Opening words by Mr. Pertti Torstila, Secretary of State at the seminar: Violent extremism – inclusive development and politics as a way forward.

Opening words by Mr. Pertti Torstila, Secretary of State at the seminar:
Violent extremism – inclusive development and politics as a way forward.

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finlanad, Thursday 14 October 2010

Distinguished Guests,

Dear  Friends,

It is a great pleasure to welcome you to this seminar on violent extremism. The key theme of our discussions today will be inclusive development and politics as a way forward.

This meeting is a part of a series of seminars dealing with topical challenges affecting the management of international relations. The former corresponding seminar was organized in our Ministry in 2008, and it was focused on political islam from a European perspective.

Today we shall speak about violent extremism in international politics. We try to find out how radicalization and extremism influence international politics and affects the development prospects of states that face violent extremism. 

This is a matter of common concern. We read news about rising threat of terrorism, and many of the current and on-going crises have elements of violent extremism. There is an increasing need to understand this phenomenon more profoundly and find ways to tackle it. The matter has been brought up in many countries’ and organizations’ strategies, and it is one of the most pressing questions worldwide.

Therefore we are delighted to be able to discuss this theme today under the guidance of scholars and experts with a long and valuable experience in the field – in the Middle East, North Africa, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Furthermore, key government officials and researches with whom we work regularly are also present and can contribute to the discussion.

Our common task is to find balanced and forward-looking positions to the work in the EU, UN, OSCE and Council of Europe in cooperation with other partners. Gaining a better understanding of the reasons and dynamics of radicalization and political violence will help us to give a worthier input to the resolution of disagreements and conflicts that we encounter on the global agenda.

Violent extremism presents a new kind of international threat, even if it resembles many well-known and long-standing patterns characterizing conflicts. The will to defend one’s own identity based on religious, ethnic, social, economic and cultural specificities and the desire to expand and rule over others, have created breeding ground for crises for ages.

How to deal with the difficult and complex problematics of violent extremism? The need to understand the broader context, including religions and political ideologies with a religious tone, became more urgent when  crisis management tools and principles were prepared as a response to new crises and asymmetric threats, such as terrorism. The UN Brahimi Report of 2000 as well as the Canadian initiative of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) enhanced engagement to manage crises – and the intense rapid response concept for the protection of civilians was broadly accepted. 

At the same time the need for a holistic view on crisis management and conflict prevention has become necessary. Civilian crisis management and development arose to the top of the agenda: the rule of law and improved economic conditions make peace sustainable.  But attaining these goals requires much better knowledge of the social culture, legislation and religion of the other side. Let’s not forget that influencing on other countries’ rule of law is often seen as intrusive and even hostile.

We are keen to know more about the “system of crisis” and the interface between cultures, religions and ideologies. What are the motives behind violent extremism –which is one of the main  drivers of many international conflicts.

President Martti Ahtisaari said in his Nobel Price speech in 2008 the following:

“During my career I have seen many crises in which religion has been used as a weapon or as an instrument for prolonging the conflict. Religions themselves are, however, peace-loving. They can also be a constructive force in peace-building, and this also applies to the Middle East.”

This straight and simple statement manifests a possible  way out of the devastating crisis in the Middle East, and it applies to Afghanistan, too. Religions contain possibilities when not misinterpreted or misused. The deformation may originate from inside of the religion itself – or it may come from outside.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I wish you a successful seminar. I hope that you will find useful proposals to contribute to solving this complex issue, and to make it more understandable to us all.