Using culture and religion to combat incitement: David Matas

From David Matas’ talk at the recent CRRF Webinar, ‘The Power of Words’ (see earlier post CRRF Webinar: Multiculturalism and The Power of Words) and the particular need for the voices of insiders:

The effort to combat human rights violating discourse must be the work of both insiders and outsiders.  Leaving the efforts to others, the outsiders, is a recipe for failure.  Leaving the efforts to outsiders creates an artificial impression of foreign cultural or religious imposition which undermines the advocacy of universality of the standards.

For insiders to assume sole responsibility has the same effect. By leaving the struggle to insiders alone, we create the impression that incitement is an issue for the particular religion or culture alone rather than for us all.

Insiders have a special risk and a special role.  Only insiders can be accused of treason or apostasy.  Only insiders can speak with authority to what the culture or religion truly is.

Ideally, leadership in the struggle against human rights violating discourse should come from within, from the leaders of the cultural or religious community. Solidarity should come from without.  Universality must be more than a word.  It must be demonstrated in fact.  We who are outsiders should be supporting those in every religious and cultural community who stand against incitement emanating from that community.

There is a direct linkage between incitement and other human rights violations.  War propaganda leads to war. Incitement to terrorism leads to terrorism.  Incitement to discrimination leads to discrimination.  Both incitement to genocide and hate propaganda lead to genocide.

There is a direct linkage between the abuse of the religious and cultural idioms to propagate terror, war, genocide, hatred and discrimination and the terrorism, war, discrimination and mass killings in which some members of the culture or religion engage. In some situations, and I see this often in my refugee practice, the opponents in-country of this propaganda emanating from their own culture or religion become primary targets of the propagators.  Standing against incitement in a country without respect for the rule of law means you yourself will become a target for the inciters.

In that situation global solidarity is essential, both within and without the culture or religion from which the incitement emanates. We need to cross the cultural, linguistic, geographic and religious divide not just to show the universality of rights and solidarity with the victims but also as a simple practical matter.  Whether inside or outside the culture or religion, only those outside the country where violations are rampant can there be unequivocal public opposition to human rights violating discourse.

To a certain extent, this problem exists even in countries benefiting from the rule of law.  In countries with the rule of law, those opposed to incitement within their culture or religion may not face the risk of physical harm.  But in a situation where the discourse of incitement in the culture or religion is prevalent, opponents to the discourse within the culture or the religion may face ostracism and scorn.  They risk becoming pariahs in their own communities.

How many of us are prepared to confront our parents, our siblings, our neighbours, our community leaders when they engage in discourse which would be objectively labelled incitement to genocide, hatred, discrimination, terrorism or war? How many of us would hesitate to risk personal relationships in order to stand up against incitement uttered by someone close to us?  How many of us would rather leave the confrontation to a stranger?

Yet, the reality is that a challenge from someone from the same community or culture is likely to have more impact on the genocide/ hate/ terrorism/ war/ discrimination promoter than a challenge from someone culturally or religiously remote. It may be easy for an inciter to shrug off outsiders. It is harder to shrug off your own.

I have avoided giving examples partly because it is invidious to give one or two, partly because it would more than exhaust my time and your patience to be comprehensive, but mostly because I am confident that every one participating can think of examples on his or her own.  While each of us should be thinking about how we can help others in other cultural or religious communities to address the problem of incitement, primarily we should be thinking of what we can do each in our own cultural or religious community to combat this scourge.

Using culture and religion to combat incitement

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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