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Anne Bayefsky

Hudson Institute Event Features Leading Muslim Scholars Condemning Racism and Intolerance

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Leading Muslim Scholars Condemn Racism and Intolerance
Disguised as Cultural Diversity

Responding to the Declaration of the Durban Review Conference Zeyno Baran, Khaled Abu Toameh, Tarek Heggy, Stephen Suleyman Schwartz, Irfan al-Alawi and Veli Sirin decry the failure to recognize and condemn rampant oppression in the name of Islam.

The Hudson Institute hosted a panel today during the Durban Review Conference with an eminent group of Muslim scholars from Egypt, Israel, the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany. All were highly disappointed by the conference's failure to grapple with one of the leading sources of intolerance in the world today - namely, bigotry and xenophobia in the name of religion itself and Islam in particular.

"The conference reaffirms the perception that Islam has been hijacked by a dominant minority of thugs, extremists and anti-Semites who claim that they are speaking on behalf of a majority of Muslims. Ahmadinejad and his likes should be the last to talk about racism, human rights and tolerance" said Khaled Abu Toameh, an Israeli-Arab journalist and filmmaker.

Zeyno Baran, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, remarked that "It is time the silent majority of Muslims speaks up in defense of universal human rights for all, regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, religion or gender. Humanity is one; labels have tragically divided us and Durban II sadly has missed another opportunity for an honest discussion."

Egyptian scholar Tarek Heggy noted that "The west has been listening to and dealing with a single Islamic voice - an extremely rigid one. It is the historic responsibility of the west to now listen to the many other voices, some of which are entirely different."

"Durban II," pointed out Dr. Irfan al-Alawi, executive director of the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation UK, "has been discredited by hate speech, efforts to deny freedom of expression and attempts to limit the reach of anti-racism treaty obligations. The ploy has undermined, rather than supported, diversity in religion and culture. The United Nations has repeatedly failed to protect human rights and, ironically, Durban II uses alleged human rights principles to continue that inauspicious record." Al-Alawi, noted that the attempt to limit free speech by invoking Islam was illegitimate. "Islam benefits from debate and criticism. Islam needs free speech and Islam is strong enough to withstand negative speech."

Stephen Suleyman Schwartz, executive director of the Center of Islamic Pluralism added that "All religion and spirituality originates with criticism and freedom of speech. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all began with a criticism of earlier, idolatrous religion, and no religion can flourish without freedom of opinion."

Veli Sirin, director of the Zentrum fur den Islamische Pluralismus (ZIP) in Germany and an activist in the Alevi youth opinion, said: "The experience of the Alevis in Turkey shows the negative consequences of monolithic attitudes in religion and the use of differences as a pretext for the brutal suppression of minorities. By ignoring the experience of these minorities, Durban II has done a tremendous disservice to many victims of racism and intolerance."

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