THE MEETING ON YOUTH THE CROSSROADS – A FUTURE WITHOUT VIOLENT RADICALIZATION
I’d like to start by thanking UNESCO, the Director-General, Mr. Koichiro Matsuura, and the Deputy Director-General, Mr. Marcio Barbosa, for the kind invitation to address such an important audience in this significant meeting.
I also want to thank His Excellency, the Crown Prince of Bahrain; the Foreign Affairs Minister of Bahrain, and all the government and people of this beautiful country for their warm hospitality.
When we talk about youth in the current world, we talk about approximately 1.2 billion young people aged 15-24, who represent almost one fifth of the global population.
We have said many times that young people are the future. And we care about the future. So, if we wanted to be consistent, we would have to care about youth as well, and fight against threatens that surround them.
Young people are like sponges that absorb the teachings, good and bad, that we the adults and the modern society give to them.
In a world in which violence and radicalism are the rule, in a world in which religion is used to justify hatred and terrorism, the first victim is the hope and the joy of youth.
We have missed a value that could do the difference, now and forever, for the mankind. This value is the tolerance.
As we are not only talking about youth, but also talking to the young people, I would like to tell them a short story that has moved me deeply, written by the Argentinean author Jorge Bucay. It is a story about “Sadness and Fury”:
“Once upon a time there was an enchanted kingdom in which there was a magical pond. Sadness and Fury went together to the pond to take a swim. They both undressed and entered the water, naked.
Fury was in a hurry (as she always is). Without knowing why, she felt the urge to leave the place at once, and so took her bath in a rush and went swiftly out of the water. But Fury is blind, or at least she is not able to see reality as it is, and so in great haste she put on the first clothes she found at the side of the pond. The clothes happened to be those of Sadness, and thus Fury went away just like that, dressed as Sadness.
Meanwhile Sadness went on taking her bath with deliberate ease, until she finally decided, very slowly, to get out of the water. When she reached the shore she found that her clothes were no longer there. But as it is well known, Sadness cannot stand to be naked so she put on the only clothes at hand: the garments of Fury.
It is believed by some that since this incidence, we sometimes run into Fury, and she appears duly blind, cruel, terrible and angry. However, if we look more carefully, we see that Fury is nothing but a disguise, and just beneath her clothes we find Sadness hiding out”.
What a beautiful story this is, and how compelling is the paradox it reveals! Perhaps it moves me so much because I see here a reflection of an idea that has always driven my quest for peace and my unshakeable faith in dialogue as the most adequate means to reach peace.
I believe in peace and in dialogue because I am convinced that behind all the madness, the cruelty and the insensitivity displayed by violent people through their evil actions, sadness is always lurking.
I firmly believe in the intrinsically positive and good nature of human beings. After all, we were created from divine essence, and it is my deepest belief that behind every person that takes sides against society there is pain, resentment, frustration and – many times – an unnamed fear.
“God fights the Devil, and their battlefield is man’s heart”, said Dostoievski. I have always felt that it is in our hands to help God beat the Devil in the conflict waged within every human being. It is in our hands to help the sadness disguised as fury to acknowledge the sources of her pain and eliminate them; to help the eyes and the minds blinded by hatred to become compassionate and wise.
Twenty years ago, in 1988, when I ran for mayor of Bogota, Colombia’s capital and my home town, some men broke very violently into my campaign’s headquarters and pushed me out in the midst of a rain of slaps and menaces. Blindfolded and locked in the trunk of a car I faced fear and uncertainty, and then I had to face for another seven endless days the humiliation of kidnapping, when one’s life is at the mercy of strangers that are ready to perform any atrocity.
The group that organized my kidnapping operated under the orders of Pablo Escobar, the famous drug lord, who had his reasons to go after me. My position as a journalist had always been very strong against the drug traffic. I had been awarded the journalism prize “King of Spain” for a special report I made for television about the route of the drugs, and that had gained me the heinous attention of the mafia.
But my story comes to this: the men who watched over me during my captivity until the moment I was liberated through a courageous and effective operation by the army, were all young lads from the lowest levels of society, poor and violent at once, almost unaware of the immense pain they were causing me and my family. They were proceeding out of fear from their patron more than out of their own will. It is very likely that behind their masks of hatred, sadness and fear were lurking.
Ten years after, in 1998, I had the supreme honor of being elected President of my country. It was not an easy task. My nation was facing – and is still facing – a problem of huge complexity: In the midst of the honest and tough working life led by more than 42 million of Colombians, two illegal armed rival groups were growing and pervading every corner like an oil spill across the territory. Their membership does not even reach 0.1 per cent of Colombian population; but they have on their side the destabilizing power of violence.
There were the guerrillas – mainly represented by the FARC and the ELN – and there were also the illegal self defense groups. The worse thing is that both sides shared a common denominator: they thrived mainly on the money produced by the drug traffic as well as by kidnapping and extortion. More than a fight for power, they were waging a war for the control of territories they can use to conduct their illegal activities.
