Non-Governmental Organisations

NGO FORUM
“New multicultural challenges: how can NGOs play their part?”
Istanbul, 24-25 March 2011

Report of workshop 1

‘Freedom of expression and freedom of thought, conscience and religion: the role of civil society in multicultural societies

I am unable to report the workshop’s proceedings in their entirety. It is certain that some points could not be enlarged on and that both divergences and convergences were expressed. I shall focus on the role of NGOs and of civil society.

We identified two types of NGO. There are those that operate on the ground, in close touch with communities, persons and groups, and there are those that act with the intention of providing information and influencing official policies. The action of the latter is akin to putting cases, lobbying and advocacy. There are also NGOs that assume both levels of commitment.

We defined what we expected to achieve as NGOs:

    Firstly, to permit understanding and respect for each person. Work should therefore emphasise greater tolerance.
    To foster communal living (without believing that everyone is in possession of the absolute truth).
    To make possible encounters to dispel the other person’s fears.
    We also think that NGOs have a political responsibility, in the noblest sense of the word. They must perform a role of watchfulness, of surveillance. They must bring malfunctions and infringements of freedoms to the public notice.

Two words typified what we are and what we want to be and do: ETHICS AND DIGNITY.

Finally, I should mention two points that we raised:

+ The independence of NGOs
+ The funding of NGOs

We then made definite proposals ranging from short-term to long-term in 5 dimensions: legislation, common actions and debates, training, education, communication; the last dimension was more cross-sectoral.

Concerning LEGISLATION, we thought it necessary to reinforce the criminalisation of acts of racism and exclusion of others (the discussion should be continued, as divergent points emerged regarding Islamophobia and other acts of racism and discrimination). That being said, the central idea is to make acts against the other person conspicuous by reason of various factors. Non-discrimination appears the most accepted term. In that regard, approximation to the Council of Europe code of good practice is required.

Concerning COMMON ACTIONS AND DEBATES, many examples were given:

    Summer university in Kosovo bringing together students from all over the Balkans and elsewhere (cultural knowledge).
    Reconstruction of a mosque in Bosnia and Herzegovina by young people of all faiths or beliefs from everywhere in Europe; accompanying activity of workshops, discussions, sharing thoughts with local parents.
    A website for educators on the attitudes to take to religious or cultural differences. An approach to secularism for educators (France)
    Media against racism in sport (Italy)
    Proposals were also contemplated, such as the award of a label to the organisations encouraging diversity, whether enterprises or associations. A project of this kind exists in Sweden and is called RESPECT.
    Make translations of articles and books on the culture of the other but not only works of literature, rather those depicting ordinary life.

As to TRAINING, we consider it necessary to incorporate into the training of essential professionals such as teachers, journalists, lawyers and politicians modules of instruction in intercultural relations. But these modules must be embodied in the initial training, not present as optional propositions.

Concerning EDUCATION, we think that children’s and young people’s exchanges should not just be the prerogative of the university but should commence at primary or secondary school. Thus parents are also involved. There should be more activities for knowledge of the other by learning the history of cultures and the history of religions.

Finally, with COMMUNICATION action must be taken in the direction of the media so that their parlance becomes less stereotyped. But it is also possible to work on media education or on community media (local community-based television and radio stations).

One may even envisage the building at European level of a web radio “INGO Radio”, financed by the Council of Europe.

Communication should also operate in the direction of politicians, in order that they pay attention to the meaning of their words and deeds. Various examples were given in Europe, but also by our Egyptian colleague. NGOs should collectively devise a strategy of communication vis--vis politicians.

To conclude, it should be remembered that in this effort to ensure visibility, to build bridges, all experiences, good practices and examples can be transmitted to the transversal group for establishing the proposed toolkit.

I hope nothing has been forgotten. Thank you for your attention.

Rapporteur
David LOPEZ (European Civic Forum)