Rede Tarafa Baghajati in der Hofburg: OSCE: Freedom of Religion or Belief 10 December 2010

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Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren,
Liebe Freunde,

beiliegend zur Information die Rede von Tarafa Baghajati in der letzten OSCE Konferenz:

Supplementary human Dimension Meeting
on Freedom of Religion or Belief
9-10 December 2010 Hofburg, Vienna
OSCE Vienna 2010-12-10,
14.00 - 16.00 Session III: Religious Symbols and Expression

Es wurde versucht, auch die problemtische Gesetzte in Vorarlberg und Kärnten kurz zu erörtern..

Beste Grüße und viele Spaß beim Lesen, leider vorab nur im Englischen Original vorhanden.



Supplementary human Dimension Meeting
on Freedom of Religion or Belief

9-10 December 2010 Hofburg, Vienna
OSCE Vienna 2010-12-10, 14:00

Speech Tarafa BAGHAJATI

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear friends,

My heartfelt Thanks to the OSCE Kazakhstan presidency and I hope that the next presidencies will continue the same steps to have sustainability in combating discrimination, racism, Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

21 years ago 1989 the OSCE countries committed themselves in my beautiful city Vienna to freedom of religion or belief and to take effective measures to prevent and eliminate discrimination against individuals or communities on the ground of religion or belief.

I am really proud and happy to say, that we have taken great steps, often in the form of legislation in the OSCE Area last decades. Allow me the opportunity to raise the question and try to evaluate the measurable achievements politically, culturally and in the society.

Let us ask, from the point of view of 'rights': if the right to religious symbols violated?

How are the permissible limitations to the rights to manifest religion or belief applied?

I think it is necessary, possible and advisable to regulate this right by permissible limitations.

We are facing a limitation on the manifestation of religion, especially the visibility of religious symbols. This limitation is in many cases discriminatory. I would give the first example from my highly appreciated country Austria: we have in two provinces, Carinthia and Vorarlberg local laws banning practically the possibility of building visible mosques. You will not find the word “mosque” or “Minaret” in the Text of the law, but this was just a step avoiding inconsistency with Austrian constitution, and the lawmakers said that repeatedly openly in a documented form. This is regrettable for a country with such a great heritage and also a country which recognized Islam since 1912 (this form of recognition could be a model for the OSCE Region with Muslim-minorities) as religion of the state. We had in Vienna also demonstrations against mosques, even without having any project for building once. Next example: For many years religious symbols are banned from schools in France (but not just in France). Muslims emphasize and underline ongoing, that headscarf is a personal decision concerning practicing religion and is not a religious symbol, but this does not help. Is this empowerment?  Emancipation of young Muslim girls cannot be achieved through dress code and limitations, but through inclusion and equal opportunity. Do we want Muslim women staying home, financially dependent from their families or we want to support them being well educated and financially independent, irrespective of them covering their hair or not. Defining the French “Laicite” as a “barrier” against Muslim-Immigration is not the right way. In Switzerland (third example) there is no need to repeat mentioning the problematic referendum against minarets with attacks on the mosque in Geneva during this referendum! This has been mentioned sufficiently by other eminent speakers in this conference.

In the OSCE we have a compass: the OSCE Commitments to Freedom of Religion or Belief. If there are questions about the display of religious symbols, they should be assessed against those Commitments. The extensive use of “our European values” or of a very restrictive understanding of Laicité or even Secularism as the exclusion of religious symbols out of the public sphere is really a dilemma, banning visible religions, in particular Islam, but also Sikhism, Hinduism and other minority cults and religious practices/symbols, but I would never forget Christianity and Judaism, churches and Synagogue in all its confessions also. Public space is for everybody and it is indeed a serious challenge to signalize acceptance and inclusion for all members of the society irrespective of their religion. I would refer to the very important oral statement from Professor Heiner Bielefeldt in the last session: “There is a misunderstanding concerning neutrality; non-discrimination should always be considered as essential part of neutrality”

Banning visibility of religious symbol can never be compatible with the European values, but I would definitely prefer to call them Universal Values: freedom, human rights, equality, right of self-determination, especially for women and girls, non-discrimination, Freedom of mobility, but also the right of visibility of religious symbols and manifestation of religion. Warship, teaching, practice and observance are specifically expressed in the universal declaration of Human Rights Article 18 of the ICCPR, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

It is very crucial to emphasize again and again that Protecting freedom of religion has nothing to do with limitation of freedom of expression.

Restrictions, by either legislative or administrative means, on the visibility of religious symbols targeting specific religions, as in the case of prohibition of minarets is discrimination and violation of human rights.

Dear friends, Mr. Chair,

Let us move from intercultural and interreligious Dialogue to multi- religious and multiethnic cooperation, from integration debate to a serious debate concerning social cohesion. The solidarity in our OSCE-Societies is in danger. And Solidarity is the guarantee that the society would not fall apart. This new solidarity should not be ethnically homogeneous, but should include the whole society and learn to live with pluralism. The definition of Identity should not be effected through building dams against the “others”, the “newcomers”. 

Dear friends: I was born in Syria, studied in Rumania, worked in Bosnia and Herzegovina and other countries, combating FGM, female genital mutilation in Africa and Europe, Austrian citizen and a speaker in this very important OSCE session. I wish from my heart deeply that my children will have much less concerns than their father in this speech. What we do need is not just tolerance rather we need harmony between religious communities living together in full respect.

I ask you for your support and thank you so much for your patience and attention!

Tarafa Baghajati,
Chair, Austrian Muslim Initiative, Vienna
Member of Advisory Council of Eminent Experts of ENAR European Network against Racism
Board member of PIE “Platform for Intercultural Europe”
Board member of EMISCO “European Muslim Initiative for Social Cohesion”
baghajati [at]