Cities have a crucial role to play to prevent hate speech and extremism

On 13-14 May, in Strasburg, the GCH took part in an event organized by the Strong Cities Network to discuss the role of cities in preventing hate, violent extremism and radicalization at the local level. The event gathered around 20 cities from both sides of the Atlantic (France, Belgium, Greece, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, UK, USA, Canada), as well as NGOs and Academia working in a relevant field. More than 50 participants took part in this transatlantic dialogue aiming at sharing best practices in preventing hate and strengthening social cohesion.

Cities are very concerned about the local impact of the general polarization of society and the rise of extremism. In France, what has changed from a few decades ago is that people who take part in far -right movements are now from all socio-economic classes, all ages and gender. They are now part of the worldwide movements and do relate to their counterparts in the USA, for instance. The far-left movement has also grown, targeting infrastructure in climate action, for instance.

Although cities face different threats (radicalization, terrorism, religious/ethnic/LGBT hate, drug trafficking, youth violence), it came out very clearly that cities rely on similar preventive measures (workshops, communication/awareness campaigns, dialogue mechanisms established before crises occur, etc.) involving a wide range of local actors (NGOs, religious communities, migrants, private sector, central administration, etc.). Preventive measures are preferred over strong security response, which are not always within their competencies anyway. Almost all mayors present referred to the war in Gaza having a significant impact on their local communities.

To ensure sustainability despite changes in municipal leadership, mayors emphasized the need to involve civil society and embed prevention in local regulations. Prevention against extremism should become a “public service” like any other (energy, transport, waste management, etc.).

However, cities are unfortunately completely powerless against hate speech and violence online. There was a strong call to act and ensure “social media accountability.” It was noted that Canada recently adopted the Online Harms Bill, which goes quite far in this regard.

The theme of violence against elected officials was also widely discussed. It was underlined that Local elected officials are generally more “exposed” to hate speech and ensuing violence, as they are in daily contact with the population. Therefore, the risks are higher for them to be victims of violence than for national elected officials, who are usually more distant from the local communities.

The dialogue was extremely well-organized and led by the Strong Cities Network. Kudos to the whole team! The GCH will continue to follow the work of Strong Cities and hope to collaborate in the future with this important city network.

Prev PostNouvelle série sur la guerre urbaine sur le blog du CICR Next PostNouvelle série sur la guerre urbaine sur le blog du CICR