Patronizing in the name of dialogue
The British council, whose purpose of which is to promote Britishness around the world, invited to London, people from all over Europe to an event called the Living Together Summit. The intention was to promote ethnic equality and intercultural dialogue in the context of the corresponding European Council theme year.
These are fine and noble causes.
The majority of the participants came from the Eastern and South Eastern areas of Europe, even though there were also representatives from Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Austria. It seemed that the target was to namely teach people living in the peripheral regions of Europe to live with their minorities. The summit guests were treated like Soviet delegations visiting abroad in the old days, accomodated in a luxurious hotel and driven around in groups by bus. That’s how an insignificant person is made to feel grateful to the hosts so that he doesn’t wander around by himself.
The summit was a chaotic mixture of different kinds of minority rhetoric, and even the organizers seemed unknowledgeable of what is it that combines the fascinating and diverse ethnic issues in Nordic, Baltic, Balkan and other peripheral European areas into a meaningful whole. That was perhaps the reason – or there were other political reasons – why the main theme turned out to be Islam and its inevitable entry into Europe. In this way Islam monopolized the discussion about cultural differences and all other groups – from Israeli Russians to Albanian Orthodox people and from Serbian Hungarians to Austrian Slovenes became an unified, non-Muslim “majority”.
[TT: It was inevitable]
Despite the fact that there were only a handful of Muslims among the two-hundred strong multi-ethnic audience – mainly from Denmark, Norway and Finland – the location of the prayer room was made known and at the conference dinner all participants were served halal meat butchered according to Islamic regulations, which violate the EU legislation against cruelty to animals. Who could have requested a special diet requiring that the Animal Protection laws were complied with? To be fair, there was rice porridge available for vegetarians.
[TT: The purpose of the conference couldn’t be any more clear, all the other mentionables were just window dressing. It’s all about Islam, how it can be accomodated, and how tolerant the west must become to their own eventual submission and conversion]
Most of the discussions were conducted according to the Chatham house rule meaning that the speeches could not be publicly quoted. The plenary sessions, on the other hand, were public. In the first of those the Deputy Secretary of European Council Maud de Boer-Buquicchio spoke against “insulting religion” and specifically condemned the Quran critical film made by her fellow countryman Geert Wilders and to be published in the near future. However, she had not seen the film.
According to Boer-Buquicchio, not insulting religion is more important than freedom of speech. She encouraged us all to use our freedom of speech to say a steep “no” to hatemongers like Wilders. She did not say “no” to murders, death threats and assaults made in the name of religion.
The summit opening ceremony ended with video sermon, in which a European mufti said that Islam would bring peace, harmony and human rights to Europe. The Mufti was speaking on video and not personally, so we were unable to ask him why is it that Islamic countries do not want to sign the UN Declarations of Human Rights as such.
[TT: No need to muck up the pro-Islamization orientated message with thoughtful dissenting views]
The work group discussions seemed partially like kindergarten lessons. The chairmen explained what identity, stereotype and discrimination meant: “Look, there are several steps having the same height in the staircase. That is a stereotype. You should not think this way about human beings.” At times it felt like the organizers would rather like the participants to not think at all.
[TT: Yes that was the intention]
The public – consisting of experts in various fields, journalists, parliamentarians, civil servants and minority representatives – listened closely but only at times broke up in arguing whether some country treats its minorities badly, or if the majority population were to blame for Madrid and London bombings, and from that if the Independent newspaper – in the name of equality – should also have used people recognizable as Jews and Christians in their illustration of their article about Iraqi suicide bombers.
At the end of the event a well-known multicultural theoretician Bikhu Parekh declared in his usual way that the era of the nation state is over and that national identity no longer has any meaning, because it will inevitably be changed by the turmoil of historical forces. It wasn’t a very comforting message to representatives of small nations, but it received a loud ovation.
Despite the well-meaning purpose, the attitude of the organizers towards “the students” seemed arrogant. Some of the old free world representatives still cannot regards those coming from the second and third world as adults or real people. As long as this transparently patronizing attitude is not replaced with interchange among equals, which may contain disturbing disagreements as well, the battles by the West to win the world’s citizens’ “hearts and minds” are doomed to fail.
Iivi Anna Masso
[PhD in Political Science, Iivi Anna Masso is an Estonian born Political analyst and freelance writer currently residing in Helsinki. She has studied totalitarianism, liberalism, feminism, multiculturalism and other ideologies and taught political philosophy, equality theory and human rights in the university.]