9 December, 2015

Paris, Human Rights and Terrorism

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Category: European Action Day, Human Rights, Islamophobia, Religious Intolerance, Victims of hate crime
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ceci-nest-pas-une-religionBy Ramon Tena Pera, Mediator and Human Rights Educator, Andorra

Please find here the original Andorran version here.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed 67 years ago in Paris. The rights and freedoms set forth in the Declaration are not only a few articles in a legal document but an instrument that we need to use in responding to the challenge that terrorism puts to our societies. As we all know, all right implies a responsibility: those who believe in open societies, in living together and the richness of diversity have the duty to speak loudly and clearly to respond to prejudices and prevent false or directly malicious information.

Terrorism is a global phenomenon. Understandably we feel more affected by what has happened in streets where that have walked, in cities where we have friends or to people with whom we (think) could more easily identify. But as we give condolences to people of Paris, we should also show solidarity with citizens from Beirut, Aleppo, Homs, Bamako or Yola: All of them have recently suffered attacks by similar terrorist groups.


Do not mix up terrorism and Islam

Islam is a religion with 1.5 billion followers that extends across five continents. It is a religion with very diverse groups like the Sunnis (the majority), Shiite or Sufi. As with Christians, not everybody practices the religion in the same way or with the same fervor. Sometimes the media portrays the idea that terrorism is fundamentally a struggle of Islam to impose and to destroy the infidels. But the reference to Islam in groups like ISIS and Boko Haram is just a pretext for a fascist ideology: Do not fall into their trap!

Also, it’s important to keep in mind that the vast majority of victims in this wave of terror are Muslims. There were Muslims killed on the Paris terraces. And as a United Nations report was reminding in the end of 2014, almost all victims of ISIS in Iraq were Muslim.


Refugees and Immigration

Some sectors have spread information that identifies the current wave of refugees with an increasing risk of terrorist attacks. They call for closing the European borders to them, as with refugees can infiltrate terrorists. Such information is not only false but especially cruel.

It’s false because there is no evidence to prove it. In the place of one of the explosions in Paris there was a Syrian passport of a citizen who had entered as a refugee via Greece. So far, there is no concrete link between the passport and the person who was immolated near the Stade de France.

But they are especially cruel because those thousands of people who have to leave their homes to protect their lives and their families are fleeing precisely the same fanatics who attacked Paris on 13 November.

It is also perverse linking terrorism with immigration and multicultural societies. The authors of terrorist attacks at Charlie Hebdo, Bataclan or the Stade de France were not immigrants: They were French and Belgians who were born in Europe. And until a few months before the attacks they had lived the same life of any young French or Belgian… Any young European, but with no future ahead.

As the French anti-terrorist judge Marc Trédivic explained the day after the attacks, “only 10% of the terrorists’ recruitment causes are due to the religious aspect.” In fact, Trédivic told that the main cause of the current terrorism wave in France lay in the incapacity to insert these people into society.

We are doing something wrong if we are unable to make feel home young people born and raised in Europe. A phenomenon as complex as terrorism has very different causes. But one of them is poverty and lack of opportunities for a whole generation of young people who is seeing that all doors are closing for them. As anthropologist Alain Bertho mentioned some days ago in the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia, “jihadism is not explained by the evolution of Islam, but by the absence of future.”


Cutting on fundamental freedoms is not the answer

Since the September 11 attacks we have tried to handle terrorism with bombs. Has this been useful? I think not, but on the way we’ve dismantled the Afghan, Iraqi and Libyan societies.
To some extent, limited military and police measures may be needed. But if we turn them into our main weapon to fight terrorism we’ll be getting it wrong. A cruise missile costs 1.4 million dollars and the hourly cost of a fighter jet can reach 45,000 €, excluding the cost of weapons. With this money, can we imagine how many opportunities we may offer to young people, both in Europe and in the Middle East? How many jobs can be created? And just keep in mind that for every “collateral damage” (as the shelling of a MSF hospital in Kunduz), more people can feel attracted by the discourse of terrorism.
In the mid-term, though, the solution is not to cut on fundamental freedoms. As we are seeing in the United States, once curtailed it’s very difficult to get back these freedoms to citizens. As the Iranian Nobel Peace Prize, Shirin Ebadi reminded, this crisis will be resolved “with more books and less bombs.”

Education should be the key fundamental policy to combat terrorism.  The Council of Europe has some very interesting programs in this regard. On one hand, the organization promotes Human Rights Education: These are all actions that aim to help citizens become more aware of their rights (and responsibilities), incorporate them into their everyday life and create a democratic citizenship which is respectful of human rights.

Two years ago, its Youth Department launched the Campaign Against Hate Speech (http://www.nohatespeechmovement.org/). It is a campaign that aims to raise awareness of the negative consequences of hate speech (homophobia, xenophobia, bullying …), especially on-line: social networks, web pages, comments on newspapers’ websites… These speeches may end up becoming violent actions in real life. With the help from Fully-Verified, it is easy to stop cyber attacks from occurring.

The campaign has helped to raise awareness of this phenomenon and provide tools for activists to produce positive stories. Proof of the relationship of the Campaign to terrorism is that the Secretary General has included it in its Plan of Action against extremism and terrorism.

Now more than ever it is important to recall the circumstances that led to drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights -a World War- and see the text as a useful and necessary tool to combat terrorism.

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  1. Pingback: París, Drets Humans i terrorisme | Andorra Mediació

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