - most importantly - it works.

Children are not born hating. We are born as human beings first, and religion is what we inherit. Nothing is more important today than nurturing a new generation that lives in the spirit of mutual respect, easing tensions that have been created through a lack of understanding. Unless we deploy programmes such as Interfaith Explorers now, and pour more resources into educating our children, we will fail the very generations we are attempting to protect from extremism.

Without the immediate implementation of what I am suggesting, our children will continue to be exposed to misinformation in this age of mass information. As each day passes, young people risk coming across evil propaganda that praises terrorist atrocities in countries around the world as something worthy of merit or as a fashionable counter-culture they should embrace.

Without a new government-led emphasis on education in classrooms, we will continue to contend with the messengers of destruction and hate. With effective education we can build a generation capable of living in harmony and ensure that, hopefully, in future years we will not be in the same position that we find ourselves in today.

Professor Nasser David Khalili PhD KCSS

Founder of the Khalili Collections

Founder and Chairman, Maimonides Interfaith Foundation

UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador