Terrorism that targets minority ethnic groups, and religious minorities in particular, defies the universal principles of civilisation and human coexistence itself.
The situation in Nigeria, where the extremist sect Boko Haram, which has gained in strength over recent years by implementing a strategy of striking Christian churches during the practice of religious rites is, therefore, a source of intense concern. The terrifying toll has come to nearly 1,000 dead over the past three years, more than 300 in 2010 alone. The massacre at Christmas last year, and at Easter this year, will remain forever etched in our memory, even as every Sunday we find ourselves sadly tallying the dead and wounded and facing the increasingly concrete risk of an unacceptable spiral of violence. No one is safe from a sectarian and fundamentalist extremism that targets the humanism that links the great monotheistic religions.
Thanks to an effective convergence of values that unites our government, parliament and civil society, Italy has long sustained strong policies aimed at the encouragement and defence of religious freedom in the broadest sense: the freedom to believe or not to believe, to practice one’s faith, to convert and be converted unconditioned by anything but one’s own conscience.
This is an effort that takes place on three levels. This first is a wholly diplomatic one, and the results have been duly concrete and immediate. Italy has been a driving force behind interventions on behalf of religious freedom, and intends to maintain that role on all fronts. For that reason, when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the European Union resolution on religious freedom last December, we pressed for the explicit imposition on every State to prevent violence against any religious minority, to punish those responsible for it and to draft specific legal and operational instruments for this purpose.
Meeting in Luxembourg next Monday, the 27 foreign ministers of Europe will once again table the urgent need for the European Union task force to draft proper operational guidelines for Europe. These must include both a common strategy for all EU governments regarding UN initiatives, as well as concrete programmes for the endorsement of religious freedom in all member countries, using the financial instruments available to the Union. The need for the international community’s increasingly incisive involvement in combating religiously-motivated terrorism is also at the core of Italy’s efforts in the 20th session of the Human Rights Council currently under way in Geneva.
But we must never lose sight of our goal: to obtain that all constitutions espouse values and principles that ensure a true defence of minorities – first and foremost religious freedom – based on three postulates: the deep moral roots of founding charters, laws in keeping with constitutional principles and an effective State apparatus to ensure compliance with them.
This is a theme that Italy includes on the agenda it brings to every international encounter – especially in those with representatives of countries undergoing democratic transition – convinced that the true litmus test of respect for fundamental freedoms lies in the defence of minority groups, particularly religious ones, whether they are Christians, Jews or Muslims. But the decisive terrain in this enterprise is located in the minds of the younger generations.
Defence against violence is accomplished first of all through concrete programmes and projects aimed at the development of a broad social consciousness that rejects all forms of intolerance and discrimination. At its second level our strategy aims to direct civil society efforts. Italy therefore asks that all non-governmental organizations place the defence of religious freedom as a top priority is every project they undertake.
Finally, the third level: education and formation, and that of teachers even before students. We support collaboration between universities of diverse ethnic and religious denomination in the Balkans, the Greater Middle East and in Asia in an effort that flanks emergency interventions on behalf of the victims of violence. We are making an investment over the long term, confident that dialogue and mutual understanding will prevail over fundamentalism.
The great theologian Luigi Sartori wrote that “to reach the Other it is necessary to pass through the other”: words that have also been suggested by other highly spiritual personages such as Ahmed Al Tayyeb, grand imam of Al Azhar, or the late Patriarch of Alexandria Shenouda III; words that restore the essence of that moral dimension without which any foreign policy would be criminally blind. That is why although terrorists will still perhaps be able to hurt us with their hatred, they will already have lost their cowardly battle.