Countering Violent Extremism-conference in Oslo

Opening speech by Prime Minister Erna Solberg in Oslo, 4 June 2015.

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First, I’d like to welcome you all to Norway.

You have come to Oslo to find ways of preventing violent extremism in all its forms. To discuss and share ideas and strategies. And to create a European network of youth against violent extremism. You have my unconditional support in this task.

It is precisely you – young people from all over Europe – who are in a key position to pursue this agenda. We know that many violent extremists are young people – and that young people can be tempted into going down that road. We all have a role to play in preventing this from happening.

We know that if young people can get an education and find work, if they feel that they have a future in society, this creates inclusion – and a good environment for all of us. We all want to belong, and it is up to us to create a Europe where everyone has a sense of belonging, regardless of who they are. Education, and not least vocational training, is a starting point. It is a key to economic development and job creation in general. It is also what every individual needs in order to get somewhere in life. That is why my government has decided to double our support for global education by 2017, when it will total 500 million dollars.

We also know that it is too simple to say that, if you are poor and disadvantaged, you will end up as a terrorist. However, the chance of being drawn towards violent groups increases for those who have few other opportunities. The sense of unity and fighting for a common cause – in the worst case through terrorism – can give disadvantaged people a sense of purpose.

Let me however be very clear: nothing excuses terrorism and terrorists. Terrorists must be delegitimized and held accountable. We know that there are groups out there who are cynically willing to exploit vulnerable youth. We need strong voices to counter this development. I believe that you can be those voices.

Two important events in Oslo over the last year have left a deep impression on me. Both are examples of young people standing up against extremism.

Firstly – in August last year, Muslim youth organised a rally against violent extremism and gathered in front of the Storting – the parliament. It was brave of you, Faten Mahdi Al-Hussaini (check presence) and your friends, to be a part of that initiative. I remember your clear message: that violent extremism has nothing to do with Islam. You also said that we can be united as a nation, even though we disagree on many issues. How true.

Secondly – Norwegian Muslim youth organised a ring of peace around the synagogue in Oslo in February this year. Hajrah Arshad and Ali Chisti (check presence), you were two of the organisers, and you said that you would fight prejudices which make it difficult for Jews and Muslims to get along together. You put it well.

I would like to thank all of you who organised those events for standing up for the right values. Both events confirmed what we already knew: that the vast majority of people, regardless of age, faith or nationality, want democracy and human rights to prevail. We want the rule of law and we want to live in a peaceful society where all are free.

We want to live in a society where we can resolve disagreements in a civilised manner. Violence is not the way to settle an argument. It is only in peaceful societies that people shape their own future and prosper.

On 22 July 2011, Norway experienced a terrorist attack on the main government building. Later that day, a youth camp at Utøya was brutally attacked. Many young women and men lost their lives. What we saw in the aftermath was an incredible engagement and commitment from our youth – across all political dividing lines.

I know that many of you are engaged in various creative ways. Your motivation may be different and your experience of extremism even more so, but you have common ground to build on.

The fact is that the youth who are violent extremists are often better organised than we are. We see this on the internet, and on social media. Terrorist groups such as ISIL are extremely well organised. So I hope that today’s meeting will be an opportunity for you to create networks, to generate ideas, and to start up new initiatives. I know that your plan is to launch the Youth Network Against Violent Extremism, connecting young leaders, organisations and individuals across Europe. It will be a platform for moderate voices, and I hope that it will grow and provide support and inspiration in your work.

Gender will be an important part of your discussions. The role of women in preventing extremism seems to be less understood than other factors. I am convinced that women can play a key role in building community resilience against extremism. But we also see that many women are drawn towards extremist groups, even though these groups undermine women’s rights. Why is that so? This is a question worth exploring further.

Online extremism and radicalisation and the role of faith and religion are two other topics that will be discussed. I encourage you to be open in your discussions. We need clear messages from you for tomorrow’s meeting when leaders from all over Europe will discuss the same issues.    

Your meeting today – Youth Against Violent Extremism – and the meeting that will take place in this room tomorrow – the European Conference on Countering Violent Extremism – are both part of a wider, global effort to prevent youth from becoming terrorists. This has to be a global effort, since extremism can develop anywhere. We can certainly see links between violent extremism in Scandinavia and other parts of the world. We live in a global world.

It is important that your meeting takes place before the officials meet. The government officials and municipal leaders who will meet tomorrow will be thoroughly briefed about your discussions today. They will take note of your input. And I can assure you that my government will take action in response.

These meetings today and tomorrow are part of a series of meetings with similar agendas all around the world. It all started with President Obama’s initiative at the UN General Assembly in September last year. He followed this up with a summit for civil society at the White House in February. Now it is your turn.

The outcome from your meeting today and from the officials’ meeting tomorrow will be reported back to the UN General Assembly in New York in September. Parallel meetings are taking place elsewhere and will also feed into the General Assembly in September. I also intend to bring your message with me to New York in September.

But the job will not be done then. I count on you to continue your efforts.

You are here because you all want the same thing: to make sure that it is not the violent extremists who define our agendas. Rather it should be you – all of you in this room and beyond who believe in democracy and human rights – who shape our futures.

I hope that your discussions will be stimulating and productive. I hope very much that you enjoy the day, and I wish you every success in your future efforts.