Axel E. Fischer on the “International Conference ‘Religions against Terrorism’”

Mr. President, Excellences, Ladies and gentlemen,
we are all horrified by the terrorist attacks in Europe, Asia, Afrika and all around the world in which numerous people are killed and injured.
In March, lots of people were killed in Brussels, in Ankara and in other places around the world. Few days ago, on the May, more than 70 persons were killed in Bagdad .
We emphasise the dramatic consequences of these terrorist acts and threats on individuals, and on our societies. Besides the tragedy of innocent people losing their lives, being injured and traumatised, growing unrest, mistrust and fear destabilise our societies. We deplore the loss of innocent lives and we express our sympathy and solidarity with the families of victims and all those who suffered in these inhumane attacks.

Most of the terrorist massacres in Europe were attacks against the very values of democracy and freedom in general, against the type of society that our pan-European Organisations – as the Council of Europe – have aimed at building since the end of the Second World War. Responsibility for all these terrorist attacks was claimed by terrorist groups which call themselves “Islamic”. But we have to reject the abuse of the description “Islamic” by terrorist criminal organisations. Neither Daesh nor similar terrorist groups have any right to claim they act in the name of Islam, or that they represent the Muslim community. On the contrary, most of their victims to date are Muslims.

They have been and are still being terrorised, abused, exploited, tortured and massacred by these terrorist groups, whereas their religion is slandered by the abusive use of the term “Islamic” by these very groups.
We have to take particular care in condemning such attacks to avoid making stigmatising generalisations that portray whole groups of the population as responsible for the acts of individuals. At the same time, we should encourage Muslim leaders and intellectuals to publicly, clearly and continually condemn the shameful abuse of their religion by fanatical murderers, whose goal is to intimidate individuals and States using all kinds of violence against innocent people.

Freedom of thought, conscience and religion is an established, universal and inviolable human right, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in international treaties at global and regional levels, and in national constitutions. We have to call on Muslim leaders to emphasise that Muslims, as well as followers of other religions, in Europe greatly benefit from the protection of their rights and freedoms by the European Convention on Human Rights. For that reason, their communities should fiercely and publicly defend around the world these standards and values against terrorists who threaten them. Therefor the Council of Europe call on the parliaments and governments of States and the religious leaders and representatives to ensure that, in their fight against terrorism there is effective democratic oversight exercised by both the parliament and other independent actors, such as national human rights institutions and civil society.

We all should do our utmost to eradicate breeding grounds for terrorism and religious fanaticism, especially through education, social policies and an inclusive society. In the Kazachstan 2050 strategy of the President of the Republik of Kasachstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, I perceived lots of good ideas for a successful way, especially in the chapter about a good basis for success of our multiethnical and multi-confessional society.
So concrete measures should be taken to prevent and fight radicalisation, in particular in schools, disadvantaged neighbourhoods, prisons and on the Internet and social media and also by religious communities. I think, the religious leader have to be included in these initiatives and they should support counterterrorist measures taken by the States. Churches and religious organisations are an integral part of our civil society and must, with secular organisations, take part in the life of society. National authorities should take more account of religious communities’ potential to work for dialogue, mutual recognition and solidarity. For their part, those communities have a fundamental duty, which they must fully assume, to promote the shared values and principles which underpin “living together” in our democratic societies.

Education is the key to combating ignorance, breaking down stereotypes, building trust and mutual respect and promoting sincere support for the shared values of living together. Many factors are influential in the formation of the individual personality. Families and media, as well as cultural and religious communities themselves, should support the development of open-minded individuals, capable of critical thinking and of constructive dialogue with others.

It is crucial to fight against intolerance on the Web. School should also be a meeting point and a place for constructive dialogue between individuals of different – religious or secular – beliefs.
All the religious communities which accept shared fundamental values are able to benefit from an appropriate legal status guaranteeing the exercise of freedom of religion. In my view, States and religious communities should work together to promote coming together, dialogue and mutual respect:
There is no better way of effectively combating all fanaticism and extremism, religious or anti-religious. We should put into practice a “secularity of recognition” and treat religious organisations as partners in the development of inclusive and mutually supportive societies, while respecting the principle of the independence of politics from religion and the rule of law.
In this context we should develop projects in collaboration with religious communities to promote shared values and “living together”, and involve these communities in the combating of all extremism and fanaticism and the fight against discrimination. Public-service media should firmly oppose any form of intolerance and discrimination based on religion or beliefs and contribute not only to fighting stereotypes, but also to upholding the vision of a plural, intercultural and inclusive democratic society. In school and extracurricular frameworks, we should promote opportunities for people of different beliefs to meet and talk so that they can learn to express their religious identity without fear, but also without provoking others or prevaricating, and both open up to other visions of the world and learn to respect them even if they do not share them; in this context, co-operate with religious communities so that the teaching of religion becomes an opportunity for reciprocal listening and for developing critical thinking.

All actors – including religious communities – should do their utmost to eradicate breeding grounds for terrorism and religious fanaticism, especially through education, social policies and an inclusive society. In this context I welcome the initiative of the President of the Republic of Kasachstan. Nursultan Naszarbayev, to create an UN global antiterrorist coalition. It fits very good to the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) a soft power tool for bridging divides and promoting understanding between countries or identity groups, with a view toward preventing conflict and promoting social cohesion. United, the world community may be strong enough, to make significant efforts in its fight against terrorism and for freedom and democracy.

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