World Interfaith Harmony Week: The Role of Religious Institutions in Combatting Hate Speech

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World Interfaith Harmony Week: The Role of Religious Institutions in Combatting Hate Speech

“Don’t remain passive. Speak out! Speak out!”

– Adama Dieng, United Nations Under-Secretary-General, Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, reflecting on his work and the need to always speak out against injustice.

To commemorate World Interfaith Harmony Week, Intersections participated in an event at the United Nations titled “Addressing Hate Speech and Preventing Incitement to Discrimination, Hostility and Violence: Synergies within the United Nations System.” Member state representatives from Morocco, Bangladesh and Italy began the conversation by stressing the importance of interfaith dialogue: religious leaders have an influential capacity to promote peace and religious tolerance, especially in order combat hate speech, discrimination and other forms of prejudice that may lead to violence. The panelists referenced a robust set of resources created by the United Nations on the topic, such as the Fez Plan of Action. the UN Strategy and Plan of Action Hate Speech and the UN Plan of Action for Religious Leaders and Actors to Prevent Incitement to Violence. They underscored the importance of multilateralism and collaboration with civil society organizations and religious institutions in order to ensure that the tools and resources created by the UN are properly shared with those working on-the-ground and directly serving their communities. Political goodwill and people-centric governance, with a focus on human rights, is the only way in which states can best address issues of hate speech and discrimination.

“We must honor the principles of faith that support human rights.”

– Dr. Azza Karam from UNFPA and the UN Inter-Agency Task Force on Religion and Development

The second panel accentuated the role of multi-faith organizations as a powerful convening entity and the need for all actors to be united in the fight against hate speech. Referenced by the panelists were the Rabat Plan of Action and Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, two additional resources that work to uphold religious freedom and protect individuals against hatred. Nihal Saad from the Untied Nations Alliance of Civilizations also mentioned how technology and social media play an imperative role in disseminating hate speech worldwide; she stressed that we must engage more young religious actors and learn to use technology more effectively in order to promote tolerance and deeper understanding. Rev. Doug Leonard from the World Council of Churches remarked on the importance of holding space for women of faith to serve as leaders in dismantling hate. He added that while governments have a legislative capacity to address hate speech and discrimination, religions have a transformational capacity to solve this issue through the right programming and relationship-building.

Craig Mokhiber from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights echoed this sentiment in his remarks that faith can be a propitious tool to speak out against injustice, referring to the “Faith for Rights” framework. He summarized what we can do now to take collective action as a coalition of member states, organizations and religious leaders to fight against hate speech and discrimination:

  • Programming
  • Education
  • Media campaigns
  • Public information
  • Solidarity with victims

He concluded by stating that the true measure of progress in this work is not in the amount of hate speech that continues to occur globally, but by the amount of proper responses to these incidents by governments, civil society and faith-based communities.