What can liberal politicians do to promote tolerance between religious groups and non-believers? This was the question posed by LI Human Rights Committee (LIHRC) member, Boris van der Ham, to the politicians and delegates who participated in a debate hosted by the LI HRC and Democrats 66 (D66, Netherlands – LI full-member) in Accra, Ghana on 4 March 2018 in the margin of the Africa Liberal Network’s (ALN – LI cooperating organisation) 14th General Assembly.
The debate, entitled Freedom of Religion and Belief: Liberal Strategies and Perspectives, saw participants from 15 countries exchange experiences and form policy strategies to advance religious (and non-religious) freedoms. Boris van der Ham, who moderated the discussions, opened up the debate by inquiring about liberal politicians’ responsibility in promoting religious tolerance and respect for non-believers.
Amel Chaherli, a member of the national council of Afek Tounis, set out the situation concerning freedom of belief in Tunisia by explaining the influence that Muslim political parties have in the immediate region. Ms Chaherli emphasized the importance of engaging with such parties in order to promote moderate thinking.
Hatim Beggar (Mouvement Populaire, Morocco – LI full-member), endorsed Amel Chaherli’s engagement proposition by explaining that the Quran respects freedom of religion and belief. Using the Moroccan context as an example he added: “The preamble of the Moroccan Constitution clearly refers to the different religious backgrounds which exist in the country showcasing that the Moroccan people are tolerant and respectful towards other religions. In fact there has never been a religious conflict in Morocco and the country is known for training moderate Islam imams across the African continent.”
Representing the wider African perspective, President of the Africa Liberal Network and LI HRC Member Stevens Mokgalapa MP (Democratic Alliance, South Africa – LI full-member) highlighted the role liberals can have in de-escalating tensions that can often exist between different religions across the continent. “We need to drive the project of freedom of religion and belief so that it is enshrined in all of our constitutions. The issue is often seen as one of the major sources of conflict in Africa and therefore there is a need for evolution in society’s thinking so that there is no tension between mainstream and indigenous religions on the continent”, he said.
Freedom of Religion and Belief forms one of the LI HRC’s four priority work areas. Last year, Liberal International released a booklet providing a liberal insight into the reconciliation of freedom of belief and freedom of expression in an age where extremism is misleadingly seen as synonymous with on religion.