(I took a deep breath and smiled. Setting my papers straight, I uttered my first words…)

“Distinguished guests, my fellow students, ladies and gentlemen,”

(Clears throat)

“First and foremost, it is important to highlight how religion could be a factor in the promotion of violence in the world we live in today. We may have, at one point in time, asked ourselves how is it that religion could possibly be connected to violence and intolerance; when really, we believe in the notion that it fosters peace, love, unity and harmony. However, we forget that religion’s influence on violence did not begin a few years ago.

How does religion promote intolerance and violence? According to Richard Davkins, religions fuel certainties and sanctify martyrdom; mostly by use of theological texts and/or its misinterpretation that justifies violent action. A very good example of such would be the ‘just war’ theory.”

(Just a little into reading my speech and my confidence was shattered when I realized that most people were moving in and out of the room. Now, I should have kept my cool because this happens more often than I realized it back then; but that sight made me jump into one conclusion: my speech was uninteresting. I panicked and words got stuck in my throat.)

“The doctrine stands on the ground that war is not always the worst option and therefore justifies it through criteria which must be met for it to be considered just. The two criteria are the right to go to war (jus ad bellum) and the right conduct in war (jus post bellum).

Violence that is inspired by religious intolerance causes intimidation and results to harassment. Researcher Justin Lane believes that this happens when xenophobic social anxiety, cultural exclusion and social and economic inequality are all factored up in an individual or a certain group.

Religion is a vast source of motivation and inspiration for a huge part of the world’s population according to United Nations Development Programme. Most have the belief that religion is among the causes of violence and as a result, strategies that have been put in place to combat violent extremism must include the important role of religion in the lives of many individuals. Therefore, working with faith based organizations and religious leaders through talks locally, regionally and at the international level could foster a culture of inclusiveness and respect for diversity. Religious leaders should reiterate the importance of transparent and effective institutions, judicial integrity and respect for human rights.”

(Just then, I realized that my speech would be construed negatively so I attempted to explain further. Mind you, I had not practiced what to say and I tried to take control of the situation. Big mistake I tell you. The more people looked as they listened, the more I thought that something in my speech was utterly offensive.)

“However, religious leaders are criticized for not doing enough to fight religious violence when in fact, most activities and instruments of law are attributed to their efforts. A good example would be Archbishop Desmond Tutu who averted bloodshed in Kenya after the 2008 general elections. Faith based organizations such as Islamic Relief should also be very supported and commended for its role in supporting mediation and reconciliation activities in war-torn communities.

Documentation of these faith based organizations’ measures in promoting peace, addressing social needs of communities, resolution of conflicts, public condemning of acts of violent extremism, mediating peace agreements; and the conscious spread of values and virtues such as patience, forgiveness and tolerance could aid in the fight against violent extremism by the religious groups.

At the 13th United Nations Crime Congress, the Doha Declaration was adopted making it the first international instrument to incorporate the youth. It highlights the importance of education as a tool to preventing crime and corruption. It rightly follows that strengthening the rule of law and promoting a culture of lawfulness through education activities; for example, by empowering young people themselves to teach others about these values, use of sports to provide positive experiences, instills a culture of inclusive, peaceful, just and equal societies.”

(I stammer and “uhm” a lot… I lost sense of my speech because I chose to focus more on people’s reactions as opposed to presenting my findings. While that should probably not be the case, gauging your audience’s reaction to your presentation is part of communication skills. However, misreading and mistaking keenness for misunderstanding or offensiveness is another thing. I was more nervous and very few words were sensibly uttered. All I wanted now was to finish up and go hide out somewhere, never to show my face again. And that’s exactly what I did.)

“Therefore, what role does the youth have in preventing atrocities from being committed? The UNDP’s administrator Mr. Achim Steiner in his speech “Young people’s role in preventing violent extremism” stated that the young people are commonly the victims of the collateral damage of various forms of violence. What is it that the young people can do to change this narrative?

They could have online and offline advocacy campaigns, participate in decision-making, aiding in research that seeks to promote adherence to the rule of law for example; promotion of human rights in a global context and joining the fight against corruption.

The seventeen goals have targets and indicators. I am of the opinion that the targets hold the key to achieving these goals. Target 16.3 highlights the rule of law and equal access to justice. Promoting the rule of law and the enforcement of human rights are the keys to reducing all forms of violence; as well as early combating of extreme political, social and ideological ideals that undermine the very essence of the rule of law. The world’s population as it is full of diverse ideas and beliefs and, therefore, respect for diversity is at the heart of promoting and ensuring peace.

In conclusion, we must all take oath and pledge to wholeheartedly “take a stand against all forms of violent extremism, terrorism, division and injustices and commit ourselves to build a culture of peace and embrace diversity and unity within our society.”

As Kofi Annan rightly put it, “you are never too young to lead, and never too old to learn.” Thank you.”

I had read this speech over fifty times but stage fright got the better of me and my grace and confidence flew out the window. Well, I try not to beat myself up too much about it as I am sure no one would ever remember my face. Ha-ha, wrong, again. I did volunteer again and the same mic guy was the same mic/camera guy in an intervarsity debate held at Kenyatta University School of Law. Dammit! Oh and by the way, that does remind me… As soon as I finished reading my speech I was ready to leave the podium and I almost flew out of there. You think I’m exaggerating? Ask the guy whose microphone and video equipment I almost destroyed in a hurry to go hide my face. Yes, that same guy. What a life! Oh, the title of my speech was THE ROLE OF RELIGIOUS LEADERS AND YOUTH IN PREVENTING AND COUNTERING VIOLENT EXTREMISM.

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