Additional Resource

Building Bridges, Fostering Inclusivity and Countering Hate Speech to Enhance the Protection of Religious Minorities, Refugees and Migrants

By Sister Sharon Eubank

This address was delivered by Sister Sharon Eubank, president of LDS Charities, at the Second Global Summit on Religion, Peace and Security. The summit was held Monday, April 29, 2019, at the United Nations in Geneva.

Latter-day Saint Charities is the humanitarian organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We ourselves were victims of religious persecution and became refugees, so this mission is very personal to us. And part of this mission is to help people who are beleaguered, so it’s very important for me to sit at this table with these distinguished colleagues. I’m very grateful.

Minorities, refugees and migrants have in common one thing: their dignity is at risk. Their otherness and the acuteness of their needs make them vulnerable. And even worse, they often become targets and scapegoats. It is precisely in reaching out to these “others” that you see dignity come alive and are reminded about what democracy should mean and what development can mean.

I wanted to share just a few simple examples.

The first example occurred in Uganda last month at Jesuit Refugee Service. Most of the refugees from South Sudan are not Christian, but a group of them were participating in food and rent [assistance] and job training. We sat down with a group that included a Muslim father of two little girls. He was a single father, and he told me, “I love this place. It’s the one place I can walk into and I won’t be discriminated against because I’m a Muslim.” That’s a contribution to democracy, peace and dignity for vulnerable families.

We have to be honest: there is inevitably going to be tension between host societies and newcomers. The ideal of the United Nations and the universal declaration of human rights is the successful negotiation of those tensions. When local and national governments protect core human rights for vulnerable minorities, it builds stabilizing resilience that ripples through the whole community for years to come.

A good example of this is when the Ottoman regime ruled Jordan in the early 20th century, and it decided to collect taxes from Christian citizens. So, in the cities of Salt and Karak, a scout was sent to identify these families and put a mark on their house. Well, their Muslim neighbors took exception to this, and they put marks on all of their houses in the middle of the night. This confused the scout and the tax collectors, who could no longer tell who was Muslim and who was Christian. The whole population stood together and said, “We’re all brothers. If you’re going to tax the Christians, then you must tax us all.” This is a well-known story, but it is stories like this and the traditions in Jordan and other countries that have laid the foundation for pluralistic participation and protections such as the Amman Message and the example Jordan sets by being willing to absorb millions of refugees and displaced people at great cost to its own country.

The simple acts of building trust among neighbors and not blaming groups for the wrongdoings of individuals exponentially improves national security and helps control the rise of radical groups from within.

I know of a location where a new imam was installed at a mosque that served a community where refugees had settled. The imam was a fiery speaker and began teaching anti-Christian sentiments. The older, respected residents of that town, rather than standing back and tolerating that approach, intervened and had the imam corrected and ultimately replaced. They wouldn’t tolerate that kind of speech in their community about their diverse neighbors.

[Hate] speech or incitement shows bias and threatens security. If the majority will step forward to protect the rights of the minority “neighbor,” this results in putting down the real security issue, which is scapegoating. This interdependence of neighbors is one reason Latter-day Saint Charities is sponsoring the conference today.

Our first president, Joseph Smith, described some of our work in this way:

“I am bold to declare before heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist or a good [person] of any other denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics or of any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves.”

Hate and incitement speech often start as simply as painting a group with a broad brush —labeling somebody as an unpatriotic extremist or equating all Muslims with al-Qaida. As the incitement continues, it erodes rights and protections until there is criminal violence. Just this month, we again saw unfathomable massacres in places of worship. And I noticed that the internet lists 63 pages of “massacres in religious buildings,” and that must stop.

Broad-brush speech remains unchallenged, either because people are ignorant or because there’s a political agenda being pushed. Not challenging broad-brush descriptions feeds hate speech. This is something every citizen at any level can help fight. I challenge every citizen to be able to do something about this. We can always stand up to this kind of broad-brush speech.

In closing, let me suggest just three guiding principles that would facilitate rather than frustrate the energy for good that exists within pluralistic communities.

First, governments should realize that many of their objectives can be achieved more effectively if religious minorities are part of the solution. The good that religion can do, especially when it comes to integrating or achieving sustainable development goals, is amplified when religious groups work in partnership with each other and with government and nongovernmental actors.

Second, governments should recognize that using religious groups instrumentally, as a means for achieving their governmental ends, has the effect of cannibalizing security and removing the very stabilizing elements that governments need.

Third, governments should recognize that the best antidote to the ills done in the name of religion is better religion. The best answer to Islamic extremism will be authentic Islam, just as the solution to Christian extremism will be authentic Christianity. It will be the best of faith that defeats distorting versions of religious belief.

Thank you very much.

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