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Stemming the Rising Tide of Hate and Extremism Around the Globe: Cities Need to be at the Table  

Author(s):
Asmaa Rhlalou,Jan van Zanen
Publication Date:
17/09/2023
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— 5 minutes reading time

This article was written by the Co-Chairs of the Strong Cities Network International Steering Committee: Mayor Asmaa Rhlalou, the first woman elected Mayor of Rabat, Morocco, who has held that position since 2021, and Mayor Jan van Zanen, who has served as Mayor of The Hague, the Netherlands, since 2020.

This week, heads of state from across the globe will once again gather at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York City to discuss solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. This once again includes the violence and conflicts that are fueled by rising levels of hate, extremism and polarisation.

As mayors, we – and the local governments we lead – are on the frontlines of this and other global crises. Together with local communities we work to understand, respond to and resolve local manifestation to these challenges. Whether it is managing the inter-communal tensions that can arise as a result of migration crises in cities as diverse as Koboko, Uganda; Mardan, Pakistan; and Wroclaw, Poland; or preventing and responding to an unprecedented rise in xenophobic and other hate speech as Cape Town, South Africa, and Zittau, Germany, have witnessed, we have been left with no choice but to grapple with threats that have long been considered the exclusive purview of national, regional and international actors. However, as in years past, we will not be given the opportunity to share our unique perspectives and experiences on these issues with the world leaders gathering in New York.

United Nations General Assembly building in New York City, USA

Why? Despite decades of hard work by organisations representing cities such as the Strong Cities Network, the UCLG (United Cities and Local Governments) and its Global Taskforce, cities are still largely excluded from global conversations about how to address threats to the peace and security of their communities even though mayors and local governments are often uniquely placed to do so. This needs to change if we hope to see the innovative, sustainable whole-of-society solutions that world leaders keep talking about; cities must be part of that solution to give us all the best chance to prevent tomorrow’s crises.

Importantly, there is growing recognition internationally of the unique role that cities can play in addressing global challenges and in implementing commitments made by national governments at the UN and other international fora. This was manifest at the first Cities Summit of the Americas earlier this year in Denver, where U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken rightly underlined that, “Cities … are where democracy is closest to its people”, recognising that the world’s “collective ability to deliver and to tackle global issues depends on [cities].” This is gradually being recognized at the UN itself, with local governments now given a formal role in discussions surrounding the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

However, recognition of the role of cities needs to extend beyond how they can support the traditional development agenda. Whether big or small, urban or rural, cities are uniquely positioned to address a wide range of global issues, especially the prevention of and response to rising levels of hate, extremism and marginalisation. 

How? Firstly, through their core public service delivery functions, local governments already engage with communities across their city. They often have a deeper and more nuanced understanding than their national government counterparts of the needs and vulnerabilities of their residents and can deploy existing resources to address these proactively.   

Local governments can also build trusted relationships to strengthen inclusivity, participation and resilience while breaking down segregation, hate and polarisation in their communities. Whether through inclusive urban planning or city-led mental health, social, cultural, education-related or other interventions to steer individuals away from violence, there are countless benefits that cities offer. Realising this potential can make an immediate, more sustainable and practical difference to the peace and security of urban communities the world over.

We are proud of the innovative contributions our cities have made. For example, in Rabat, the Municipal Council has prioritised security, integration and inclusion, with an emphasis on women and girls, and vulnerable populations. We have partnered with civil society, as well as urban planners, other local organizations and volunteers in a city-wide effort to build a more gender-inclusive city. This has included infrastructure and equipment, as well as widespread awareness and communications campaigns to highlight and address the intersecting nature of sexual harassment and other forms of violence, including those motivated by extremism and hate. We have built multiple green spaces and social infrastructure, with outdoor sports facilities in urban spaces. This has created meeting places, reduced crime and violence, and is promoting greater social inclusion of marginalised groups. As well as preserving biodiversity, we are promoting the mental and physical health and well-being of Rabat’s residents.   

Rabat, Morocco

In The Hague, the Municipality continues to work towards building a more connected, inclusive and resilient society. We have partnered with the Municipality of Rotterdam, for example, to develop and deliver for municipal and other professionals, teaching them how to apply and encourage values of inclusivity and adaptability in their day-to-day work. We have developed a network of volunteers – “The Hague Buddies” – who support new residents with integrating into and navigating the city, and we mitigate anti-refugee sentiment through co-housing initiatives that bring them together with long-term residents.

The Hague, Netherlands

We see mayors and local governments leading such efforts globally, with examples ranging from the creation of a hate crimes prevention office in New York City, to interfaith dialogue programs in Monrovia, Liberia, to an anti-racism strategy in Edmonton, Canada.    

Local leadership and action ultimately offer a means to prevent the root causes of violence and conflict. While it goes without saying that national governments bear the primary responsibility for ensuring the security and overall well-being of their citizens, it is also increasingly clear that the most sustainable and effective way to fulfil this responsibility is to meaningfully involve local governments.

Next week, as world leaders convene at the UN Headquarters, mayors and local officials from more than 100 cities across more than 45 countries will gather at Gracie Mansion as part of the Strong Cities Network’s Fourth Global Summit to celebrate these achievements, catalyse more city-led initiatives to address these challenges and underscore the need for stronger national-local cooperation for doing so. We’ll be developing solutions and sharing what we’ve learned with our city peers in different regions.

Ultimately, however, stemming the rising global tide of extremism requires the sort of innovative and sustainable approaches that benefit from the insights and experiences of both world and local leaders. In September 2024, at the opening of the 79th UN General Assembly, ministers and mayors should be at the same table for a truly comprehensive discussion on what is needed to eradicate hate around the world.   

Authors

  • Asmaa Rhlalou

    In September 2021, Asmaa Rhlalou was the first woman elected Mayor of Rabat. She began her career as a journalist, working for the newspaper l'Opinion for 20 years, and then work as a correspondent for MBC in its news and documentary department. She launched her her political career in the Istiqlal Party (IP) from 1997 to 2007, before joining the National Council of the National Rally of Independents. She was elected as an RNI deputy during the legislative quinquennium (2016-2021) on the national list reserved for women in the House of Representatives. During that term, she was a member of the Finance and Economic Development Committee, before serving as Secretary of the Lower House Bureau. She was also a member of the World Water Council, an advocate for women in vulnerable situations, and Vice-President of the International Festival of Arts and Culture in Rabat. In 2006 she earned a PhD in Economics and Business Law from the University of Perpignan (France).

  • Jan van Zanen

    Jan van Zanen was sworn in as the mayor of The Hague on 1 July 2020. He grew up in Edam-Volendam and completed his law studies at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam in 1985 and at Cornell Law School at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. He did his military service as a reserve officer with the Royal Netherlands Air Force. His early roles included executive secretary at a national business association, member of the municipal council in Utrecht (1990), and subsequently alderman for finance, economic affairs, public space and monuments in 1998. From 2003 to 2008 he was the chairman of the national People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD). He then served as mayor of Amstelveen from July 2005 to December 2013. On 1 January 2014 he was appointed as the mayor of Utrecht. Since 3 June 2015 he has been the chairperson of the Association of Netherlands Municipalities (VNG) and as such he is also the co-president of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG).