In my statement yesterday as an expert in human rights for the parliamentary human rights committee of the German Bundestag (Federal Parliament), my observations on the role of the media and its negative effects on religious freedom were widely discussed. I am publishing this in advance, from that section of my opinion. The comprehensive report will be published together with all the statements and the minutes of the Bundestag committee in November. Six experts gave their opinions on the future of religious freedom in Europe and the role of Islam in it. I was nominated by the MPs of Chancellor Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union.
Media reports are only available in German yet:
- Press release by the federal parliament: www.bundestag.de
- Christian Media: www.pro-medienmagazin.de
- Press service of the Humanist Union: hpd.de
- Baha’i press service: iran.bahai.de
“Far too little attention is paid to the way in which the media, in a broad sense, will determine whether or not the discussion on the integration of Islamic faith communities into Europe will lead to a constructive result. The media talk about the book by Thilo Sarrazin and a phrase in the speech of the President have just proved this again.
An example is the crucial the role of the international (and German) media in dealing with a crazy, isolated preacher in the United States who announced the burning of a Koran. In a world of 2.5 billion Muslims and Christians of numerous varieties, this would be a totally meaningless event, if the media were not involved. People wanted to finally see peaceful evangelicals pulled into a culture war with Muslims – fundamentalists against fundamentalists- since such an event would make the media ratings fly high. (In retrospect, a profound commentary in Der Spiegel, the German newsmagazine, provides a crown jewel of evidence.) Very quickly people expected violence from Muslims in Afghanistan and in other countries as well. If such acts of violence really related to the threatened Koran burning, no one could know with certainty, but the media was already certain. No one seemed to care that the media took the risk of causing murder and manslaughter. The 420 million-strong World Evangelical Alliance had long spoken out vehemently and loudly against public Koran burning (and also took concrete preventive steps). And no one from WEA has ever burned a Koran. Meanwhile, at the same time, the media did not think it was worth a report that worldwide Bibles, churches, and sometimes even Christians, are being burned. Nor did it merit a report that in Iran Baha’i texts were burned and in India Korans were burned.
The media are not contributing to social peace among religions, but for the cheap effect of audience and readership, the media promote emotional confrontations between religious groups. The work of the media in Belgium, in Orthodox countries, and in Turkey provides many further examples that the media like to inflame or exploit religious conflict, and then later to play the role of the moral judge.
The media will play a major role in determining whether religious tensions between the great religions increase or decline, as well as in the treatment of religious minorities. Violent attacks on other religions generally follow malicious misrepresentations or generalizations which have been disseminated and used against people. In such false generalizations, all the people from the highly differentiated Islamic (or evangelical) world are all thrown into one pot and discussed as if they were all the same. On this topic, Germans should study the history of Jew-baiting, which preceded the extermination of the Jews.
Whenever evangelicals as portrayed as violent, the Yezidis as “worshippers of the devil,” Catholic priests as child abusers because of celibacy, Muslims as authorized to lie “against unbelievers;” and if every time the word Islam is on TV pictures of 9/11 appear, or if with evangelicals a picture of George Bush and the war in Iraq is included; then someone is preparing particular religious groups for societal exclusion by means of constant repetition of slander against them.”