By Bashy Quraishy
Secretary General - EMISCO -European Muslim Initiative for Social Cohesion - Strasbourg
Member - Advisory Board - Migration Research Centre - Hacettepe University - Ankara. Turkey
Chair-Advisory Council-ENAR - Brussels
I want to thank the organizers of this important meeting for inviting me to speak on the an issue, which is very close to my heart, namely the right of every human being to have a religion, practice it and not be discriminated, harassed or vilified.
I am saying that not as a person belonging to Islam, the second largest faith in the world or as a deeply religious person, which I am not but as a co-citizen in this continent of Europe, which claims to be the centre of democracy, equality and the rule of law.
In short, societal accept and respect of an individual, group or a movement to have a religion, faith, belief system or traditions, to practice it in peace and to propagate it without restrictions and interference.
I am also honored to be among such wonderful and dedicated souls who want to make a difference by bringing people together to discuss in detail the trend in Europe to increase restrictions on freedom of religion and clandestine efforts by some countries through their NGO proxies – by providing them money, support and placing them in very important public institutions like COE, UN, OSCE and other respected organizations.
Many people, with whom I work on daily basis, often warn me to be careful in my contacts with cults or small religions. They are dedicated human beings. Their hearts beat for justice and equality. They fight against racism, want to eliminate discrimination and intolerance.
But when it comes to religions which are small in their eyes or who are under constant attack in the western media, the same decent people, all of a sudden become prejudiced and intolerant. It is heart breaking. I simply do not understand their logic.
I do not divide people according to their religions. I think there are good people and there are nasty ones in all societies and religions. There is no religion, which has a patent on goodness and nobility. Not even my own religion – Islam and definitely not Christianity. If every thing the western media says about my religion is true, then I must be the most primitive, intolerant, uneducated and fanatical terrorist of all times.
I think that the holders of this so-called western civilization are afraid to admit that there are other alternatives to their way of living and solving society’s problems.
In the month of June 2001, something very unusual happened in French history. French President Jacques Chirac signed a bill, which practically prevents small religions and faiths to exercise their right to propagate and recruit new followers.
The main argument for the law was that it will scare the new age religions and sects to brain wash innocent and weak souls. These sects are in the eyes of the French State, dangerous and oppressive therefore it is clearly the duty of the State to act to protect its citizens.
It is worth remembering that the same French State does not allow Muslim girls to wear scarf in schools, Sikhs to wear Turban, Christians can not wear a cross and Jewish people, their Kippah. I call it secularism gone wild by attacking all religions.
Of course, it would be difficult to argue against or for such actions since all States are sovereign and have the constitutional right to protect it’s citizens from external and internal threats. Problem arises when the case is prepared not against an individual or an organization but as a warning shot against all religions which the State itself defines dangerous and disapprove of.
Such visible attacks are being conducted by Miviludes, an official French governmental body created to fight against abuses by sects. In reality, it is nothing more than a group of French right wing establishment Catholics in disguise, trying to monopolize all religious and moral space in France.
The second worrisome aspect of this particular law has been that it did not remain only the French issue but such laws are also being put in place or are under consideration in other European countries. Germany, Austria, Belgium and Russia are some of the countries where very powerful campaigns have been launched not only against new age religions and sects but also against established religions such as Judaism and Islam.
There are active anti-sect lobbies that morally, financially and politically inspire, support and back unending propaganda and thus are directly responsible for a political climate, where such discriminatory laws are being passed. These are called “anti-sect movements” in many European countries. We can now ask: Where are the human rights of those individuals who do want to follow scientology, Church of Unification, Hari Krishna, Jehovah’s Witness or hundreds of other religions?
Talking of human rights. Every political or religious leader, member of a parliament, media editor or a business professional agrees that human rights are important. But even in some highly enlightened and respected democracies in European Union, individuals are being discriminated against because of their religious belief.
What if you went to the bank one day and were told your accounts had been closed because you are a Catholic? You applied for membership in a political party and you were told they do not accept Protestants. Would it not be discrimination?
What if your application for a job was thrown in a dustbin because your name was Hassan or you were demoted on your job with no prospects of advancement, because you have a Jewish background?
That would be unacceptable and discriminatory in every sense.
But these are just a few of the examples of the types of discrimination affecting countless citizens of the European Union who have chosen to think differently and join a new religious movement.
These are real human rights abuses and something must be done about it.
These are real human rights abuses and something must be done about it.
