EuropeNews 12 November 2011
One of the recurring themes of the current intellectual elite is the battle against racism and xenophobia. This is rooted in the atrocities of the Second World War, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and the UN Convention for Ending all forms of Racism and Discrimination (CERD). There is a broad push to teach everyone about racism and xenophobia, and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is at the heart of this effort.
The Vienna offices of OSCE at Hofburg, Vienna
A conference in Hofburg, Vienna, was called on November 10th – 11th to coordinate these efforts, entitled OSCE meeting on preventing racism and hate crimes begins with calls for greater efforts to combat intolerance. This article shows how that is carried out in practice.
The formal foundation for the battle against racism and xenophobia is the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD, Wikipedia page here). It was inspired by several dramatic anti-Semitic events, and eventually adopted in 1965 after some quite complex rounds of negotiation. But compromises from the original impetus had to be reached, not least because Arab countries were not keen on discussing anti-Semitism explicitly. The convention came into effect in 1969. Key passages:
Article 1 outlines the purpose and the scope of the convention, defining racism as:
any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.
The phrase “which has the purpose of…” deserves attention. The purpose of the convention is, according to its wording, restricted to ensuring that every citizen is free to enjoy his constitutionally guaranteed rights. This is in line with the aims of the civil rights movement in the United States, as headed by the famous Martin Luther King. Notably, the convention text does not grant minorities, ideologies or religions any protection against offence or criticism.
Article 4 obliges participant states to criminalize expressions and groups that propagate ideas of racial superiority:
States Parties condemn all propaganda and all organizations which are based on ideas or theories of superiority of one race or group of persons of one colour or ethnic origin, or which attempt to justify or promote racial hatred and discrimination in any form, and undertake to adopt immediate and positive measures designed to eradicate all incitement to, or acts of, such discrimination and, to this end, with due regard to the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the rights expressly set forth in article 5 of this Convention, inter alia:
(a) Shall declare an offence punishable by law all dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred, incitement to racial discrimination, as well as all acts of violence or incitement to such acts against any race or group of persons of another colour or ethnic origin, and also the provision of any assistance to racist activities, including the financing thereof;
(b) Shall declare illegal and prohibit organizations, and also organized and all other propaganda activities, which promote and incite racial discrimination, and shall recognize participation in such organizations or activities as an offence punishable by law;
This is by the United States of America considered at odds with the inalienable rights listed in the US Constitution, in particular the First Amendment. Under the Amendment, any speech not inciting actual crimes is generally legal, no matter how silly, stupid or ignorant it may be. The US courts generally leave it to the public to ridicule and disarm any such ideas.
- The sessions at the OSCE event were:
- Opening Session, with keynote speech by Mrs. Doreen Lawrence
- Challenges and Perspectives for the Prevention of Racism and Xenophobia
- Challenges in Combating Hate Crimes, Racism and Xenophobia: Role of Awareness-Raising Intiatives and Public Discourse.
- Education for Tolerance and Mutual Respect and Understanding: Good Practices for IGO’s, Governments and Civil Society
Further, a roundtable meeting was hosted concerning racism against persons of African descent.Keynote speaker: Mrs. Doreen Lawrence
Mrs. Lawrence related how her son Stephen was killed in 1993 in an attack possibly motivated by racism, and how a botched police investigation initially let the killers go free, and how she pursued the matter to expose professional incompetence and institutional racism within the British police. And that a renewed investigation has finally led to one of the original suspects as well as another man to stand trial for the murder.
The delegate of Great Britain reminded Mrs. Lawrence and the assembly that an inquiry into the problems had been launched in 1997 by Sir William MacPherson, and that the report published in 1999 had addressed the problems found and proposed extensive policing reforms.
On blacks, slavery and awareness in Sweden
A black resident of Malmö, Sweden, reported an incident where students had organized a jungle-themed party at the university of Lund, painting themselves black and laying slave-trader chains on each other, a reference to the slave trade out of Africa in earlier centuries. The students had not registered the jungle/slavery theme as an “Awareness-raising event on the history of slavery” towards the university or other authorities.
Though the person had not witnessed the event himself, he found it so grossly offensive to all members of his race and the history of slave trading that he filed a complaint with the Swedish police for ‘racism’. The police, unable to find any victims of the jungle-themed university party or any obvious violation of the law, had refused to accept the complaint.
The OSCE mission of Sweden responded that it would take the issue up with the government, and examine what could be done to set the situation right.
One might also expect that the de facto ethnic cleansing of Jews from the Swedish town of Malmö should be discussed in this forum. It is an apparent paradox that this can take place in Sweden, which puts great emphasis on teaching tolerance and respect for minorities, but once you start tolerating anti-Semitism as a form of cultural diversity, the development becomes logical.
