International League of Religious Socialists
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ILRS President Addresses 'Alliance of Civilisations' meeting in Cordoba

On 3 May 2010, ILRS President Cecilia Dalman Eek addressed a conference organised by the Alliance of Civilisations and the Presidency of the European Union in Spain. The conference theme was 'Religious Freedom in Democratic Societies', and she made the following remarks:

Ladies and gentlemen, you eminences and ambassadors, it is a great honour for me to participate at this venue. I represent the world’s religious socialists and I am the President of our umbrella organisation the International League of Religious Socialists - ILRS. Given the long and close links between churches and right wing or even more right wing forces in Western & European societies I find it thrilling to be a Christian socialist in Spain at this particular conference at this particular junction on European history.

After much intensive work, last fall the Socialist party in Spain established a Christian branch, which was inaugurated here in Cordoba. As a smaller parallel to this grand conference, the start of the Christian socialists in Spain indicate how religion in a new way, is becoming gradually more significant in societies, and in politics.

Work in ILRS include discussions with religious socialists from ANC in south, via people in Austria working for refugees rights to us in the Nordic countries who are gradually realising that we too belong to Europe - and to our common history of being a global source of power both for the triangular trade over oceans with guns, slaves and cotton, and for social justice. We have a history that could be used more effectively to promote a social globalisation where the trade unions successful struggle for just salaries and social welfare is not enough exported from Europe. Alas, our export in sophisticated arms systems is much larger than our export of sophisticated welfare systems.

ILRS was established in Europe between the two world wars as an effort to bring together Jews and Christians who shared an urge for justice. Back in those days Europe – a continent in which many Christians live - were infected by an idea that Jews were different and dangerous. In many ways Muslims face the same slander to day. We still need to reflect upon our images of who belong in Europe. And it becomes more and more urgent. This is one reason why the present conference is urgently needed and I want to thank Spain for this initiative! I hope to see follow-up conferences on many levels, involving more representation from Europe´s minorities. As a representative of one of the small protestant minorities in the north of Europe, I am very happy to have been invited to this conference that has the potential to spark national and local discussions about religion, culture, social justice and equal citizenship.

I will keep my contribution short and limit my suggestions to four themes.

Nationalism in Europe
The nation states in northern Europe were built after the peace in Westphalia 1648. The nation state of the 17th, 18th, 19th and even 20th century was based on one cultural people, one language and one religion and these constituted the basis for the national project – which has been so successful. This was the ideal. Our countries always held differences, but the ideal was the cultural homogeneity. Today we can no longer view migrants and differences as deviations from the normal. We have to see the demographic, ethnic and cultural variety as a fact and as the future. It is an intellectual task for politicians and academics to construct a basis for nationalism in a period of time when nationalism and the nation is not obsolete – far from - but quite different from the homogeneous nations we once wanted to live in.

A society which is inclusive and welcoming
In the 19th century more than one million Swedes went to America to build a better life. Today they are seen as adventurous and daring. But they conquered a continent, they drove away its original inhabitants and forced them to live in reservoirs. Let us imagine for a second that equally adventurous and daring migrants from Africa, Turkey or Afghanistan would endeavour to treat Europe and Europeans like European migrants treated red Indians in USA. We can be glad that we do not have to meet our ancestors methods used against us. Instead we know we need to be more inclusive. This is not about winning and loosing a war. This is all about win-win. Let me give you two examples, one of a failure, and one of a success. First the failure:

The other year, some 2-3 years ago, the present conservative government in Sweden suggested to start publically finances schools for imams. However, the motivation was: we need to make sure that Muslims in Sweden do not develop extremist theology.

This was no success. Who of us would have wanted to enter a school of any kind established with that motive?

Democracy and politics – ways of bringing people together and bridging gaps and inequalities.
In the ILRS we are working to connect people across ethnic and religious borders and make politics together. We are human beings of faith with different creed and different cultures – we have something in common. We are convinced that behind conflicts in modern times lies not the differences of cultures or of civilisations. Instead, the reason is the world’s unequal distribution of wealth and power. We are people of different creeds and we find it challenging to cooperate on areas that include faith and politics. When we discuss conflicts that are commonly understood as caused by different cultures, after a closer look what is behind is bad housing, unemployment and poor jobs, bad education and limited health care – lack of welfare! As socialists we want to address these issues together, irrespective of creed or culture. In doing so, we find that democracy in itself holds an exceptional possibility for creating common ground for coexisting and mutual understanding, while at the same time bridging gaps in society. Recent research show that equal societies handle almost all issues better than societies with big economic and social gaps. The English researchers Wilkinson and Pickett have shown in their recent book “The Spirit Level”, that inequality is not even good for those who are really well off.

A change in perspective – not assimilation but social justice and equal citizenship.
What we have learned in ILRS is not that we need to find ways to assimilate migrants or to make them adjust. No, what we have noticed is that each individual want social justice, and each individual want some basic limit of religious freedom, and a good start in life for their children. Democratic institutions, political parties and NGOs should include people from different faiths and cultures to work together for better housing, more jobs, better education and to promote better health. Politicians can work to upgrade the social standard of houses were immigrants live, and thereby reduce tension in society. We have conflicts and tension in suburbs that at times have risen to burning suburbs in Europe and to some extent in Sweden, for some time. I am convinced that how we tackle the issues of inequality for migrants in those suburbs to a large extent determine the future for a successful multicultural future.

And now, to conclude, the good example. The Swedish branch of ILRS, The Christian Social Democratic Movement, spent one evening at our congress last year in one of Sweden’s burning suburbs, in the local mosque. What we learned after talking to the people we met, is that they, just like us, want social justice and equal citizenship. Together we had a meal, talked about our differences and likenesses and wishes for our lives and then we celebrated a beautiful interfaith service in the mosque. In itselt the mosque is a unique tool for integration, uniting 92 nationalities who comes to them to pray.

May I sum up.
1. The one-culture-nationalism is gone. We have to create other ideals.

2. Assimilation is not the answer but common arenas where we talk about social justice. We need brave new thinking.

3. Society on all levels need to be welcoming and inclusive. The established organisations: parties, churches, and others shall take the first step.

4. Politics matter more then ever – inequality is at the root of segregation and often of extremism.

Cecilia Dalman Eek
Cordoba 2010-05-03


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