The media often covers religious issues, but it is usually the extremes that get airtime and column space. Therefore, the media should reconsider its ethics, and include more nuances in the debate. This was one of the conclusions to emerge from speeches and a panel discussion at a conference on anti-radicalization held on Wednesday.
Author: Svend Løbner
Two years after the terrorist attack on Krudttønden and the Jewish synagogue in Copenhagen more than 100 participants from Denmark and the Middle East were gathered for a conference on prevention of extremism through dialogue. The conference took place Wednesday, February 22, 2017 at Vartov, near City Hall Square, in Copenhagen, Denmark, and debated, among other issues, the role of religion in the public sphere, and what measures are needed to prevent religious and political extremism.
Reject the idea of a clash of civilizations.
“Military solutions are not enough, even though terrorists are fought that way. We must start long before the conflicts surface and prevent radicalism through dialogue“, initiated Charlotte Slente, who is the Foreign Ministry´s Centre Chief for global policy and security.
She gave a clear hint to the Danish media: “We should not mention Muslims in very broad terms; this will only escalate the conflicts. We must reject the idea of a clash of civilizations. Radicalization can happen anywhere, and we must consider it a threat to all faiths”.
Bishop: “We should allow prayer rooms”.
The subsequent panel discussion revealed diverging opinions about how much room religion is to be given in the public space.
“Religion is not just a private matter, it is also a social phenomenon. Therefore, religion of course should have a place in the public sphere”, said Peter Fischer-Møller, Bishop of Roskilde Diocese.
Michael Aastrup Jensen, spokesperson on foreign issues for Venstre (a political party) did not agree: “There is too much religion in the public sphere. However, on the other hand it is important to do everything we can to counter radicalization. You are first and foremost Dane. Second, you belong to any religion you want. Otherwise we shall see a rise in the radicalization, not just in Muslim communities, but in other religious communities as well”.
The problem is too little knowledge about religion.
This view was opposed by among others Dr. Majeda Omar, who is rector of the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies in Jordan: “The problem is not too much religion, but a lack of knowledge about religion. The media plays a very important role in the debate about religion. We remove ourselves unfortunately from the spiritual part of religion, and that creates various conflicts”.
She was supported by Natasha Al-Hariri, who is an activist from the association Medborgerne (English: fellow citizens): “The media influences young people, who are constantly reminded of how they look, and how others see them and talk about them”.
“We must meet face to face”.
This was stated by a conference participant, Andrew Julius Bende from Uganda, who has lived seven years in Denmark. He said: “Look what you have created! I woke up one morning, and felt like a Dane until I read in Berlingske (Danish national newspaper) that every fourth citizen in Copenhagen, Denmark is not a Dane”.
“We cannot control the media, but we can support and strengthen local communities”, said Bishop Peter Fischer-Møller. “We can recognize each other as fellow human beings and fellow citizens. But this only happens, when we meet face to face. If we only meet in the media, we will see each other as representatives of specific cultural traditions, and then the fear factor sets in”.
Denmark can learn from the Middle East.
Several panellists mentioned that we in Denmark can learn from the religious dialogue in the Middle East. The conference, among other visited by Yassmine ElSayed Hani, international editor of the Egyptian daily Al Akhbar, which was among the first daily newspapers in Egypt to train journalists in the principles of dialogue.
“Journalists have a great impact. After the training, we agreed on a set of ethical guidelines and values in the coverage of our stories”, said Yassmine ElSayed Hani. The newspaper Al Akhbar also holds workshops for various population segments in the local areas. “In one instance two Muslim imams and a Christian minister went to the families in the neighbourhood and asked parents to send their children and adolescents to our workshops. At first the families were reluctant, but we managed to gather 80 adolescents, and to teach them how to live together in peace despite belonging to different religions.
“No matter how different we appear to be, we have a common language, a common humanity. We all have the same concerns, hopes and dreams”, Yassmine ElSayed Hani concluded.
Translation by Michael Myrdal. Read original article here.