By Shirin Ebadi
Values such as human rights are international standards that apply to all cultures and religions across national boundaries. For this reason, it is meaningless to speak of eastern or western, or, Islamic and Christian human rights.
However, the equality of individuals belonging to diverse traditions and religions with respect to human rights is accompanied by another principle, which is the equality of individuals in entitlement to “respect” and “social esteem.” Simply put, the principle that human beings must not be subjected to discrimination because of their race, religion or tradition.
This point is of more importance today, particularly in European nations such as France. It is so because Europe’s demographics have changed very much in the aftermath of the Second World War and particularly in the past twenty years, and the number of immigrants who have arrived from various backgrounds and most of whom are interested in retaining their national and native heritage is increasing.
Unfortunately, there are many radical groups in the immigrant community with members from the second or third generation of immigrants. This means that European education and socialization has failed in achieving its goal. A while ago an Arab woman opened up to me to share the story of how she had left her homeland with so much difficulty to come to Europe to give her children a chance to grow up in an open society. She had left behind annoying traditions such as mandatory Hejab [Islamic covering for women] to come to Europe, but now her fifteen year old daughter – who was born in a European country and has European citizenship – had suddenly decided to appear with a kind of Hejab in society that, more than anything else, resembled a kind of radicalism. This mother told me that had she known that her daughter would choose such a path, she would never had left her homeland and suffer hardships of immigration. She wanted my advice, and now I pose this question to you and French intellectuals: what happened to this girl that has attracted her to radicalism?
The natural reaction of a person looked upon with contempt is radicalism and engagement in exaggerated behavior in preserving things that he or she regards as signs of identity, especially when higher social values are not yet grasped. For some time now a phenomenon has emerged in certain European societies that has left a mark on schools and educational institutions, and that is belittling and looking down on non-European cultures and religions. We often hear reports that in certain schools Muslims are insulted and students who are not “European Christians” are shunned by others. This phenomenon is visible on other levels among the families of these students.
Without a doubt, however, events such as September 11 and the Madrid attacks and, in general, increasing terrorist activities that know no logic but bombs and violence have been very influential in spreading such views. But are all Muslims terrorists? Are radicalism and superstitions simply products of immigration? Is any woman who wears the Hejab a Bin Laden ally and propagator of Taliban’s ideology?
This is where we have to, before anything else, begin with schools. If we do not teach European children and teenagers that respect for diverse civilizations is the basis of mutual recognition, we will witness more disruptions and divisions in the future, all of which arise out of lack of tolerance for others.
We will have peace only when we include others in the future that we envision for ourselves.
Globalization will be regarded as a positive historic development only when it is able to increase the chances of “global peace” and reduces present inequalities in the world. Otherwise, hoping to change today’s tragic conditions in the future will not be based on reality.
[The above was an excerpt of Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi’s speech while receiving an honorary doctorate – her twenty-third – from Poitiers University in France and posted on Sunday, 7 December 2008 at Rooz online: http://www.roozonline.com/english/archives/2008/12/radicalism_and_contempt.html ]