Last week the Foreign Office hosted a 2-day summit to bring together experts to explore how freedom of religion or belief can help prevent violent extremism.
In her opening speech Baroness Anelay said “Freedom of Religion or Belief is fundamental to a successful society.”
The conference explored how building inclusive societies, in which people have freedom to practice their own religion and belief, can help prevent extremism.
It brought together more than 50 expert speakers and over 170 participants from 38 countries who shared ideas to extend and defend the right to freedom of religion or belief, discussed ways to build resilience against extremism and identified opportunities to work together.
The FCO stated that “Extremism is the biggest security challenge of our age and is a significant barrier to global prosperity, development, peace and stability.”
The conference was designed to explore the degree to which freedom of religion or belief can serve as part of the answer to this challenge because freedom and respect for human rights help to create the conditions under which societies can grow more stable and prosperous.
FCO Minister for Human Rights, Baroness Anelay said:
Freedom of religion or belief is one of our most powerful tools in the fight against extremism.
We need to value others, no matter what religion they follow. And if we teach our children to do the same we are equipping them to reject the hatred peddled by extremists.
All parts of society must join us in this effort and I’m delighted that so many are attending the conference, showing the level of commitment and ambition for this cause.
If we lay the foundations for open, equal and plural societies, then we are building communities that are more likely to reject extremism…
I believe that if we tolerate a culture where people think that their fellow citizens are inferior because of their religion or belief, then we create fertile ground in which extremist ideologies can take root.
That is why freedom of religion is so important, and directly relevant to the fight against extremism. If we value others, regardless of what – if any – religion they follow, and if we teach our children to do the same, we also give them the tools to reject intolerance. If we lay the foundations for open, equal and plural societies, then we also build communities resilient to extremism; communities where everyone has the intellectual independence to resist hateful ideologies, religious or otherwise.
We need a global response to this global problem. We need to work together – as individual countries, and through institutions like the UN and the Commonwealth. We need all sectors of society to be involved – governments, civil society, faith leaders, academics and so on…
Lord Alton spoke to the heading Why Freedom of Religion and Belief Is Relevant and Urgent
In 1947, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s great founding statesman, crafted a constitution which promised to uphold plurality and diversity:
Jinnah said: “You may belong to any religion, caste or creed—that has nothing to do with the business of the State…Minorities, to whichever community they may belong, will be safeguarded…. They will be, in all respects, the citizens of Pakistan without any distinction of caste and creed”
Jinnah’s values were also the values of the United Nations Charter, promulgated in 1945, and which committed all States to “promote universal respect” for “fundamental freedoms” “without distinction to race, sex, language or religion”…
It is a moral outrage that whole swathes of humanity are being murdered, terrorised, victimised, intimidated, deprived of their belongings and driven from their homes, simply because of the way they worship God or practise their faith. Infringement of freedom of religion and belief morphs into persecution and, as we have seen, can morph into crimes against humanity and genocide.
Article 18 is a foundational human right—many would say the foundational right. While there should be no hierarchy of rights, and all rights are interdependent, without the freedom to choose, practise, share without coercion and change your beliefs, what freedom is there?
At every opportunity, we must promulgate freedom of religion or belief. When we in the UK say we don’t need a special envoy to promote this because “every ambassador will do so” we need some way of benchmarking the effectiveness of their efforts.
And when the Government say this is “one of the Government’s key human rights priorities”, we need to provide resources which are commensurate with the scale of the challenge – certainly more than one full time FCO desk officer. Compare the £34 billion spent on military operations since the Cold War with the paltry resources deployed in promoting Article 18.
We also need a consistent, coherent international strategy. It is inconsistent to denounce some countries while appeasing others, complicit in jihadism, through financial support or the sale of arms.
“The co-operation of religious leaders is vital to the building of inclusive, plural — and peaceful — societies,” said the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Adviser for Reconciliation, Dr Sarah Snyder. “While religion is rarely the foundational cause of violence, our sacred texts and traditions can be, and are, hijacked to promote extremist agendas. Religion — all religions — must be recognised overwhelmingly as a source of peace, not violence. And religious leaders play a critical role in drawing their communities back to these foundational principles.”
The Foreign Office also announced the updated Freedom of Religion or Belief Toolkit