Resilience: Beyond social inclusion

Rubina Abu Zeinab-Chahine| The Daily Star

The beginning of the 21st century, has witnessed a dramatic increase in the rate of deaths from acts of violent extremism and terrorism. Attacks in major cities are becoming a tremendous trend spreading fear and dread in both developing and developed countries. In London, Berlin, Amsterdam, Paris, Vienna, Brussels, Nice, Istanbul, Beirut and many other cities, the collective safety has been threatened influencing the political agenda at all levels and becoming a policy priority for local authorities. From here, many approaches were developed tackling the “what,” “why” and “how” of Preventing Violent Extremism policies.

Violent Extremism is a global concern. Explaining VE is complex and relies heavily on exploring comprehensive, society-wide and macro-level “root causes.”

It is too complicated to generalize, across borders and time periods, the drives that aggravate VE, and go beyond social and economic conditions.

The upheavals caused by violent extremism have pushed communities to raise the alarm. Violent extremism can hinder development for many coming decades. Governments are spending huge budgets to deal with the VE threats, which are consequently affecting potential development activities.

VE is a multidimensional issue that cannot be addressed from a purely security angle. In the long fight against VE, exclusion, discrimination, inequality and marginalization have been a “shaper tool” for people involvement in violence; in addition, to the lack of economic, social and political opportunities that contributes directly to VE.

Reviewing the statements and recommendations of international conferences and official addresses of international development agencies on adopting the concept of social inclusion as a game changer in development paradigm is widely cited. The depletion of social integration, inclusion and cohesion within communities is a critical issue in addressing the set of risk factors leading to violent extremism.

Even though, there is no one single agreement on these key terminologies, the concept of social integration was first established in the World Summit for Social Development in March 1995. It is considered a path toward inclusive societies that are stable, just, safe, tolerant, respect diversity and guarantee equality of opportunities and participation of all members of society including disadvantaged and vulnerable groups. International development goals embody social inclusion principles, objectives and goals. Tolerance for diversity, inclusion, and societal cohesion are at the heart of the 2030 agenda with a specific goal SDG16 on peaceful, just and inclusive societies.

Most development agencies adopt similar development goals; however, they differ over how these goals should be achieved. While some emphasize the need for broad institutional reform, others call for greater inclusion into the benefits of development. The issue of social inclusion remains imperative for the attainment of most development goals. How to build vertical social cohesion between the state and its diverse community and a horizontal cohesion between groups and individuals within the community? A major question that needs to be answered while looking into development related causes and solutions.

How can we understand the VE prevailing drives? Absolutely poverty is not the only reason. Political factors such as denial of basic political rights and civil liberties, violation of human rights, poor governance, protracted crisis and local conflicts are proven to be among the challenges.

Cities are seen as the “territory and experiential texture for half of the global population.”

They are the places where diverse people inhabit, reconcile, mend, interact and transform, and where practices of exclusion and segregation are intensely felt. So building inclusive cities is a prerequisite for building inclusive societies. Cities encounters diverse challenges and responsibilities; thus, successes and failures of social integration and inclusion can be mostly experienced at the city level and here where local authorities come to the front.

The 4th Urban Social Forum, held in December 2016, explored new and alternative models for urban development that promotes social justice, equality, sustainability and citizen participation addressing cities’ challenges from an integrated approach. Putting social inclusion at the heart of PVE strategies, some cities are going even further by working with all communities to build resilience, an approach that goes beyond social inclusion. However, cities cannot handle this challenge alone; an urgent need for cooperation at different local and national levels prevails. Initiatives can be either top-down or bottom-up, what is important is the local level contribution into a national strategy designed on the basis of local needs and priorities.

The world is witnessing important social transformations. Many elements of change within societies are transforming homogenous groups into multicultural societies. This demonstrates an urgent need for innovative solutions conductive to the values of social inclusion driven by youth, who are the most affected by these changes and the key actors of social transformations.

Rubina Abu Zeinab-Chahine is Executive Director of the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development