Coalition wants compulsory genocide education to fight radicalization

From left, Aran Elagoz, co-president of the Armenian National Committee of Quebec, Prof. Marie-Josée Gicali, Suburban editor Beryl Wajsman, Foundation President Heidi Berger, Dr. Ratna Ghosh and Montreal Institute for Genocide Studies director Prof.Frank Chalk.

A group that is lobbying the Quebec government to have genocide and human rights education be a compulsory part of the province’s high school curriculum is also calling for such a course to include the prevention of radicalization.

Such radicalization has led many young people in Canada, the U.S. and Europe to fight for groups like ISIS, and to carry out terrorist attacks where they live.

A fundraising event to raise awareness about the effort to prevent radicalization through education was held at the Kandy Art Gallery in Town of Mount Royal by Concordia professor and filmmaker Heidi Berger, who formed the Foundation for the Compulsory Study of Genocide in Schools. Berger is the daughter of Holocaust survivors.

“We’re hoping that students, perhaps if they had genocide education, would understand what they were doing before they would join a group like ISIS,” Berger told The Suburban. “Prevention is in education.”

During the event, a video was shown of Christianne Boudreau, whose son Damian Clairmont of Calgary died while fighting for ISIS in Syria.

Speakers included Berger, Suburban editor Beryl Wajsman, who was also the moderator; McGill Education professor Ratna Ghosh; Concordia History professor Frank Chalk, the pioneer of Genocide studies in Canada; and Marie-Josée Gicali, vice-president of the Association of Parents and Friends of Victims of the Tutsi Genocide in Rwanda.

Wajsman said he does not know if anti-radicalization through education will help.

“But I do know one thing, if we don’t put it in front of our young people — the images of the blood running in the streets of Yerevan in Armenia, the destruction of a third of world Jewry, the burning, swollen bodies of Darfur, the dead of Rwanda piled so high that the Hutu troops would run their trucks over them — then, in this jurisdiction of Quebec — where 58 percent of our young males in many school boards do not finish high school — if we think we can build democracy and have intelligent people instead of the uninformed voting for the uninformed without putting it in their face, we’re sadly mistaken. What matters is that we bear witness.”

Professor Ghosh, who spoke about the dangers and effects of the rise of religious extremism, is conducting research into the role of education in preventing radicalization.

“There’s no empirical research done in the schools, and we want to know what the youth feel, but we are having a lot of trouble getting access to schools, because the boards don’t want to have us talk about extremism — they think we are putting ideas into their heads, but they don’t see that many TV programs are giving them those ideas.”

Professor Chalk spoke about the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS) at Concordia, of which he is director, and its fight against extremism through its Digital Mass Atrocity Prevention Program, which counters online incitement to genocide and extremism. Chalk said “If you’ve ever fired a gun, you know the joy of hitting the bottle and seeing it disintegrate. That means you exist, and have impact. Almost all the ISIS graphics and videos, horrible as they are, grasp that essential truth about the people they want to attract. If they only get a half of one percent of the people who look at those videos, they have achieved their goal.” This can be seen at www.concordia.ca/research/migs/projects/dmap.html.

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