Countering Racism and Discrimination: The Nexus to Building Pluralistic and Diverse Socieites

March 2023

A Reflection Piece by Ali Mahmoud on his participation in the UNAOC 2022 Fellowship Programme in Morocco, Finland, and Switzerland.

When I received the acceptance email to the 2022 United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) Fellowship Programme, I knew it would be a great experience. I was amongst 14 fellows from Europe and North America (EUNA), and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regions. Our theme was on the nexus to building pluralistic socieites through managing diversity and countering disrimination and racism.

This year’s program structure was unprecedented, both EUNA and MENA were gathered together for the first time throughout all stakeholder meetings, which was a great opportunity to further reflect and exchange on our discussions. Our first was to Morocco where we attended the 9th UNAOC Global Forum in the historic city of Fez in November 2022 and then visited local stakeholders working on countering racism. The second exchange trip was to Finland and Switzerland, where we met H.E. President Tarja Halonen, the first female President of Finland, and several key stakeholders from both countries (governmental institutions, civil society organizations, and UN entities), who are all engaged in countering or preventing racism and other forms of discrimination.

Ali Mahmoud outside the United Nations Office in Geneva.

Ali Mahmoud in discussion at CMI Martti Ahtisaari Peace Foundation in Helsinki, Finland.

Being an activist in interfaith or inter-religious dialogue, I was impressed by the attention given by several entities among the United Nations offices to the importance of considering religion and faith and the tendency to engage religious leaders and faith-based actors in the peace processes.

A remarkale session I attended during the Youth Forum of the 9th UNAOC Global Forum was about online hate speech, which has become one of the most problematic topics in the life of today’s young people. This issue was highlighted in a breakout session with over 80 participants entitled, “Countering and Addressing Online Hate Speech on Social Media.” Besides discussing freedom of speech and violation of tolerance during this session, participants came up with the following definition of hate speech which was later shared in the panel discussion in the main event: It is the narrative communicated live or through the various digital platforms, verbally or non-verbally, in which one or more elements of an identity of an individual or group is attacked with hatred or even dehumanised dur to their belonging to a race, religion, gender, sexual preference, or ethnicity, that is to say, minorities in general. And it’s a prejudicial form of harrassment in online and real-life spaces that can become life-threatening.

An observation that I made throughout the visits we had during our trip to Europe, is the identity factor for both, hosting communities and refugees/migrants, so that to ensure non-existence of xenophonia and hate speech and a more peaceful integration of migrants in new societies. An approach with two tools could be considered: First, through a readiness program which tackles cultural sensitivity, thus ensuring community members are well prepared to welcome newcomers; and Second, is an educational tool for migrants to preserve the heritage of their home country which fosters a sense of shared history and collective identity especially among the youth, which will lead to increased resilience to potential violent extremist views and decreased tension with host communities.

Ali Mahmoud listening to H.E. Former President Tarja Halonen in Helsinki, Finland.

Ali Mahmoud reflecting on one of the art pieces focused on diversity within the United Nations Office in Geneva.

On a personal level, it was a life changing programme, having met 13 exceptional fellows with diverse backgrounds, a genuine connection, the never ending conversations and the cultural food we shared are among the most valuable takeaways. The project might have ended, but our commitment as a group of young professionals to contribute to more peaceful socities has just started.


Ali Kifah Mahmoud is a youth trainer and activist in the fields of inter-faith dialogue, youth, peace and nonviolent communication. He believes that “we rise by lifting each other,” hence empowering others is his driving force. Although his background is in finance, he followed his passion and shifted to peacebuilding. This move inspires him to keep encouraging others, especially youth, to follow their dreams.

Ali is part of several local and international networks focused on peace, dialogue, youth, and other related topics, including Adyan Foundation, Aiserve Foundation, Forum ZFD, and Interfaith Dialogue on Violent Extremism – iDove. The current times of hardhsip in Lebanon as well as in the world, pushes him to contribute to a positive change in his community and the wider society. Ali’s experience during the UNAOC fellowship programme cohort of 2022 is a turning point in both his professional and personal life.

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