The Islam Channel convened a conference on Islamophobia held in Copenhagen on the 13th of May 2006. The conference was attended by 150 participants from countries around the world, with approximately another 1000 in the audience. Participation in the question and answer sessions was enhanced by a television audience of millions across Europe and North and West Africa. While the majority were Muslims, many others were Christians or of other beliefs.
What united all participants was a deep concern about the growing phenomenon of Islamophobia - the demonization of human beings for no other reason than their Muslim faith. This Declaration – The Copenhagen Declaration – embodies the spirit of the unanimous repudiation by the conference of this phenomenon, and its commitment to opening bridges of understanding between peoples of different or of no religious persuasion.
We believe a fundamental right of every individual is to embrace and practice the religious faith of their choice. In every society it should be regarded as offensive, morally and legally, in fact and law, to denigrate or discriminate against any person on the basis of their religious belief.
We live in a world where acts of violence against innocent people, justified by the perpetrators in the name of God, have created an atmosphere in which poisonous Islamophobia has been allowed to flourish. We believe these truths are self evident: First, it is profoundly unfair and logically absurd to attach to every Muslim a stigma of blame and guilt because of the evil violence of 9/11 and subsequent events perpetrated by Muslim extremists – acts which were condemned by Muslim leaders around the world as inhumane and un-Islamic. Second, it would be equally unfair and absurd to stigmatise every Christian for the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis in an onslaught perpetrated by President Bush in the name of the God of his faith. Third, the name of God can never be invoked to justify the killing of innocent people.
One cannot speak meaningfully about the grievances felt by all Muslim people without referring to the plight of the Palestinians and the fact is, that whatever else may be done to address the cycle of violence, an honourable resolution to this issue is essential.
In this context of the broad issues discussed at the Conference, this Declaration makes the following specific recommendations:
1. Freedom of expression, to which we are committed, is not absolute. It is qualified by legal restraints such as those banning defamation. We call on all States and the European Parliament to ensure the effectiveness of legal restrictions against incitement to violence, discrimination or the spread of hatred towards any group in society on the basis of religion, race or sex.
2. The encouragement of dialogue at all levels and the promotion of institutions aimed at opening bridges of understanding and respect between all faiths and communities.
3. The formation of inter-faith committees to review curricula and activities in educational institutions relating to other religions and cultures to avoid the generation of prejudice or misunderstanding.
4. The establishment or continued support of bodies, including human rights associations, to monitor discriminatory or other activities inciting hatred, including Islamophobia.
5. We endorse and embrace the proposal put forward by The Honourable former Prime Minister of Australia, Bob Hawke that the United States should take the lead in undertaking a massive injection of capital and technology to establish a viable economy and education system, which offers employment and hope to the people and State of Palestine.
6. Islam Channel with other concerned organisations to make appropriate arrangements to follow up the recommendations of this conference and to monitor any new developments in Islamophobia.
7. To hold an annual conference to promote the aims of the Copenhagen Declaration.
Approximately 1.000 people attended the conference on Islamophobia in Copenhagen, and among the speakers were former australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke, BBC-journalist Phil Rees, professor Jørgen Bæk Simonsen, Editor-in-chief Tøger Seidenfaden, Sheikh Ahmad Abu Laban, Imam Abdul Wahid Pedersen, Dr. Jamal A. Badawi, Yvonne Ridley, Ysuf Estes and myself.
I also participated in writing The Copenhagen Declaration although I am always sceptical about the benefit of such statements that often has to reflect a wide a range of views and therefore tend to be held in general frases without pointing at specific actions and seldom states anything out of the ordinairy. Ultimately they are forgotten just as quickly as they are written.
Nevertheless - the Copenhagen Declaration on Islamophobia succeeded in pointing at specific actions, and the conference as a whole helped to underline the necessity of adressing and combating Islamophobia in ways that ought to be followed up.
Rune Engelbreth Larsen