"Connecting Law and Memory"

op 22 september 2016 21:20 Internationale conferentie "Connecting law and memory"

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Fear is the only true enemy, born of ignorance and the parent of anger and hate.” This is a quote of Edward Albert, an American film actor and a prominent advocate of both the environment and the heritage and rights of Native Americans.

In times of high-tech communication technology and high-speed information around the clock and around the globe, ignorance paradoxically seems to be the biggest threat.

Ignorance of other cultures, religions and values leads to fear and intolerance.

To know yourself and to have your own identity within a religious or philosophical community is the first step to be more open to other cultures, other religions and other values. Self-respect, self-confidence and self-assuredness are a strong basis for tolerance. The more self-assured we are, the less we feel threatened by foreigners. The more stable and balanced our self-esteem is, the less we feel the need to devalue others in order to enhance our own status. Thus, the opposite of a widespread stereotype comes true. Tolerance is not based on weakness, but on strength.

The education of young people is the co-responsibility of their parents, their school and the civil authorities. But I think that we are on the right track. Our children live in a world where diversity is quite normal and where schools represent this diversity. It is a day-to-day reality for our children and grandchildren. They will not be scared white men.

There is no better way to acquire a positive feeling about one’s own identity than such religious or philosophical education when it is inspired by the authentic intention to create a better world.

There is no better weapon to destruct identity than the deformation of a religious or philosophical message, so that it results in hatred, war or terrorism.

People always react with hostility to change, to being different, and thus to different races or religions. It is in our genes. That is exactly the reason why we have taken measures after our terrible experience during the Second World War. That is why we have concluded the convention of Geneva, the Convention of European Rights in Europe and other international treaties. That is why we may not forget our own history. This must facilitate comprehension of similar situations in other parts of the world.

Generosity comes when people feel guilty about what happened: this will never happen again. Post-war justice and post-war solidarity. They illustrate what went wrong.

Let us not forget this, even 70 years later.

Let us not forget that 1 million of Belgians left the country to the Netherlands, at the beginning of the First World War and that in 1938, at the conference of Evian, none of the overseas countries were able to receive the Jewish refugees, who were trapped like rats on the continent.

Let us not forget that we also have come a long way as regards equal rights for women and homosexuals. A lot of European countries, including Belgium, have been struggling with these issues until quite recently.

Today, all of us should behave as responsible people who owe it to ourselves and to our neighbours to acknowledge that solidarity in true respect for the identity of our fellow citizens is indeed the only way forward to make our planet sustainable and to leave it behind us in a better state than the state we found it in. Our convictions, religious or ideological, should serve that goal and be told and retold in that perspective and in that perspective only.

I would like to quote Primo Levi, the Italian writer who survived Monowitz, a part of Auschwitz:

“Many people – many nations – can find themselves holding, more or less wittingly, that ‘every stranger is an enemy’. For the most part this conviction lies deep down like some latent infection; it betrays itself only in random, disconnected acts, and does not lie at the base of a system of reason. But when this does come about, when the unspoken dogma becomes the major premise in a syllogism, then, at the end of the chain, there is the Lager [or in other words the concentration camp]. Here is the product of a conception of the world carried rigorously to its logical conclusion; so long as the conception subsists, the conclusion remains to threaten us. The story of the death camps should be understood by everyone as a sinister alarm-signal.”

The warning signal of Primo Levi can be heard loudly and clearly today: After all, is Europe at present not also plagued by a lack of legal-administrative preparation for the current asylum crisis? Is there not a revival of a xenophobic, sometimes anti-Semitic culture in the West? Have there not been complaints for years about a democratic deficit?

Remembrance education is not only important for our children and youth. The government and the civil services are important to guarantee human rights, equal treatment, … they also have a crucial role in our society.

The chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That is why it is important to consider an integrated safety chain: prevention, repression and aftercare.

The preventive approach starts with a society in which every young person, every citizen feels appreciated, can feel at home. Socio-preventive measures can support and, where necessary, strengthen the numerous social actors in our society.

The more effective the prevention, the better the repressive approach can focus on the more serious and society-disruptive forms of crime.

The final link of the chain is the aftercare with regard to victims, but also the follow-up and reintegration of offenders and the normalization of society.

The citizen feels security and insecurity most strongly in his own living environment. The deployment of police, prevention services, community guards, local authorities and so many other actors are most visible and tangible at local level. A safe living environment with respect for human rights has to be build along with the local community and with the contribution of other local actors, such as civil society, education and prevention workers.

One of the core tasks of the Communities and the Regions is to prevent radicalisation. Civic education in schools has to be a priority: making young people familiar with concepts such as democracy, the rule of law, freedom of speech, ... They need to know that we have come a long way to anchor these principles in our society and how they should act in accordance with these principles in everyday life.

The specific nature of local religious communities is important at both theological and social level. Their religious/non-denominational power lies in the experienced interconnectedness. The recognition of local religious communities and the involvement of it in a continuous dialogue with the various authorities allow the Belgian state to support these valuable communities.

An effective security policy is not possible without the support of civil society. An inclusive and integrated civil society is the ultimate goal.

This means that also the foreign-born community should further be fully integrated in civil society. Today, this is still insufficiently the case sometimes, particularly when it comes to civil society organisations working in the safety domain, in the field of prevention and/or aftercare.

Therefore, the various authorities, each at their own level, have to mobilize and encourage the foreign-born community to participate actively in the realization of projects in the safety field, always with an inclusive society as underlying objective.

It falls to us all to prevent religious fundamentalism from being added to the list of destructive ideologies again. Bitterness and distrust of one religion towards another, of one human being towards another, is like a spreading poison. We should not give this poison a chance to undermine our minds and we have to fight it by all possible means.

And when it comes to our essential values – the belief in democracy, the rule of law, tolerance, equal treatment for all, respect for this country and its common heritage – that is where we come together; that is what we have in common. There we create collectivity in our individuality.

The right to be different. The duty to integrate. That is what makes us partners. And neither racists nor extremists will be allowed to destroy this.

The international post-war institutions play a vital role in the prevention of human rights violations. The most important treaties and conventions already exist, most guarantees are anchored; now it is of the utmost importance to respect these commitments and have them respected, every single day.

This way, we want to prevent worse, because prevention is better than cure.

I thank you.