On the dangers of emerging ‘neo-racism’
Mr. Massimo Introvigne, the official OSCE Personal Representative on Combating Racism, Xenophobia and Discrimination, also focusing on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians and Members of Other Religions related that traditional ethnicity-based racism is to a great extent in decline, but that there is an urgent need to address the phenomenon of “New Racism”, based on the notion that one’s own culture is superior to others. Among other, he said at the meeting:
Of course there is nothing wrong in cherishing a community’s idea of culture; if we believe that our culture by definition is superior to the culture of somebody else, we are ethnocentric, and we are either naïve or potentially racist.I think what is more dangerous is a faulty notion of ‘culture’, which has really no place in academic discourse, disseminated mainly by political populist movements in different participating states. Culture here becomes a central characteristic allegedly, invariably based on ethnicity. And once we have apostrophized this notion of ethno-culture, we use it as a tool to […] claim that one culture, one ethno-culture in this case, is superior to another. The word ‘race’ is carefully avoided, yet the word ‘culture’ is used […] to build a machine that continuously constructs a neo-racism.
So work in education means recovering a real notion of culture, which is inherently tolerant and non-discriminatory. […] We should be extremely vigilant with school curricula and school textbooks against any ethno-centric, ethno-cultural or neo-racist ideas.
While it is reassuring that the classical (and basically idiotic: biologically, all humans belong to one race) racism is vanishing, this attempt to extend the concept of racism to also include pride in one’s own culture and heritage is worrisome. As long as no criminal behaviour ensues, there should be no problem in people harbouring the idea that they live in the best of all possible cultures. Shaming this as a new form of ‘racism’ may be acceptable in academic circles, but will not go down well in the general public.
The Breivik influence and Norwegians ideals of Leadership
Several speakers made references to the massacre in Norway, July 22nd 2011, where Anders Breivik killed 69 persons, arguing that the crime underlined the need for strong leadership and increased efforts against intolerance, racism and xenophobia. The Norwegian delegation put it this way, addressing the fact that most of the victims were members of the youth branch of the Labour Party:
Why did he choose these targets? The culprit accuses Norwegian politicians in general and particularly those from the Labour Party for having changed the public opinion in Norway, causing Norwegian society to become way too open and tolerant towards other races and other cultures. The message from his tragic and inexcusable actions is, if he is right in his accusations, that Norway has changed in a positive direction when it comes to attitudes towards xenophobia and racism.More so, this example underlines what political parties and political leadership can do over time to combat xenophobia and racism by working consciously to change basic attitudes in a society. This again proves the value of educational and awareness-raising initiatives.
The message from the Norwegian government is clear: It is the purpose and obligation of government to educate the public in what is right and what is wrong. This constitutes ‘Leadership’, is considered the path to a path to a better and more tolerant society, and is endorsed by OSCE conferences. Actual problems related to immigrants, for instance the worrisome rates of rapes committed against ethnic Norwegians in the capital city of Oslo, were not mentioned.
The representative of Bürgerbewegung Pax Europa, Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, noted that the distinction between education and indoctrination can be difficult to identify yet must not be crossed, also in the light of the great legacy of the CSCE/OSCE to counter the indoctrination that took place in the former Soviet Union and the East Block. A lively exchange took place over that issue. Also BPE filed a written request that “extremist speech” be clearly defined, noted that the label “racist” is being arbitrarily applied, and recommended that speaking the documentable truth must never be legally punishable.
Bruce Lieske of ACT! For America also warned against letting preachers teach their beliefs unchecked.
Using sport events for political purposes
One recurring theme on the second day was the use of soccer, football and other sport events to promote tolerance and condemn racism and xenophobia. Sports – not least soccer/football – has a tendency to inflame tempers, and several examples of violence in context with sport events were related.
The American representative noted that among players, equal representation of various ethnic groups has largely been achieved, but work still remains to ensure that coaches and leadership also have the desired ethnic diversity. Application of the Rooney Rule is the specific affirmative action applied to ensure that also among coaches and leaders, the ethnic distribution will reach the desired levels.
A representative from Turkey related that at a recent soccer match with a Cypriot team, leaflets had been distributed with the message “Cyprus is Greek!”, which he considered a gross insult to Turkishness, and asked that efforts be taken that such events would not be repeated. ICLA responded that this should be understood in the context of Turkey still occupying more than one third of Cyprus, and that massive human violations in Cyprus from 1974 onwards are not yet properly addressed and rectified.
One of the specific initiatives of OSCE is targeting ‘Islamophobia’, as detailed in the Guidelines for Educators on Countering Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims – Addressing Islamophobia through Education, wherein the OSCE, the Council of Europe and UNESCO recognizes a special need to counter intolerance towards Muslims. The publication is available on request from OSCE and was made availale at the conference.