The pages of the newspapers are filled with the problems humanity is facing. Who does not know the problem of illiteracy, drug abuse, lack of education, stress, lack of parental care, wars and the problem of human rights violations? The list goes on.
Did you know that up to 25% of the adult population in twelve of the world's richest countries is so functionally illiterate that they can not write a check or read a prescription? How can they enjoy their rights when they do not have the education to understand them? Something must be done about it.
We seldom hear about solutions. Very few people offer practical solutions. New religions are trying to come up with solutions. At least we can appreciate their efforts instead of criticizing them all the time.
I also believe that if an individual is mistreated, abused, taken advantage of or brain washed by a sect, a priest, an organization or for that matter the State itself, he or she should be given all support to redress the situation through the courts. Let the rule of the law be the judge.
Now, I want to share with you a recent personal experience, which made a non-religious person like me furious, sad and aware of the inner working of such organizations, which are working to spread hate and false rumors against religions-small and even big.
As some of you can remember, EMISCO had a conference about Islamophobia in the European Parliament- Brussels on 9th January 2013. There, a lady participant came to me and said that since I work with religious discrimination, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, she wanted to give me a book of interest. She handed me a book and told me to read it. I thanked the lady and gave her my visit card. Since I get so many publications in the conferences, I did not take notice at that point.
However when I came home and looked at all the material, I collected in Brussels, the title of the book that kind lady gave me caught my attention. It is called: "Freedom of Religion or Belief - Anti-Sect Movements and State Neutrality. A Case Study: FECRIS".
I was rather struck at the professionalism of the authors because it was compiled by various European academics and experts like, Attorney-at-Law of Paris Bar, Patricia Duval and Sociologist/Assistant professor Regis Dericquebourg as well as organization Human Rights Without Frontiers and many more. The book was published in Berlin in 2012.
Since I have come across the name of this organization in various places like UN in Geneva, OSCE in Warsaw and also in Strasbourg meetings about religions, I became curious to know, if what the book was saying was true or false.
After few months, the same lady contacted me on the phone and told me that FECRIS is going to have a conference in Copenhagen on 30th May. She also gave me a link to a member organization of FECRIS, from Belgium called AVISO, where I found the news and the description of the conference as well as the program.
I contacted my journalist friends in Denmark and abroad to find out any contact person for the conference but it appeared that the conference was a very secret affair without any publicity in the press – internationally or Danish. Even later I saw that the Belgian NGO AVISO had removed the mention of the conference on its website.
So on 30th May, I decided to try my luck at the entrance in the hope that my TV Press Card could give the possibility to attend the important conference.
I was just curious as to what FECRIS works with and what it thinks about indoctrination in big religions, such as Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Judaism.
I was very fortunate that at the gate, I met Mr. Disier Pachoud, whose organization GEMPPI is a prominent member of FICRIS and he is the treasurer too. I showed him by Press Card and he very kindly took me with him and even introduced with the President of FECRIS, Mr. Tom Sackville from UK.
I was given a front seat row, besides Daniele Muller-Tulli and other board members. From that close proximity, I took some pictures of the speakers and made notes of the speeches. Without going in to details of the nature and quality of lectures, I was perturbed by the harsh language against smaller religions and how all of them were exploiting as well as enslaving innocent people.
But I was also impressed by the emphasize all speakers were putting on human rights, respect for individual freedom, equality before law and FICRIS’s determination to expose those who live in luxury on disciples hard work and naivety.
All very noble aims, I thought.
In the Coffee break, I went to Mr. Sackville and tapped an interview with him for an article for my Face book and may be for wider distribution in the media.
In my interview, I told him who I was and then asked him the following questions:
· What are sects or cults in his opinion and how FECRIS advises its member organizations?
· Do not people have a right to form or belong to a religion, a sect or a cult?
· If sects/cults or small religions break the law, why does not FECRIS take them to court, instead of campaigning against these?
· What was FECRIS position with regard to indoctrination going on in large organized religions?
· Why FECRIS was working closely with organization like CRS from Russia, whose head Mr. Alexander Dvorkin is famous for anti-Islam lectures and is the Vice President of FECRIS?
· Why a large part of the program was dedicated against Scientology?
My last two questions, especially about Scientology visibly irritated Mr. Sackville but he kept his cool and we parted amicably. While I was having tea, a very angry Mr. Dvorkin approached me and demanded to know, why I have accused him for giving anti-Islam lectures. Apparently, Mr. Sackvile has told him about my question.
