Respecting religious diversity
If one looks around thoroughly and with respect to reality and truth, we see an enormous and continuously growing volume of diversity : stones in nature, trees and even leaves on the same type of trees in the woods, animals of all species. The same is true about humankind: nobody is identical with billions of our fellow humans; the same differentiation can be traced with other billions of our predecessors who one living has already died. Son is different from his father and a daughter from her mother.
Everybody in the world is, was, and will be a unique, original, authentic person (I hope we do not start an era of cloning of human beings). One can clearly state: Each person is different, represents a unique identity. Diversity in nature and among people is the defining principle, is given as a fact to be explored and to share with others. Diversity is not a problem, but quite the opposite: enriching gift inviting us to build unity in diversity . Unity is far from uniformity. As we know, uniformity is based on copying, on the loss of creativity and freedom. The creator creates, and the creative artist does not copy. It is the same in nature as it is in arts.
The diversity of humans can be seen in many factors, like gender, race, religion, ethnic origin, etc. But something important and decisive remains the same: the dignity of each person with its inalienable fundamental rights starting with the right to life. This equality is another universal principle, which is valid for all – for children of a royal family or a homeless one. We are equal in dignity whether we have been born in Pakistan or Slovakia, Africa or America. Nobody is more than others in dignity. Those who oppose this universal message are protagonists of a superiority based on some differences, like race, religion, nation and so on. This superiority has led humankind repeatedly in its history to tragedies, to regional or global wars. It starts with artificial divisions and prejudices in society, leads to politics of supremacy and to rule over the people instead to rule for people and through people. Prejudices and dominations bear injustice, violence, and conflicts. We in Europe remember the very bloody, totalitarian 20th Century. The best way to avoid repetitions of tragedies is to care for peace, justice, dignity and common good for all. That´s why there is the European Union since 60 years. And the narrative, the motto of this Union is “unity in diversity”.
In today´s world, we need more than before to learn actively how to live together in diversity . To live means more than to exist. As the EU Special Envoy for Promotion of Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) I am looking forward to visiting Pakistan, an important EU partner country. I would like to stress why respect for religious diversity and culture of dialogue and tolerance is a key to peace, social justice, cohesion and prosperity of any country.
Firstly, because we all are born free and equal in dignity, whether born in a family of believers or non-believers, in a family of majority or minority religion. FoRB represents freedom of thought, conscience, religion or conviction. And this deepest personal freedom is the expression of our personal dignity.
Secondly, the status of FoRB in each society is a litmus test of all fundamental human rights. Because if FoRB is restricted, then civil and political rights are restricted as well. And the other way around, enjoyment of FoRB demonstrates respect for other rights and freedoms in society.
Thirdly, FoRB is much more important for the wellbeing of the whole society than for a religion to survive and develop. Totalitarian past of the Soviet system was initiated precisely 100 years ago through Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 in Russia. Religions in the Central and Eastern Europe survived decades of heavy-handed oppression and they are visible in present public life. But society suffered via terrible class fight and divisions, ideological indoctrination, forced deportations, millions of innocent people died or ended in gulags (mass prisons). FoRB is crucially important for good governance, justice and peaceful, comprehensive, sustainable development of each society. Such society has a chance to prosper.
We should never disrespect others or neglect justice for all. As we know, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Working together for human dignity is a must if we want to live in better Century, in better world. Allies of evil in our times are multifaceted. But three of them are very dispersed around and at the same time are very influential. These are ignorance, indifference and fear. Let us never give up and let us work together for common good. It has also influential and accessible allies – opponents of the previous siblings: education, responsibility and courage. We need to show mature citizenship to stand up for the weak and marginalized to express together that we are all equal in dignity. Without abandoning importance of our different, diverse identities we must move on from politics of identity towards mature ethics of our responsibility. And positive fruits will follow, surely.
Ján Figeľ gave a keynote speech and discussed with the audience at the closing event of the Human Rights Cinematography Film Festival on December 10, 2017 in Islamabad
The article in English is available here: http://nation.com.pk/10-Dec-2017/respecting-religious-diversity
Also available in Urdu: http://www.nawaiwaqt.com.pk/mazamine/10-Dec-2017/723129