In her opening address at the RAN Plenary, EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson, called upon the RAN network of practitioners to “make it our mission” in 2021 to build “social cohesion”. Reflecting on the current climate precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Commissioner Johansson said that we must offer vulnerable young people a “sense of belonging” and “show them you are part of ‘us’ (European society) and not ‘them’ (terrorist and violent extremist groups)”.
The Commissioner, while citing some inspiring examples, congratulated the work of RAN and its practitioners to date – “you already make a massive difference in the world, and when you get together, here, you make that difference a hundred, a thousand times over” – and called for continued “patience, commitment and determination”.
However, the Commissioner gave a stark reminder of the work we still have to do. “The threat of terror remains”. She took a moment to remember Samuel Paty, the teacher murdered by a terrorist in the town of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine. “This murder affected me very deeply. I am a teacher myself.”
“Here is someone who tried to teach teenagers about dialogue. About the freedom of expression. Of why you need to talk about your differences. About rejecting violence. That someone who seeks dialogue and understanding is murdered, that is extra hard to swallow.”
Looking ahead into 2021, the Commissioner outlined some of the priorities for the work of RAN and its practitioners, including “dealing with returning foreign fighters.. helping to rehabilitate terrorist offenders… and developing counter terrorist narratives”. “Your work remains crucial as ever.”