Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Bismuth argues against protection for minorities

The panellists at the Doha debate on minority protection

You might have thought that the proposition, 'this house believes that Arab governments need to take urgent measures to protect religious minorities' was self-evident. But in the recent debate at Doha, reported in Gulf News - two members of religious minorities opposed it.
Both Maronite Fadi Daou and Tunisian Jewish leader Roger Bismuth argued against the motion on the grounds that freedom and security were universal values. Islamic fundamentalist Sheikh Ahmed Saad and ex-Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey were strange bedfellows arguing for the motion - but Saad wanted protection from 'Islamophobia' in the UK. The subject that dare not speak its name was 'sharia' law: to play down your rights and identity, as Daou and Bismuth did, is to bow to the tyranny of the Arab/Muslim majority. (With thanks: Lily)

The Doha Debates audience last night considered the issue of minority religions in the Arab world, with the audience carrying the motion ‘This House believes Arab governments need to take urgent measures to protect religious minorities’ by 72% to 28%.

The debate focused on the situation following the Arab Spring, amidst reports that minorities have been left worse off following the revolutions throughout the region.

First to speak for the motion was the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, who argued that Arab governments must legislate to protect minorities, referring to numerous examples throughout the Arab world where minorities have been persecuted and where many have had to flee their home countries. 

Voting for the motion is voting for change and the hope that the Middle East can once again be a powerful place where human rights are an important consideration, he said.
CEO of the Adyan Foundation and Maronite priest, Fadi Daou was the first expert to speak against the motion, and he presented his opposition on the basis of three points.

He argued that a government is responsible for ensuring the security of all its citizens, instead of segregating certain groups by introducing specific laws. Secondly, he suggested that most Christians in the Arab world refuse to be considered minorities as they share the history and culture of their Muslim compatriots.

And his third point was that the most important thing for governments to protect is freedom, freedom of expression and culture, rather than the rights of individual groups. If this can be ensured, he argued, then a diverse, free and fair society can be created, in which the security of all religious groups is guaranteed.

“Integrity is the key word of the Arab Spring – not minority,” he said, emphasising his belief that intervention on the behalf of religious minorities would stigmatise the groups further and negatively affect any efforts at integration.

Former Imam of North London Central mosque, Sheikh Ahmed Saad was next to speak for the motion, saying that it is essential that governments in the Arab world recognise the need to provide security to religious minorities. 
Perhaps one of his most convincing arguments was in reference to the London 7/7 bombings, the aftermath of which included a great deal of resentment directed towards British Muslims.

He explained that his community appealed to the British government to offer protection to the country’s mosques, and while inter-faith dialogue and educational initiatives were launched, it was the government and the police force which provided the necessary protection to his particular religious minority in the UK.

However, he also argued that the lack of stable governments in the region means that the issue is even more complex, as the countries are not yet ready to offer the protection in question.

“This should be led by Arab governments and not forced on them,” he said, arguing “let us first build a house, and then worry about the furniture.”

He was followed by opposition speaker and president of the Tunisian Jewish community, Roger Bismuth, who contended that individual protection is not a viable option, but that governments must encourage a safe environment for coexistence.

He highlighted the importance of education in developing a sense of tolerance in society and eradicating misunderstandings and potential conflicts.

Consistently expressing his lack of religious identity and his focus on being Tunisian before being Jewish, he refuted suggestions that he was on the wrong side of the debate, having petitioned the Tunisian government to protect members of the Jewish community in light of recent threats.

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