Last Sunday, the 25th November, marked the 25th Anniversary of the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination based on Religion and Belief. And on 10th December we will celebrate Human Rights Day. But despite such international covenants, many states fail to promote tolerance for others’ beliefs, or even to protect their citizens’ right to freedom of religion or belief.
The message of most religions is peace and
tolerance, but too often we find that intolerance of one religion for another exists;
indeed, in some parts of the world it seems to be thriving. So, this evening I
want to speak this intolerance and I’ll begin right here in
Australians are justly proud of our multicultural society, and have made substantial efforts to outlaw vilification and to encourage mutual understanding and justice for all. There are many, many examples of this effort -- in legislation, in education campaigns and public awareness programs.
Just one example:
How concerning it is, therefore, to read that in the year ending 30 September 2006, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry logged 442 reports of incidents defined by the human rights and equal opportunity commission as “racist violence” against Jewish Australians. This was 47 per cent more acts of vandalism, harassment and intimidation than the average annual total. The incidents included physical assault, vandalism – including arson attacks, hate mail, graffiti, leaflets, posters and abusive e-mails.
The offences were spread all around the country: racial vilification, anti-Jewish telephone calls, and text messages as a mode for harassment.
While all this was happening we in Parliament were doing our best to condemned anti-Semitism. In the last session the Senate resolved to condemn racism in all its forms. That resolution demonstrates that everyone in this place is united in the belief that the way forward to a more peaceful, tolerant world is through dialogue. As we are reminded in the Preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO, "Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed"
In the minds of men, and women, it is all too easy to harbour suspicion of those whose beliefs are different from our own – much easier, indeed, than making the effort to listen respectfully and trying to understand where they are coming from. Listening receptively does not mean forfeiting our own principled position. It means treating another person’s perspective with respect in the hope of finding a way in which we can live together peacefully. It’s not always easy to accept the fact that people have different traditions, religions and values. But it’s worth the effort.
me give you an example. When the late
fact, their fears were baseless.
This story illustrates how the very nature of dialogue consists in the ability to see oneself from the perspective of the other. Since human nature all over the world is same, it is irrational to consider some persons as brothers and others as enemies, but rational or not, it happens all too often. We must do everything we can to prevent the vilification by one group of another, and to speak out against it when we see it happening.
case in point is that of the
achieve this, these groups have turned to terrorism. In August last year, 430
bombs exploded ac
least two arrested terrorists in
In this tense atmosphere, Mr Choudhury’s English-language newspaper, The Weekly Blitz , has featured strong editorials against violence in the name of religion, and has called for dialogue between Muslims and Jews as the first step on the road to peace. Mr Choudhury has paid a severe price for this.
In November 2003, he was arrested at Dhaka's
international airport and arrested for violating the Passport
Act, which forbids citizens from visiting countries with which
was released on bail in April 2005, thanks in part to the intervention of U.S. Congressman
and by a campaign waged on his behalf by American human rights activist Dr.
In July, Islamist
militants bombed the offices of the Weekly Blitz. In September, a judge ordered the case continued on
the basis that
Just days before the start of his trial, the offices of The Weekly Blitz were ransacked and Choudhury was assaulted by a mob of 40 people, including senior members of the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party. Local police failed to make any arrests, and refused to allow Choudhury to file charges against his attackers. When he lodged a formal complaint with the police, an arrest warrant was issued for him.
Israeli politician turned columnist
need to celebrate that breath of fresh air. To protest against the maltreatment
of Mr Choudhury and to send the clear message that there should be no place for
religious authoritarianism and
ideological extremism. Here in
Intolerance and fanaticism rob people of their ability to engage in dialogue. Yet, serious dialogue can help to dispel negative stereotypes and build the mutual trust that will help us find peaceful solutions to the many conflicts we see around the world. Of course we must fight terrorism with the utmost vigour, but it is crucial, too, that we intensify our dialogue. How we respond to this challenge will determine whether we will in future live in a world of escalating cultural and ethnic conflict or in a world in which different civilizations coexist and cooperate in peace.