Report from EMISCO’s International Colloquium - 2013-01-09

EMISCO’s International Colloquium “A New Challenge for Social Cohesion: Protecting and Promoting Fundamental Rights for Muslim Communities” gave a diverse and still univocal image of the need for another paradigm in understanding coexistence today.

Hosted by British Member of Parliament Sajjad Karim in the European Parliament 9th January, the colloquium gathered as speakers and participants many of the most important parties in the freedom of thought, consciousness and belief. Soteria International was invited as participant by EMISCOs representative and raised the question on media’s role in breaching of fundamental rights, as observed in several of our cases.

In the invitation text EMISCO clarify that the colloquium is called for by the deep socio-economic, political and societal crisis that European democracies encounter, experiencing the rise of racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and violent extremism.

These unfortunate developments are not only causing fear and restlessness among the ethnic and religious minorities but also resulting in the prohibition of positive movement towards cohesiveness as well as the restriction of basic freedom.

Moderator Mr. Quaraishy of EMISCO urges FRA to include discrimination of smaller associations of faith and belief in their directives.

Mainstream political discourse, particularly in times of elections, is contaminated by xenophobic and anti-Muslim statements, which aim to portray Muslims as the reason for the failure of the policies promoting diversity and coexistence. In this difficult situation, it is clear that Muslim communities need moral and political support.

To convince decision makers in Europe to change their anti-Muslim discourse it is necessary to move the discussion in the heart of Europe. The European Parliament could be involved and take some resolutions on what is acceptable or not.

It is also important to strengthen relations and co-operation between NGOs involved in helping minorities.

All places in European Parliament Hall 5E2 were fully booked

The idea of freedom is one of the fundamental philosophical and political concepts in democratic societies. Is freedom, however, a goal in itself or a means to an end? In other words, is more freedom always better or should its practice promote other individual and collective positive values in society? And what happens when the exercise of freedom impacts negatively on the rights and well-being of others – for example, when freedom is abused in order to insult, degrade or undermine others? Should freedom be occasionally constrained in order to avoid dangerous excesses that impact on others? Or should it be treated as an absolute right in its own terms that trumps all other rights, whether in the private or the public sphere?

Many speakers, such as the president of EMISCO MR. Dienne accentuated that it is not only a question of discrimination against Muslims, but all practitioners of faith or belief other than the normative in society. Mr. Dienne also reminded of the importance to act according to the openness and equality worked for, as he finds a tendency within Muslim communities to diminish the problems of other religious or spiritual groups in society. The same point was later brought up by Mr. Ucuncu, General Secretary of IGMG – Germany, administrating more than 500 mosques.

Ms. Shelaru (Soteria International),
Mr. Soykan (OSCE/ODIHR)

“Politics today move from ideology to identity”, stated adviser and special envoy of OIC, Mr. Orhun, thus today politicians inevitably move into a “we” and “them” field. He underlined the responsibility of public schooling to act proactively rather than reactive to this situation. OSCE/ODIHR’s Mr. Soykan as well as Mrs Sclafani of CEJI underlined the necessity to support and push governments to develop and implement such programs.

Mr. Ajmi, secretary general of the International Institute of Peace, Justice and Human Rights (IIJPHR) pointed directly to how politicians and the elite today are by definition islamophobic in order to preserve their position in society. In this way taxpayers' money contribute to xenophobic and discriminatory policies and a new persecution in Europe today. Mr. Kallis, professor of Modern History at University of Lancaster drew a direct parallel between the intolerance and discrimination we see in Europe today and the Holocaust. History shows how things are built up step by step, possibly without the initial intentionality of the end result. In the discussion on persecutions of smaller associations of faith or belief professor Kallis pointed out the necessity to ask what is behind the fear of the unknown; to dare to put the real questions on the motives behind. Mr. Quaraishy, general secretary of EMISCO questioned the representative of Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) why the discrimination of new religious movements is not taken up within their work, and was answered that it is an important subject, but that they did not have funds or directives to pursue this question.

All places in European Parliament Hall 5E2 were fully booked

The event reflected the interest from leading scholars, Human Right activists and Muslim interest groups to deal with the issue of Islamophobia as part of a greater problem with European discrimination against practitioners of any non-normative religion or spiritual path. The contributions and conclusions reaffirmed those of Soteria International’s seminar on “The Role of Spirituality in Modern Society”; “coexistence or no existence” and “from dialogue to collaboration”.