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Freedoms of religion and belief are at risk

A white card of Renier Nijskens, Honorary Ambassador, Béatrice de Liedekerke, citizen and mother of a family, Guillaume Dos Santos, citizen and father of a family.

Reacting to a petition from 48 members of the European Parliament, the European Commission has just decided to appoint a Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU.

This post, created in May 2016 and occupied by Slovak Jan Figel, had been vacant since 2019. But in view of the growing threats around the world in terms of freedom of religion and belief, President Ursula von der Leyen wanted to take on a commitment strength of the EU to promote worldwide respect for all religions and beliefs.

The mandate of this Special Envoy explicitly provides that the freedom of thought, conscience and religion is a fundamental human right and it therefore also includes the freedom not to believe, as well as the freedom to leave a religion.

Therefore, if a conviction wants to be shared and aspire to unanimity, it can only achieve this with absolute respect for the freedom of others. In fact, this tolerant approach is made easier for Christianity in Europe where it does not constitute a threat to pluralism.

What is so powerful about the Christian religion that we want to silence it?

Need it be repeated that the freedoms of religion and belief are at risk in too many parts of the world? These freedoms do not mix well with authoritarian regimes of all stripes, as reported in North Korea, Syria, or against the Yazidis, and Eastern Christians in general. The rise of Daesh in Nigeria (Boko Haram) and in the Sahel has brought dramatic situations there where tolerance and interfaith friendliness traditionally reigned. Even in a well-established democracy like India, Christians are subject to multiple forms of discrimination.

Other equally unjust and inadmissible situations are the fate of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, Uyghurs in China, non-Muslim minorities in Pakistan or even apostates who have decided to leave Islam and secular atheists exercising their right to expression, like the teacher Samuel Paty who paid for it with his life in abominable circumstances, and this in the very heart of Europe.

According to a 2019 report commissioned by the British Foreign Office, the persecution of Christians sometimes even reaches genocidal levels, while anti-Semitism is also on the rise. The same goes for Islamophobia.

The organization ‘Open Doors’ estimates that more than 340 million Christians suffer some form of persecution and discrimination because of their belief, that is, one in six people in Africa, two in five in Asia and one in twelve in Latin America. Seeing the enormous and dramatic efforts made by such diverse regimes in such different societal contexts to counter Christian minorities, the question deserves to be asked: “What is so powerful about the Christian religion that do we want to silence it or even make it disappear when it is all sweet? Where does this strength come from that even the power of death does not overcome it? Christianity, which requires loving even its enemies and taking the defense of the weak and the oppressed in the face of the power in place, announces itself at its origin as a subversion of the logics of power.

In Belgium, a country of tolerance and inclusiveness, the Federal Parliament adopted in July 2020, almost unanimously, a resolution calling on the government to put an end to targeted campaigns of persecution and violence against Christian communities and all minorities. religious and ideological from North Africa, the Near and Middle East. It also wholeheartedly and strongly condemns all forms of discrimination and intolerance based on religion and belief, now and in the future, wherever they occur in the world. It is therefore surprising to note that no Belgian Euro-parliamentarian has co-signed the petition of his 48 colleagues to restore the function of Special Envoy …

The measures related to the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic are very badly felt by believers of all religions who live in community. The limitation to 15 people in places of worship, even where large spaces allow careful distancing, prevent believers from living their faith normally at a time when they would particularly need it. Are we not witnessing, within the framework of these government anti-Covid measures, a finding of forgetting of the religious fact? Indifference is also found in the media, which relay very little the serious facts of religious persecution in the world.

A message of freedom and tolerance

The notions of tolerance and brotherhood between believers of all religions and non-believers are found in the Christian message, in particular in the recent encyclical of Pope Francis: ‘Fratelli Tutti’.

“We Christians ask for freedom in countries where we are a minority, as we favor it for those who are not Christians where they are in the minority. … This freedom affirms that we can” find a good agreement between different cultures and religions; it testifies that the things we have in common are so numerous and so important that it is possible to find a way of serene, orderly and peaceful cohabitation, in the reception of differences … “(Fratelli Tutti, §279.)

The last papal trip to Iraq provided him with the opportunity to reiterate this message of universal brotherhood.

This powerful message of freedom, tolerance and brotherhood was launched during the 2019 meeting between Pope Francis and Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, a spiritual figure in the Muslim world. In their joint declaration on the Human Brotherhood, they assert that religions do not incite war and do not invite feelings of hatred, hostility, extremism, nor invite violence or outpouring. of blood. These misfortunes are the fruit of the deviation of religious teachings, of the political use of religions and also of the interpretations of groups of religious men who have abused – at certain phases of history – the influence of religious sentiment on men’s hearts. ” [… nous déclarons] adopt the culture of dialogue as a path; common collaboration as conduct; reciprocal knowledge as a method and criterion ”.

Fanaticism, as the Dominican brother Adrien Candiard reminds us in his last work Fanaticism (editions du Cerf), is never “too full of faith”, but a lack of faith; an idolatry of religious dogma more than a love of God.

We can only wish this new Special Envoy every success, who will carry high across the world, one of the deepest historical and human values ​​characterizing the vocation of the EU, that of a freedom allowing the human and spiritual development of each in mutual respect.

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