I explained to him that I have found many articles and You Tube videos on the Internet and even Muslim organizations in Russia have complained to the government about his anti-Islam activities. He first denied and blamed the bad translations from Russian to English but when I asked him to send me a Russian text, he accused me to be a Scientologist spy who has infiltrated the conference.
I quietly took my tea and when I came back to my seat, I was encircled by at least 6 officials of FECRIS, demanding the truth and what I was doing in this private conference and who has invited me and where I would use the photos and notes.
I calmly explained to them the whole situation, pointed out that their treasurer had invited me in and even gave them some names from COE to verify who I was. They demanded to see my Press Card again, which I obliged but one of their officials threatened to throw me out. He even remembered me from a UN Conference from Geneva and accused me of being Muslim fundamentalist.
I can honestly tell you that in my entire political life, where I have discussed with most hardcore racists, Islamophobes and anti-Semites, I had never felt to uneasy.
While this was going on, Mr. Sackville went on the podium and addressed the delegates and said: We have a scientologist among us and his name is Mr. Bashy Quraishy.
I then and there decided to leave the meeting because the atmosphere was getting ugly, threatening and unpleasant. One never knows, what can happen in such tense situations where a single person is confronting an angry mob. One positive note is that the man who invited me in. Didier Pachoud turned out to be a kind and reasonable person who did try to calm the situation. Many members of FECRIS were boasting their strong links and influence with COE and UN and how the French government supports them financially.
I was simply shocked at the rude and threatening behavior of some top officials of FICRIS. After all, it claims to fight against injustice, exploitation and slave like existence of cult disciples. I fail to understand and honestly, I am appalled that an organization, which gets substantial financial support from tax payers money on the name of promoting and protecting the rights of the families who supposedly suffer at the hands of some sects and cults, would act in such a dictatorial manner towards a guest whose only crime was to ask its president some tough questions.
What happened to that transparency, which FECRIS demands from the spiritually inclined groups and religious organizations? Why FECRIS was so intolerant and secretive towards a journalist who gave them all the information, its top officials asked? Either FECRIS has a hidden agenda or it is no better than those it claims to fight against.
My impression was and still is of anger, sadness and utter disgust. Since, I am a fighter for justice, I told them before leaving; You have chosen the wrong person to mess with. I am not going to accept such uncivilized and frankly speaking – despicable behavior. I have complained to COE, written articles and have made a video of the whole affair and the rest is history.
What can be done?
As a human rights campaigner, I am very worried by the onslaught of the modern secularism, resulting in the fact that it has become the new state sponsored religion of most of the European countries. This new form of secular ideology is uncompromising in its dealing with religious communities. Ironically it also does, what it blames the religions for, namely “oppress the others”.
Many states, like France, Belgium, Italy and Spain provide substantial funding to so-called secular networks, which enable these to campaign vigorously against religious communities – big and small. These anti-religion movements work on local, national and European level in a very organized manner.
Unfortunately, networks, NGOs and individuals working against religious discrimination are themselves, not working in union and in a professional as well as co-coordinated fashion.
This lack of a combined effort is in fact hindering most of the efforts, which goes into rejecting and countering religious discrimination, thus producing very little visible results.
To establish such missing co-operation, EMISCO proposes the following:
1. Traditional large religions together with smaller faith/religions must support each other against State Discrimination and counter propaganda from anti-religion networks like FECRIS. We do not need to have agreements on each other’s doctrines, dogmas and convictions because our adversary is right in front of our faces, namely discrimination and our common tool is human rights.
2. Building of strong alliances to lobby local/national/EU politicians, parliaments, EU institutions, International organizations like COE, OSCE, FRA and UN.
3. Establish a Centre, which monitors the media -both mainstream and social- coverage of religious minorities strengthen the contacts with progressive journalists, respond to negative statements quickly and professionally. Media is even more powerful than politicians because they also use it to convey their own secular messages.
4. Strengthen initiatives and organizations, which are already working with inter-faith training, raising awareness and train activists. Brussels based NGO CEJI is a good example of practical work in this area.
5. Seminars and conferences are very good tools but there is a need to have a substantial campaigns to highlight the work of anti-religious movements. It can be done by putting the spotlights on their activities through press releases, videos, Twitters, Face book postings and producing a ”Name and Shame” list of leading members of such movements.
My great wish is that the world should be based on satisfying the needs of all, instead of some. I want a world where many different cultures and religions live in harmony, where human beings are judged by the strength of their character and kindness of their hearts and not by the color of their skin or by the name of their religion.