It is a very old conflict whose origins go back further than five decades in the past, but that has been degrading day by day with the help of drug money and the use of terrorism against civilians. This is why I have always said to the world: In Colombia there is no civil war. What we have is a war waged by a few against civil society!
As soon as I won the elections, my first aim, in front of my conscience and in front of my fellow Colombians, was to do everything possible, and even go beyond what was possible, to reach peace through dialog and political negotiation.
I have always believed this is the only way to do it. Gandhi was right when he said: “There are no roads to peace, peace is the way“. And he was right because we have to ask ourselves: How can we pretend to reach peace in a country over the corpses of the dead and the misery of the maimed? How can we build true peace over foundations of hate, resentment and humiliation?
Dear friends, I do not believe in the peace of the victors and the vanquished. I do believe in a peace built through dialog, because only the peace born of a peaceful instrument is destined to survive.
With these ideal riveted to my heart I confronted all the risks that were to be overcome in order to pursue this objective which is the greatest aspiration of my people. As President elected, I met the chief commander of the FARC, a man known by his nom de guerre “Manuel Marulanda” or “Tirofijo”, in a remote place in the mountains of Colombia. I did it without being given any assurance, putting at risk my life and my freedom, but being convinced that it was necessary to talk face to face in order to set the right perspectives to open the road towards peace.
Ten years have elapsed since then. I met another two times the leader of the guerrillas but unfortunately, the objective was not reached. It was a profound, daring and sincere attempt. It was supported by the International Community as well as by the whole country. In this process we invested a lot in order to build-up confidence but we got back only actions of death and destruction.
I must say with sorrow that the warlords did not listen to the clamor of the people; they did not meet the offers made to incorporate them to the peaceful life of the nation; they preferred the ways of the weapons to the ways of democracy.
“Tirofijo”, the legendary guerrilla’s leader, died in the jungle three months ago without knowing a moment of peace. He made the wrong decision, and, therefore, he will be remembered not as a revolutionary but as a terrorist.
We have to admit that, in Colombia and in many other regions in the world, the dress of fury is today more powerful than the reality of sadness. The belligerent minority is still set to commit heinous acts of terrorism against people. It’s absurd. It’s painful; but I do not let down my beliefs.
I know that some day, possibly soon, those individuals who have opted for violence and terror will shed their disguise and they will plunge in the waters of the magic pond where they mixed up their clothes. They will once again become what we were all born to become: human beings intent on evolving, loving and being loved.
Herein lies the reason why I strongly believe in dialogue, dear friends. It is the credo of my whole life and my indestructible belief. I have epitomized it symbolically today through the story about “Sadness and Fury”.
My absolute faith in the human being and in the means of peace as the sole alternative to set the foundations of a commonwealth is the most profound treasure I can share with you today.
Tolerance, as Víctor Hugo said, “is the best religion”. In a world with more than six thousand million people the best advice you can give to anyone, especially to a young person, is: be tolerant.
In other words: learn from others, show respect to others and appreciate our differences. If we all just learned and practiced this little lesson, our life and life in the world would be peaceful and harmonic.
We, the rulers, the public people, the institutions, have the strong obligation of teaching tolerance everyday and everywhere. And you know, tolerance can only be learned through real life examples, not just through words.
A world without tolerance is a hopeless world. It is not, definitively, the world we want to leave to our children.
Nothing is sadder than watching how young people are being affected by violence and radicalization, and are being involved in acts of terrorism, either as victims or perpetrators.
We have to realize that life is not easy for many of the young people in our countries. There is a huge problem of lack of opportunities that is a fertile soil for violence and intolerance.
Large segments of youth are confronted by poverty and exclusion, and lack the skills that would allow them to enjoy the benefits of development. Over one hundred million young people have never been to school; more than 130 million are illiterate; almost 90 million are unemployed. Indeed, in certain regions, they account for up to half of the unemployed.
Often, young people are forced to live in situations of conflict and enduring economic insecurity. Many are internally displaced or become refugees. Such volatile conditions make them extremely vulnerable and there has been a marked escalation of violence perpetrated by and against young people in contexts of social or political instability.
This Meeting allows us to reflect on strategies and approaches that may help to integrate youth better into the overall societal gambits and thereby to prevent their fall into the abyss of violence and radicalization. This is a challenge in all regions of the world. The representatives of numerous community-based projects will allow us – and challenge us – to reflect on the opportunities and the scope of public policies required to ensure a peaceful tomorrow.
The international community as a whole – and in particular the UN system – must pay more attention to the plight and aspirations of youth today. Their programs must become more tailored to the crying needs in virtually all countries. Approaches revealed at this Meeting in Bahrain may help shape policies to help youth to face their lives with hope and not fear.
The future, dear friends, will be as good as the future we, ourselves, build. We have the responsibility of helping young people around the world to take off the disguise of fury and rediscover the best human feelings inside them.
Life is too short to hate, even for young people, especially for young people! Let’s make a commitment to devise plans and programs to improve their range of opportunities, and let’s teach them tolerance, tolerance, always tolerance!