With its commitment to deepen and expand partnerships with Muslim communities around the world in areas of mutual interest, the United States of America today reiterated its commitment to make sure that rights of people of all faiths – including Christian communities – are respected globally.
In his remarks today on “The Second National Baptist-Muslim Dialogue,” Special Envoy Rashad Hussain says as the US addresses areas of political conflict among countries, it continues to build partnerships with Muslim communities.
“We do so because we believe that all people around the world have the same fundamental aspirations to be able to live in dignity and peace, to support their families, to have access to education and health care.” – Mr. Hussain
The US has implemented programs in areas such as education, entrepreneurship, health, science and technology, and in interfaith dialogue.
At the Dialogue, Mr. Hussain talks about three projects US has been involved in to make sure that rights of people of all faiths – including Christian communities are respected.
“First, we are working with the UN to advance religious tolerance and to protect free speech.” – Mr. Hussain
He says the UN had for a decade passed a resolution sponsored by the OIC to prohibit the so called “defamation of religions,” which called for legal restrictions on speech to combat offensive depictions.
“We disagree with this approach for a number of reasons.” – Mr. Hussain
First, the US cannot accept any measures that undermine the protections found in the First Amendment of US constitution.
He adds that the First Amendment guarantees the free exercise of religion – including for millions of Muslim Americans, and it also creates a climate of tolerance and respect by promoting the free exchange of ideas.
“And it has taught us that the best way to counter hateful speech is with better speech.” – Mr. Hussain
Second, Mr. Hussain says restrictions on speech tend to raise the profile of the speech being proscribed, often resulting in the opposite of effect of what is intended.
“Third, legal restrictions can be used to justify blasphemy laws, which are sometimes used to target political opponents and religious minorities, including Christian minorities living in the Muslim world.” – Mr. Hussain
Furthermore, in today’s world, it is almost impossible to remove something entirely from the Internet, he cited.
Last year, the US has worked with the OIC remove the “defamation” concept and restrictions on speech from their annual resolution and joined international consensus on a new resolution that seeks to address the underlying causes of intolerance in a manner consistent with our First Amendment protections in the United States.
These constitutional protections of free speech and freedom of religion are non-negotiable, he added.
The US will continue to vigilantly guard against attempts to undermine them.
In addition, a second major project that US has been involved with is an initiative lead by ISNA and Islamic scholars in the Muslim world to issue a declaration articulating standards and protocols for protection of full citizenship rights of minorities in the Muslim world.
He cites that the Islamic Society of North America is helping to spearhead the initiative.
“I have been playing an advisory and convening role to build support among religious and government leaders from OIC countries.” – Mr. Hussain
The third and related project has been US office’s efforts to address the concerns of Coptic Christians living in Egypt, Mr. Hussain pointed out.
“Our message was simple- Egypt must work to protect the rights of all Egyptians, including its Christian community.” – Mr. Hussain
The US described the project it is working on to protect the citizenship rights of all people in the Muslim world.
Both the Grand Shaykh and the Coptic Church promised to support this effort, he said.
The United States and civil society groups have a critical role to play, he added
He narrates that their trip to Egypt demonstrated, they have the ability to bring people together because that’s what they do every day.
Mr. Hussain pointed out that the world lives with and defends the same protections of the First Amendment that are badly needed in many parts of the world.
Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Sikh, and Hindu communities have stood together to defend Muslim Americans against anti-Islamic sentiment, particularly in 2010 during the controversy over the building of an Islamic center in Lower Manhattan and when the pastor of a small church in Florida threatened to burn the Quran, he said.
“And drawing on inspiration from Muslim communities that shielded Christians and Jews from persecution, including during the Holocaust, Muslim communities are increasingly working to defend the right of Christians living in the Muslim world, including on the projects I described tonight.” – Mr. Hussain
He adds the dialogue will further advance cooperation among countries so they can work together to address misunderstanding between people of different faiths in the United States and around the world.
The United States has expressed its commitment to combat hate and intolerance.
The US asserts that amid the portrayal of ethnic and religious violence in the news, the world must not forget, in the words of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, that “religious tolerance is one of the essential elements not only of a sustainable democracy but of a peaceful society.”
US believes that religious freedom and tolerance are integral for building stable and harmonious societies, and this means freedom for all people of all faiths or beliefs, including those who do not believe in any religion.
The US has hosted a side event called “The ART Initiative.” “The ART Initiative” stands for Acceptance, Respect, and Tolerance. The overall goal of the ART Initiative is to present successful and easily adaptable approaches to combat intolerance and discrimination by involving interfaith, inter-ethnic youth and young adults.
The U.S. government launched “2011 Hours Against Hate. “A virtual campaign, “2011 Hours Against Hate” focuses on youth, using ways that they like to communicate, through social media. The whole initiative is on Facebook and Twitter. The campaign’s success was so great and so widespread that we have decided to extend “2011 Hours Against Hate” into 2012.
US urges the world to confront and combat the many forms of hatred in the world today. Where there is hatred born of ignorance, the world must teach and inspire.