HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal’s speech at OSCE in Brussels

For HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal’s recent press release on the third anniversary of 9/11, click here >>
Brussels, Belgium
13th-14th September, 2004
As Chair of the Committee of Eminent Persons engaged in looking at the development of the post-Durban efforts to combat racism and related intolerances, I believe that the call for universal consciousness and shared values must be taken beyond the rhetoric of mere good intentions. Partnership is so obviously the solution to the problems common humanity commonly faces.
The atrocious attacks on America, occurring only about a week after the The World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerances (September 2001), ended many of the hopes and aspirations of people from around the world towards combating hate and discrimination. Instead we have been catapulted into a world of fear and insecurity, the very factors that allow discriminations of all kinds to fester.
Now, more than ever, we need initiatives that promote mutual respect and understanding between Muslims and the West, in particular between the United States and Islam.
We have failed to consider, to our own loss, the ethical dimension to the challenges that face us today. Now, more than ever, we need an ethical code of conduct to protect us from anti-Semitism, antimuslimism, anti-americanism, anti-arabism; we need a code of conduct which protects us from islamophobia, semiticophobia, arabophobia, amerophobia, xenophobia.
The World Conference Against Racism and its fruits shoulders a great burden – it cannot allow humanity to degenerate into automatonic behaviour patterns whose end result is violence and fear through upholding extreme views of what it means to be ‘patriotic‘ or ‘religious‘.
The principle of universal humanity, therefore, gives the individual a sense of universal consciousness that goes beyond the mere following of laws and regulations and to the very heart of how we understand modern concepts such as inherent dignity, which is the cornerstone of all humanitarian laws enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations.
It is barely sixty years since the Holocaust and anti-semitism, that “very light sleeper”, continues to raise its ugly head with every new generation. We have to seriously ask ourselves what we are passing onto our children. Today, the twin phenomenon of Islamophobia is a new and viles manifestation of this very same racial, ethnic and religious hatred.
Ambassador Roberto Toscano of Italy cautions that a lot will depend on wise policies on the part of governments as well as on a capacity to accept higher levels of cultural diversity within all countries. The situation of Muslims in many parts of the world appears to be “problematic”. But, as Toscano contends, the answer may not be assimilation or differentialism, but pluralism. Perhaps one of the ways to deal with such neo-racisms is to acknowledge every civilisation‘s symbiotic, organic relationship with the perceived “other”. Thus, in the case of Islam and Muslims, the shared Judaeo-Christian-Islamic heritage of Europe — and by extension America — should be reflected throughout school textbooks and in popular culture more widely.
However, our efforts at promoting awareness and cultural pluralism are clearly falling short. It is a sad sign of the times when we see the British Shadow Home Secretary associated with a book heavily criticised as being little more than ‘Islamophobic rant‘. Yet this is not an isolated incident, rather part of a more worrying trend in which we have also witnessed in recent weeks the ‘outing‘ of a senior British Council press officer as the author ‘Harry‘ Cummins, the contributor of a series of inciteful and ignorant articles to the Sunday Telegraph.
Madeleine Bunting, writing in the Guardian newspaper on the 3rd of September, warned of a ‘blind strand of opinion which refuses to accept the phenomenon of Islamophobia. Refuses to see how it represents a mutated form of racism, and refuses to see how such comments about Jews or blacks would be quite rightly regarded as unprintable‘.
It is unfair to present these examples of British cases without expressing my humble opinion that the political scene in Europe as a whole is going through a period where identity politics are becoming increasingly prominent. What is often not discussed is the manner in which integration of the ‘others‘ contributes towards a vibrant, rich mosaic of multiple identities which have strengthened pluralism in most European countries today. I would like to say here, to my European brothers, I that we are aware of the pains which are troubling you at this moment, and recognise that it is not productive to continually ask you to understand the nature of our pains.
We share have shared a common heritage by virtue of living on the shores of the Mediterranean, and history attests the great exchange of ideas — economic, social, religious, scientific — that characterised our relations over the centuries. The opportunity to celebrate this past must not be let slip, and in this vein I am calling for the creation of a School for Mediterranean Humanities. The idea of a ‘School of Mediterranean Humanities’ could be envisaged as a way of bridging the intellectual and cultural gap between Western Europe and Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Eastern European countries through a new curriculum of terra media studies
All minorities, be they based upon linguistic, cultural, ethnic, national, religious, racial or indeed any other lines of differentialism, need to be better understood in the context of where, and amongst whom, they live. Religions cannot be isolationist, communities need to interact.
As Muslims, we must share the blame when ruing the dire level of ignorance that afflicts non-Muslim perception of important issues such as women‘s rights, inheritance laws and civil statutes in Islam. ( * see separate sheet )
In Europe, there is a real problem of alienation and marginalisation among some ethnic minority youth. Issues of policing, unemployment, and endemic racism have contributed to a culture of frustration and resentment. I have often referred to this phenomenon as the ‘Culture of Futility‘. It is truly a vicious circle of downward hope, and can only be broken by changing mindset and changing attitude; we have to start working for a cause, not always against something. As I once suggested along with Shimon Peres many years back now, would it not be of greater inspiration to see the U.N co-coordinating blue overalls rather than blue helmets?
In other parts of the world, “Violent conflict causes massive humanitarian suffering, undermines development and human rights and stifles economic growth”. (Ensuring Progress in the Prevention of Violent Conflict: Priorities for the Greek & Italian EU Presidencies 2003, April 2003) In such scenarios, “conflict creates conditions where terrorism and organized crime thrive”. Moreover, “Armed conflict has become one of the most prevalent causes of poverty in many parts of the world. In turn, poverty, social and economic exclusion increase the risks of violent conflict”. It is indeed a vicious cycle of despair, but “To fight poverty is to fight the war to end all wars, and to win that war is the only way to winning lasting peace”. (Eveline Herfkens, UN Secretary General‘s Executive Coordinator for the Millennium Development Goals Campaign, WFUNA, 9 May 2003)
The answer in this latter context might be to support a code of conduct, or regional ‘partnerships of peace‘ which would address root causes such as defense expenditures, terrorism (including state-sponsored violence), humanitarian contingency planning, poverty alleviation, education and development, civil society, and so on. Ethics dictate respect for human dignity and ethical change cannot be brought about within an exclusionist discourse.
I would like to see serious work done on the development of the New International Humanitarian Order; on the development of a culture of compliance by us all, to apply to both state actors and non-state actors; to development and co-operation with a human face. It would be wrong to assume that prejudices are not engrained even on an international level.
Racism is ultimately about exclusionism, alienating the self as well as the “other”. Inclusionism — building bridges of understanding and working towards integrating those common values that all humanity shares — is the logical antithesis.
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