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For EU’s religious freedom envoy, Middle East is key arena

Thursday, October 27, 2016 0:11
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(Before It's News)

Brussels, Belgium, Oct 27, 2016 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The genocide of Yazidis and Christians in the Middle East and the refugee crisis should be a priority for Europe, the EU special envoy for religious freedom has said.

Jan Figel told CNA that even though “there many other places where religious freedom is liquidated, discriminated and oppressed,” the Middle East is an unavoidable focus.

“It is evident that what it is going on the Middle East affects the rest of the world,” he said at a media symposium organized by Alliance Defending Freedom International in Brussels.

Figel, a Slovak who served as EU Commissioner for Education from 2004 to 2009, was chosen to be the union's special envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the European Union. The position is an observer role and has a one-year term.

“I deem that the religious persecutions against Yazidis and Christians can be labeled as genocide, and this is the reason why the Middle East is a priority: there is a crime committed in the geopolitical center of the world, where three continents meet and the most important religions live together,” he explained.

Figel stressed the need to aid countries at the frontlines of conflicts that involve religious persecution and mass refugee displacement.
 
“Europe should provide more cooperation and assistance, as there are countries, like Jordan, that cannot sustain the flow of refugees that is coming to their lands,” Figel said. “Jordan did not close its borders, it is open to refugees from Syria and Iraq, and needs and deserves more EU support and comprehensive cooperation.”

Figel has focused on the plight of Christians in the Middle East in his own work. For his first official overseas trip, he visited Jordan Oct. 18-19, meeting with representatives of government and religious and civil society leaders.
 
The EU envoy praised Jordanian Muslim leaders’ work against extremism.

Authorities in Jordan “are very much committed in dialogue and action against radicalization, violence and extremism,” Figel said.

This is despite “an increasing climate of tensions” following the assassination of Nahed Attam, a Christian writer killed Sept. 25 because he shared a cartoon on Islam deemed offensive.
 
Figel praised the Jordanian commitment to fighting the Islamic State, known locally as Daesh.

“Jordan is a member of anti-Daesh coalition,” he said.

The country’s work is also cultural. It puts into action “significant initiatives to show that Islam is a moderate religion beyond any extremist interpretations.”
 
The EU envoy praised Jordanian initiatives for dialogue like the Amman Message, which King Abdullah II of Jordan issued in 2004 as a call for tolerance and unity in the Muslim world.

The message recognized eight legal schools across various branches of Islam, rebuked sectarian attitudes like declaring other Muslims apostate, and set conditions to counter illegitimate edicts issued in the name of Islam; it drew support from 200 Islamic scholars from more than 50 countries.

Jordan also backed the 2009 letter “A Common Word Between Us and You,” a response to the controversy following Benedict XVI’s 2005 Regensburg speech that discussed Islam, religion and reason.

With Benedict XVI’s initiative, the letter grew into a forum that meets every three years. The endeavor aims to find common ground of dialogue between Catholicism and Islam. The initiative’s facilitator is Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan, the king’s first cousin.

King Abdullah and Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad also launched the World Interfaith Harmony Week, marked in the first week of February.

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