How to tackle hate incidents and crimes against Christians?
The Chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the relevant Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) have organised an event in order to reflect on the phenomenon of hate incidents and crimes against Christians.
The 11-12 September 2011 OSCE meeting on preventing and responding to hate incidents and crimes against Christians was a welcome contribution to raising awareness of the issue. It also constituted a positive follow-up to the recent Resolution of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly on combating intolerance and discrimination against Christians in the OSCE area. The building up of a reliable international database concerning anti-Christian acts was one of the recommendations. Among the speakers, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev emphasised that practice shows that the position of the majority, which is comprised of traditional Christians in almost all the OSCE participating states, is far from being the best guarantee of their rights. He also mentioned the danger of ‘using’ religious diversity as an excuse for excluding signs of Christian civilisation from the public and political realities of the continent. The Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States, H.E. Mgr. Dominique Mamberti, recalled that while one could observe that most of the hate crimes against Christians happen outside the OSCE area, there are clearly worrying signs inside it as well; in this sense, he quoted the last ODIHR annual hate crime report which refers to episodes, not only of desecration of places of worship, arson and other property damage, but also of attacks on worshippers and religious leaders mentioned in the report. He also linked the prevention of hate crimes with the promotion and consolidation of religious freedom in its fullest and most complete expression, while pointing out that the absence of violent persecution against Christians does not equate with an absence of the phenomenon at issue: acts motivated by prejudice against Christians in Europe are increasingly surfacing. In the light of this, Mgr. Mamberti called for the development of concrete measures to combat intolerance against Christians.
Trends of a growing phenomenon
The OSCE event offers a good opportunity for some reflections. First of all, a link exists between episodes of intolerance and discrimination against Christians and the role of Churches and religion in public life, as well as with the unhindered exercise of the fundamental right to religious freedom in Europe. In particular, some anti-Christian acts seem to be aimed at intimidating the Church and the Christian community, so as to ensure their desired ‘expulsion’ from the public square and exclusion from public debate. The contribution of aggressive secularism and atheism in creating a climate that is conducive to phenomena and practices of discrimination and intolerance against Christians should also not be overlooked. The most vocal supporters of a staunchly secularist agenda (in Brussels and elsewhere) show, in the best of cases, minimal interest in the need to counter such phenomena. It must also be said that some worrying episodes concerning Christians would not be as easily attempted - or at the least as easily tolerated - with regard to other religious communities or minority groups and this would justify a deeper reflection on the causes of this situation. It is important to make sure that giving greater priority to protection for other minority religions - and indeed other minority groups - does not inadvertently lead to a weakening of the attention given to an equally necessary respect for Christians.
Another trend that has emerged in recent times is the conspicuous decrease in tolerance for the visual presence of Christianity in the public environment, as sometimes intolerance and discrimination against Christians is manifested in the fact of not even being able to bear the sight of the symbols of the Christian faith. An entirely different chapter should finally be devoted to those organisations and minority groups that call for tolerance towards themselves, while in turn showing intolerance vis-à-vis religion (and in particular Christianity) by ridiculing or even insulting the Church during public events.
Some possible reactions
Concerning the phenomenon of intolerance and discrimination against Christians, the first rule should be not to underestimate it: often episodes are either subtle or go unreported by the press. The priority should therefore be to keep the awareness at a high level and in some cases to build on an awareness that is either very weak or non-existing.
As for countering the phenomenon in question, it is not just a matter of criminal sanctions. Educational activities regarding the fight against racism and xenophobia should be accompanied by similar initiatives countering anti-Christian acts and attitudes; more generally, teaching materials and curricula should present positive views on and emphasise the essential contribution of Christianity, including its role in fostering a more tolerant society.
Churches can, evidently, be a paramount source of information and recommendations as to the way to tackle the issue; at the national level, solutions should be identified in the context of a reasonably structured dialogue between public institutions and Church representatives, ideally also at the regional and local levels.
Media also have a responsibility: they should not only be encouraged to avoid creating the environment (or nurturing those attitudes) that can lead to acts of intolerance and discrimination against Christians, but should also promote respect and tolerance, while countering hostile stereotypes concerning them.
A more incisive response and prevention could also derive from training the judicial and law-enforcement personnel and from making them fully aware about anti-Christian hate incidents and crimes.
Institutional support for those organisations that contribute to fighting and eradicating these phenomena would also facilitate more effective strategies and a more dynamic planning of actions. It is often very important for such entities not to be (or not to feel) ‘left alone’ by national or supranational institutions. On the other hand, any kind of financial or even non-financial support for organisations or groups that either directly or indirectly, explicitly or implicitly, support or carry out actions of intolerance and discrimination against Christians should be withdrawn. In this way, among other things, more funding could effectively be directed to research initiatives, so as to deepen reflection and strengthen the collection of data and the basis for further actions.
As for other non-Christian religious communities, they are also called upon to be prominent in unambiguously supporting and standing by Christians when they are attacked, discriminated against or are subject to intolerance. This can be usefully complemented by fruitful dialogue and cooperation between different Churches and religious communities.
Finally, it is important to prevent the instrumentalisation of the entire issue of hate incidents and crimes by some minority groups, which threatens to curtail freedom of expression and of religion.
A lot is being done to fight against anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. However, recent data suggest that it is urgent to complete the picture through an equally vigorous effort to counter hate incidents and crimes against Christians in Europe.
It remains to be seen whether in the coming years the EU institutions will consider the question with the same zeal devoted to other issues or continue with the rather lethargic attitude that seems to prevail at the moment. Ultimately, hate incidents and crimes against Christians in Europe should be subject to the same criteria applicable to other, perhaps more publicised, phenomena of our times (for example, Islamophobia): blowing it out of proportion would be pointless, underestimating it would be a mistake.