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The Security and Anti-discrimination Dilemma

Member of European Parliament Sajjad Karim (ECR, United Kingdom) delivered a keynote address to the Humanity in Action community at the closing ceremony of the Pat Cox-Humanity in Action Fellowship in Brussels. 

Good evening ladies and gentlemen,

I'm delighted to speak to you this evening at the final event of the Pat Cox Fellowship for Humanity in Action. Today's theme of security and anti-discrimination is a very significant one and I'm glad to be here to discuss it. 

Security, anti-discrimination laws, human rights and freedoms - have been framing current discussions about how to protect fundamental freedoms, including freedom of speech and expression. 

Our decision-makers face the persistent challenge to ensure both security and freedom. We of course know that this is a tall, but necessary order in the current environment. The alarming events that we have seen take place this year alone have demonstrated that the threats we now face are frequent, organised and increasingly hybrid. What results from this are two things: greater demands for safety, and reactive decision-making; both of which stem from a deep sense of fear. 

As is often the case in debate, the truth usually lies somewhere between polarized views, right and wrong. We live in countries where most people think or assume our freedoms are guaranteed. 

The series of recent threats has only increased since 9/11. The London and Madrid bombings, the metro attacks in Moscow show us how widespread this is. This is why the balance between security and fundamental freedoms is so crucial. We know all too well that our democratic societies are fragile. Upholding the principles of both justice and freedoms demand our constant attention. We should not allow terrorists to take from us through our reaction, what they could never take from us in their actions. 

There is a pressing responsibility to take action and safeguard our citizens. This is opening up a new dilemma: tackling the threat and extreme ideology without undermining our core democratic values. Security measures should not infringe upon your rights. Our conscious decision must be to advance in a manner that builds on what already is in place rather than to unravel the fine threads that strengthen us. Not doing so will spur greater tensions among members of society. 

Today we face greater threats and hostility in our world. I myself have experienced these terrorist threats from extremists in the Mumbai shootings and by far-right extremists back home in the UK. 

Europe today is exporting terrorists but this is not at all a new phenomenon. I know personally in the 1980s, British citizens fought in the Afghan war against Russians. We have evidence of a historical context. A few of my own constituents lost their lives fighting and the authorities refused to take action. Let us not forget that we are challenging a mind-set that is cross-border, Manchester or Madrid, Peshawar and Paris. We need to stand as one. Communities are losing bright, young people with skills. This problem has been ignored for too long. 

Part of the EU's solution against terrorism is to follow “evidence-based” measures. For this, we need democratic oversight and accountability on which this house, the European Parliament, is firmly established. 

Protecting citizens continues to be the focus of my work at the European Parliament. I serve as Vice President of the Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup and co-chair the European Muslim Forum. The Parliament has also been incremental in efforts, adopting the proposal for equal treatment of persons irrespective of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. 

My focus in recent years has increasingly been drawn to the rise of intolerance in Europe. We are all too aware of the rise of Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and growing populism. The European Parliament has adopted the proposal. This year, we saw the deep fissure caused by the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris and the shootings in Copenhagen. It was all too clear that this was a time to heal. I was comforted to see that despite this hurt, Europeans still stood together to project a sense of unity and not division.   

Unfortunately, the same solidarity cannot be said for a number of far-right political parties, who ignited the situation by stigmatising groups and beliefs, for their own political gain. This manipulative approach reminds us that we have much more work to do to promote anti-discrimination and diversity back home. We need to promote dialogue and inclusion to close the gap. The view that immigration and diversity are any reason for the problems we have today is not acceptable. 

My strong belief is that if we want a world that respects human rights and civil liberties, it must first come from home. Unfortunately today, justice is not always delivered and rights are not consistently protected. We saw such behaviour more recently when it was revealed that a number of EU governments colluded with the CIA in hosting secret prisons, a case which I raised in this house as a member of the Parliament’s Committee of Investigation on the affair. The parliamentary report, condemning the practice of Extraordinary Rendition, was adopted by the vast majority of MEPs demanding formal investigations. It was recognised then that this line in history should never be one crossed again. 

The subject of human rights is also a key strand in the broad work carried out in the Parliament, and as an MEP, I share the responsibility to advocate for the subject in various policies. As a member of the International Trade Committee, and former rapporteur for the EU-India free trade deal, I pushed for human rights to be an integral part of the EU’s trade agreements as well as to recognise child labour as an international trade issue. 

Yet the challenge to raise the awareness of human rights abuses, some old, some new, in today’s world remains a great one. It demands perseverance. This Friday, We will mark the centenary of the Armenian genocide. If there's anywhere where human rights issues should be heard, it is within this house. We do not shy away from talking about controversial human rights issues internationally, which is why we have passed the resolution urging recognition for the Armenian genocide. 

While serving on the Human Rights Committee, I have actively campaigned for the self-determination of Kashmir by Kashmiris: one of the oldest unresolved issues on the UN resolution book. I have highlighted the on-going plight of Kashmiris ravaged by strife between India and Pakistan. Despite my early efforts to raise Kashmir’s profile, my voice has often fallen on closed ears and minds. Yesterday, we hosted an event in the Parliament with the Kashmir Council EU on the self-determination and empowerment of women in Kashmir. I hope that this will sustain discussions beyond the conference and serve as a reminder of the unresolved dispute. It is a lesson for us that even amidst the uncertainty, there is hope. Hope will amplify our voice in the world and end human suffering.

My own 10-years at the European Parliament have offered me the privilege to work in a diverse institution, with a number of nationalities, religions and opinions. This diverse environment is a very rich and secure one. Security and diversity always work hand in hand. 

Yet this environment is subject to constant change. Votes for far-right parties have left the ballot boxes and reached the seats of our plenary rooms. Opinions uttered within these four walls have been divisive amongst our members and our citizens. In the campaign leading up to the European elections last year, there were 42 reported hate speech incidents. The European Network against Racism continues to carry out this very valuable monitoring in the Parliament. I would like to commend them on their work.

A threat against our diversity is a threat against security. Our problems cannot be resolved by resorting to forms of discrimination. We have seen how the topic of migration can spiral into xenophobic sentiment and incite hatred. Is this really the image of a tolerant and unified Europe that we want to project? Let's reinstate our core values and regain some confidence. We need clear policies with strong messages that present Europe’s doors as open, and its stance inclusive. The intention for reunification in Europe is, after all, what led me to pursue a political service in this house. 

So how do we protect our citizens? Extremists cannot be defeated by extreme measures alone. Instead we need to use a wide range of tools to combat terrorist threats. Threats that are at the core, fundamentally divisive. Delivering justice will depend on cooperation: allowing member states to monitor and track threats, and share intelligence to tackle the issue of disaffected European citizens who threaten lives and the fundamentals of our democracy. 

Our resilience to threats is not a question; Europe can continue to show solidarity and defend its democratic values. We can tackle the extremist groups who espouse racist ideals and promote disharmony. We can stand up to the atrocities carried out by terrorists by bringing perpetrators of violence to justice. But weak or delayed reactions will dilute the values and principles that we have fought hard to build. These are strong pillars that bind us, and by which we should stand firmly. 

The issues are there. The challenges are there too. It is perhaps a time for both reflection and hope. But it is also above all a call for action, for all of us. 

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Brussels, Belgium


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