Global Freedom of Expression


Unity, honesty, dialogue, and compassion can overcome violent extremism

Dear friends and colleagues,

The horrific events that occurred this past weekend underscore the importance, urgency, and necessity to intensify efforts to respond to and to counter incitement to hatred that may lead to violence and discrimination.

In Beirut two suicide bombers killed more than 40 persons and wounded scores of others. Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack, stating that it had deliberately targeted Shiite Muslims. Almost as an afterthought, it mentioned that it had targeted Hezbollah.

Just 24 hours later, France and Paris were attacked as a retaliation to the French government’s military interventions in Syria. This time, Daesh targeted Paris’s night life of restaurants, a concert hall, and a stadium. 129 people representing many religions and nationalities were executed.

In response, the French government then attacked Raqqa in Syria, and announced a possible constitutional reform to allow for extension of the presidential emergency powers. There is a growing fear among many that anti-Muslim and anti-refugee sentiment and hate speech will now flourish.

The attacks on Beirut and Paris exemplify acts of violence based on an ideology of hatred. They are brutal consequences of their perpetrators’ rejection of anyone who does not conform with their “extremist” interpretation of religious texts.

This sort of violent extremism is now seen by many as almost the monopoly of Daesh, Al Qaeda, and similar groups.

However, advocacy of religious hatred and incitement to violence are not only the monopoly of Daesh. It is present elsewhere and flourishes thanks to many others. Many speakers are inciting hatred. Sometimes they hold positions of great political or religious power. Often they are part of mainstream society.

While we may not be able to directly target Daesh or AQ ideology (or their parallel in Europe and elsewhere), we can certainly seek to undermine, respond and counter those in our societies who also incite hatred and plant the seeds that ensure terrorism grows.

Yes, we may have a long way to go. Certain seeds of hatred and incitement are deeply seated in societies, and people’s convictions or beliefs may be very difficult to eradicate.

But I am hopeful that as long as individuals, communities, religious leaders, politicians, activists, academics and others can keep meeting, debating, and being open and honest with ourselves and with each other – provided we are as prepared to listen as we are to speak, to hear and not only exclaim; provided we are prepared to recall, honor and uphold our common humanity; provided we are willing to show and exchange compassion – then I for one have hope and the conviction too that we have a real chance to counter incitement to hatred, and the acts of violence which may result from it.

Warm wishes,


Agnès Callamard

Secretary General, Amnesty International
Former Director, Columbia Global Freedom of Expression; Special Adviser to the President, Columbia University; United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions