The external relationships of the European Union with Muslim countries and the international responsibility of religious communities
The fourth and last meeting of the series of Seminars devoted to Islam, Christianity and Europe organised by the Church and Society Commission of CEC, COMECE and the European Office of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS)- took place on 11 September 2008 in the European Parliament. One of the issues raised was the question of reciprocity in terms of religious freedom. One hundred participants, including MEPs and civil servants of the EU institutions, as well as members of religious organisations and communities, took part in the seminar and in the ensuing debate.
Ms Nicole Reckinger, from the Council of the EU and moderator of this seminar, welcomed the initiative dealing with this question, whilst expressing reservations about the concept of reciprocity and her preference for the concept of universality of Human Rights, which encompass freedom of religion.
Prof. Dr. Tuomo Melasuo, Senior Research Fellow at the Tampere Peace Research Institute –TAPRI (Finland) recalled that the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 prompted European Institutions to become aware of the importance of initiating an intercultural dialogue. Since then, the intercultural dimension of both the Euro-Mediterranean institutional dialogue and the European neighbourhood policy has certainly developed; but, according to him however, not in a sufficiently tangible way. The international responsibility of religious communities should not be underestimated and they should be fully associated in this dialogue.
According to Imam Dr. Abduljalil Sajid, Chairman of the Muslim Council for Religious and Racial Harmony (UK) and President of the task force for the Year of Intercultural Dialogue 2008, it is important to distinguish between Islam and Muslims. He refutes the concept of reciprocity, arguing that Muslims living in Europe as citizens or residents have the right to practise their religion without being expected to have to offer anything in return: the problem of lack of freedom of religion in Mecca is not the problem for Muslims living in Europe. The values which should guide us are rather those of equality, equity and justice for all citizens and residents of the EU Member States. Concerning the external relationships of the EU with Muslim countries, nothing will be achieved by coercion, domination and imposition; more effective would be the application of the rule of law and international justice.
According to Fr Edouard Divry, Dominican and Diocesan Delegate for the Interfaith Dialogue in Montpellier (France), any relationship, from a moral point of view, necessarily implies reciprocity. The ethics of international relations should therefore examine the reasons underlying calls for reciprocity in terms of religious freedom. In this context, there is the risk of two extreme interpretations of the international virtue of reciprocity: retaliation and passivity. Reciprocity, when underpinned by a Christian vision, is not a call for retaliation.
But there is also the temptation towards passivity which could prevent Christians - or indeed Muslims or Jews – from claiming equal treatment. He therefore calls for an increase in exchanges in order to gradually allow the “political virtue of religious reciprocity” to appear in international political declarations.
In concluding this last seminar, Ms Eija-Riitta Korhola, MEP (EPP-DE- Finland), a trained philosopher and theologian, indicated that the approach towards reciprocity is part of social justice but must not be applied in a restrictive way. Faced with a relativist liberalism that rejects the existence of absolute truth, she advocated a pluralist liberalism which allows the public sharing of certain values, including religious values. These values represent the foundation of a dialogue which is a source of hope.
As a part of their contribution for the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE), the Church and Society Commission (CSC) and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS), in association with Muslim partners, organised a series of seminars under the overall theme of “Islam, Christianity and Europe”.
The main rationale is to expose the complexity of issues linked to Islam, Christianity and Europe and by doing that to question stereotypes.
Each seminar is to be arranged in the form of a panel discussion with a moderator, an academic expert, a Muslim speaker, a Christian speaker and a Member of the European Parliament in charge of the synthesis.
The seminars are hosted by the European Parliament in Brussels.
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Full event report of the 11 September Seminar will be shortly be available on the website of CEC
http://www.cec-kek.org/content/intercultural.shtml , on the website of COMECE www.comece.org and on the website of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung www.eukas.eu