One of the decisions this week at the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) has been related to the killings of journalists, police, and Jewish people in a kosher supermarket in Paris. The recommendation (to the Committee of Ministers) asks resources to be allocated to hate crime prevention.
Roots of social conflict
One contribution during these debates in the Council of Europe was, ‘the conflict is between those who think they posses the truth and those who know how to doubt.’ This sounds very sage, until perhaps one attempts to think of a conflict which does not include both sides thinking they are right and the other wrong. Perhaps the problem is the idea that others do not have any part of the truth. Without meaning to trivialise the issues we are facing, one could describe the struggle at the moment as growing pains: perhaps what is often described as the Christian roots of Europe (somehow ignoring the Jews who have lived in Europe for many centuries) is being stretched to accommodate greater diversity.
When we are in the same cultural milieu, we can easily agree that human rights seem to be quite straightforward. It’s not hard to agree that people have rights to express their identity and their opinions – it’s part of our European culture, after all. It is the contact with other, different cultures, where the frictions can arise. What about those cultures for whom faith is not a personal decision but one linked to identity?
I am reminded about the old accusations that feminists have no sense of humour – an accusation levied when a woman didn’t laugh at jokes hinging on gender roles. One doesn’t hear that too often anymore. This is because in many countries, sexism has become the minority view while awareness of discrimination against women has become the majority view. Therefore, jokes putting women back into ‘their place’ are no longer needed to try to maintain the ‘social order’.
Don’t misunderstand: I am certainly not saying that expression of opinion should be limited by others. Since our social diversity means not everyone is clever, one hopes that there will always be people who foolishly use satire. It can be difficult to distinguish foolish from clever social criticism. And we certainly need satire to puncture complacency and open possibilities for change.
However, I am saying that we should take up responsibility to evaluate the purpose and impact of our expressed views. Jokes can be used only to cause hurt: as one Muslim member of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly noted, when she saw a cartoon of the Prophet with a bomb on his head, she felt hurt as the implication categorised people of her faith: it seemed to indicate that all Muslims are potential terrorists.
Jokes can be also used to communicate feelings of hurt as well, but it could be a more direct and useful manner of engaging in a dialogue, to give words to this hurt. Are many of us suffering from fear that we cannot trust some of our neighbours ? How can we tell who to trust? Feelings of fear and insecurity is not always governed by rational thought. But one should ask, will fear ever actually help protect us?
There are different reactions to try to control feelings of fear. The PACE resolution points out that human rights of citizens should be protected even when trying to defend freedom:
“the concept of “war on terror” was misleading and unhelpful and was a threat to the entire framework of international human rights. Terrorists are criminals, not soldiers and terrorist crimes are not akin to acts of war. It calls in particular on Member States to:
14.1. ensure that a fair balance be struck between defending freedom and security and violating those very rights at the same time;
14.2. refrain from indiscriminate mass surveillance which has proven to be ineffective for the prevention of terrorism and therefore is not only dangerous for the respect of human rights but also a waste of resources …”
What is strange to an observer is that we apparently keep relearning things we already know. I guess knowing something is easier than implementing it. Dialogue is important to understanding each other and to directly being able to discuss changes. People who feel respected enough to be spoken with – rather than treated as ‘the other’ – are less likely to feel a desire to destroy other people. This is one reason why the swing to anti-Muslim feeling is not going to help heal fear.
We need to think consciously about hate crime. QCEA is currently doing research on this and has found that hate crime is not uniformly defined never mind recorded in all Council of Europe Member States (see graph for an idea of the range.) An objective look at ourselves will help us also evaluate when our satirists are being foolish, and when they are expressing a view which incites hatred. Monitoring and recording of hate crime will give us a warning regarding trends and opportunity to develop more dialogue between diverse elements of our societies.
Acknowledgement: this blog was written with input from Andrew Lane, who is leading the QCEA project on hate crime.