Radicalism and Contempt

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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 ]

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