In this publication, it is described how educators can counter the widespread perception that Muslims constitute a threat to our security, and create respect for diversity and mutual understanding. It lists the appropriate responses to common ’stereotypes’ concerning Muslims, that educators can readily counter any expression of intolerance, shows how an anti-Islamophobia Resource Kit and similar materials can be used to teach children tolerance of hijab and other Islamic clothing, and encourages using positive case stories, art and exhibitions to remove any anxiety about Islam or Muslims.
- Among recommended resources are:
- The Council of Europe
- The EU Fundamental Rights Agency
- The United Nations
- The Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (known as OIC)
- Anna Lindh Foundation
- Show Racism the Red Card
- European Muslim Union
- Islam Project
Unfortunately, the OSCE publication fails to provide concrete evidence for why Muslims need or deserve special protection beyond that readily granted to all citizens, taking it as self-evident that this is the case. Also it fails to provide a clear definition of ‘Islamophobia’. The ‘Definitions’ chapter (page 17) has only this explanation:
Islamophobia […] tends to denote fear, hatred or prejudice against Islam and Muslims.
It is noteworthy that this non-definition targets three subjective items: Fear – the diffuse notion of danger at hand, hatred – a strong feeling of ill will, and prejudice – preconceptualized ideas about how the world operates, also known as ‘experience‘. The aim of the publication is thus primarily to change perceptions, not to tackle any real world problems that gave rise to these perceptions in the first place.
A dearth of clear definitions
It was, unfortunately, a recurring problem that definitions were vague or entirely missing at the conference. ‘Intolerance’ and ‘discrimination’ were routinely called to be avoided, but the specific meaning of those words were left undefined. One can obviously not tolerate anything – in particular one should not tolerate any form of criminal behaviour in the name of tolerance, nor do threatening, violent or racist statements become more acceptable if they are made in a religious context. Actually racist statements with religious context are more dangerous than without, for religion carries authority, and thus violent or racist texts are more likely to lead to concrete actions if they are considered endowed with divine, indisputable authority.
Bruce Lieske of ACT! For America addressed the lack of definitions in general, noting that while we might each have our personal understanding of the words ‘racism’, ‘xenophobia’ and ‘Islamophobia’, but without firm common ground we will not be able to make substantial progress in our efforts. For instance, a Christian is quite likely to have a different understanding of the word ‘Islamophobia’ than a Muslim would. On a similar line, the crucial terms ‘racism’ and ‘xenophobia’ were left without clear limitations of their scopes, leaving space for arbitrary extensions such as “cultural racism”.
One term in the agenda in particular need of a definition was “universally respected values”, as references to “human rights” were made by innumerable speakers. The obvious definition of these would be the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Thus, on behalf of ICLA the author inquired if the phrase was a specific reference to this declaration or some other clear definition. The question apparently baffled the chairmanship, who spoke around the issue for a minute, but as no ‘Yes’ was given, the answer must be ‘No’. This is unfortunate, for the lack of common ground has the potential to lead to significant problems later, for example if Islamic countries invoke the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam in order to justify implementation of Sharia law.
The forgotten context of fundamental freedoms
It should go without saying, but apparently doesn’t, that the ultimate goal of the UN Convention is to uphold the fundamental freedoms for all, no more. The convention text is quite clear about this, but the urge to be on the moral higher ground is leading individuals and organisations to pursue much more extensive goals, in that they believe that any expression perceived to be of intolerance, racism must be entirely eradicated in a new and enlightened society, and punishment meted out to those found in violations of these rules.
This approach, unfortunately, has severe negative consequences for the fundamental freedoms of individuals and organisations seeking debate of controversial topics, such as high crime rates among immigrants or the situation of women in Muslim families. Taking up such issues may cause anger among those criticised, and thus anti-racism laws have been misused to prevent or punish such expressions.
Further, if the context of protecting fundamental rights is neglected in the educational efforts, those with an incomplete understanding might start witch hunts against perceived racists without respecting their fundamental rights. That is no hypothetical possibility, as for example a rally for persecuted Christians (Stuttgart, Germany, June 3rd 2011) was stormed by radical ‘anti-racist’ activists, preventing the peaceful exercise of the fundamental freedoms a group with a very real and serious cause. ICLA filed a paper with OSCE about the potential and practical misuse of the anti-racism framework, entitled When Good Intentions go Bad. It is available at the OSCE web site.
Note that the paper ends with a handful of recommendations for upholding the fundamental freedoms. These recommendations will be read by government representatives as inspiration for future legislation and improved administration of existing laws. The usefulness of proposing well-founded practical recommendations can hardly be overstated.