This is the third of an eight-part history of the Transatlantic Counterjihad. Links to the first two parts are at the bottom of this post. The section on Counterjihad participation at OSCE “Human Dimension” meetings has been split into two posts.
The OSCE provides a rare opportunity for anti-sharia activists to be heard in a respected public forum. At several OSCE events over the past two years, Henrik Ræder Clausen has represented the International Civil Liberties Alliance, and Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff has represented Bürgerbewegung Pax Europa.
A Brief History of the Transatlantic Counterjihad
by the Counterjihad Collective III. The Transatlantic Counterjihad at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)
One of the most important venues for Counterjihad NGOs to present their material has been at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
The Transatlantic Counterjihad movement has represented several NGOs at OSCE roundtables and conferences. At these events it is possible to raise issues of importance, counter misuse of human right laws and conventions, submit papers to the official OSCE archives and forge alliances with other NGOs as well as representatives from the participating states.
Participating in plenaries, round tables and side events
Presence at the conferences is of paramount importance. As a NGO representative, one not only gets to follow the discussions and talk to various representatives, there is also plenty of opportunity to get floor time, including at the large plenaries. Here one may raise issues of importance (must be on topic for the given conference, of course), comment on the importance of issues raised by others, and deflect unjust criticism against oneself or others. Conferences take place on a regular basis in Vienna, Austria and Warsaw, Poland. There is no participation fee for NGO representatives.
NGO Round table discussions
Alliances work particularly well in the open-ended round table discussions. If an issue or a point of view is raised by one representative, then supported by others, it will have a much greater impact than if merely mentioned, then forgotten. The official summaries of these meetings will also reflect what issues were highest on the agenda, and since the conclusions reflect a rough consensus of the round table, it is very feasible to prevent dangerous ideas from reaching the summaries.
The most important — and the largest — events at OSCE conferences are the plenary sessions. There will usually be roughly a hundred representatives of participating countries and NGOs, all competing for floor time and the right to comment. NGO representatives participate with country representatives on almost equal footing, the main difference being that state representatives have a Right of Response against criticism, which NGO representatives do not.
When preparing to speak at a plenary session, one must pick an issue on which to speak, then prepare a concise statement on it. The next step is to be early at the conference hall, get on the list of speakers, and find a seat with access to a microphone. There is a time limit of three or even two minutes per speaker, and violating that limit is generally frowned upon. Being concise is crucial, and quite useful as well. Three sharp points delivered in 90 seconds can make a much clearer impact than ten points pushed into three or four minutes of speaking time. A prepared, written statement can be handed over for the translators to use, that the statement gets translated into various non-English languages. English remains the main language of OSCE events, and since all presentations are translated to English or from English to other languages. Foreign language skills are not required to work effectively at OSCE events.
Apart from what one brings to the table, following the debate and making comments is equally useful. Not all participating states are equally ripe democracies, and some representatives may deliver unfair criticism (in particular of states) that deserve to be countered. As long as one has the audacity to get onto the speakers’ list, one can comment on any issue taken up in the plenary.
A peculiar effect is that the European Union and associated countries usually seek to speak in unified statements delivered by the current EU chairmanship. That is supposed to increase the impact made, but in practice that single statement tends to be quite toothless and drowned out by the myriad of other voices present, while also erasing the natural diversity of the European countries. For good or ill, this gives even more scope for NGOs to speak their opinions — an opportunity to be used, or important things will remain unsaid.
Side events are smaller meetings where NGOs and others present issues of concern needing more time than plenary sessions permit. Any NGO can register to host such events as long as rooms are available at the conference venues, and such events are listed in the official OSCE agendas for the conferences. Attendance is usually fairly moderate, though announcing the serving of refreshments is often used to attract a larger audience. The side events are run entirely by the NGOs themselves, and can for example be video-recorded and presented to the outside world later.
Another major activity at OSCE consists of submitting papers to the official OSCE archives. There are guidelines to follow, both in style and in size, and it is recommended to keep papers to three pages, though more is accepted. In these papers it is possible to elaborate on issues presented briefly in the plenary sessions, add details, quotes and sources, and after the conference the papers will be available on the OSCE website for interested parties to access.
Presenting printed material
Usually tables or stands are provided where NGOs can place written material, to be taken home by interested participants for further study. These can be flyers or more extensive reports in the form of books. The practical circumstances vary, but if printed material exists, the OSCE events are good opportunities to get it into hands of relevant readers.
Transatlantic Counterjihad contributions at OSCE
The Transatlantic Counterjihad activists took up work at OSCE in 2009, participating in several conferences, submitting papers and taking the floor as often as possible. They gained valuable experience and spoke on crucial issues, at times causing remarkable responses. While the direct benefit is difficult to quantify, it was their opinion that going was very well worth the time and effort, and they will continue working through OSCE as much as is practically possible.
Hofburg, Vienna, 9-10 July 2009:
Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Freedom of Religion or Belief
This particular conference is held infrequently, the previous one being back in 2003. The official summary of the conference outlines how the main events proceeded, attempts to enumerate the ideas and concepts presented in the sessions and some comments about how broad the support was. The summary, as well as a detailed agenda, is available at the OSCE web site: www.osce.org/odihr/41823
An NGO roundtable meeting was held as a precursor to the conference itself. The meeting was chaired by Roy Jenkins and featured 136 NGO representatives. Among other topics discussed was freedom of expression versus freedom of belief, and some representatives argued that some regulations were needed to protect religion from free expression and criticism, also in light of the famous Muhammad cartoons and the unrest they had triggered. ICLA took the floor and said:
In reference to the distinguished speaker suggesting a balancing of freedom of expression and respect for religion, let me make this clarification: I am Danish and know the caricatures very well. The ICLA categorically rejects that there should be any need to create a ‘balance’ between religion and freedom of expression. Healthy religions should not need any protection against free speech and criticism, and should have no problem tolerating caricature or criticism.
As for the proposed recommendation that public schools should be mandated to teach ‘Tolerance’, this is an idea that properly belongs to states like the Soviet Union. Not only would such mandatory teaching of children be exploited for manipulative purposes, it would also lead to the actual problems being glossed over instead of confronted honestly and genuinely resolved. ICLA does not consider this workable in any way.
This point of view was supported by several other NGO representatives, and the idea of granting religions protection under the law did not make it into the final document of NGO recommendations.
Next: Part III(b), The Transatlantic Counterjihad at OSCE (continued)