Discorso “Populism, Islam, and the Rule of Law”

Roma, Ambasciata di Turchia, 10 aprile 2017

Excellency, distinguished Panelist and Guests,

I would like to thank the Ambassador of Turkey  Murat Salim Esenl, Professor De Luca, Secretary General of Diplomatia, and Imam Yahya Pallavicini, President of Coreis for this very timely, in close collaboration  with Fondazione Luigi Einaudi.

My contribution to this debate will try to focus, in particular,  on the fundamental importance of the Rule of Law and Freedom of Religion and Belief –FORB – as the essential and  constitutive element for  the whole EU architecture and the external  relations of the Union and its member States.

While this truth is self evident and only reinforced when we read  the Lisbon Treaty, the EU Council deliberations, CFSP guidelines and statements, there are few other areas of European policies where to such an extent deeds don’t match words.  It was that specific concern to convince one year ago Marco Pannella, the outstanding figure engaged all along his life in the promotion of freedoms and human rights, to launch the Global Committee for the Rule of Law, aimed at raising awareness among like minded countries and civil societies.

I would like to draw you attention: first on the TEU, and Rule of Law  universality; second, on the Charter of fundamental rights of the EU; third on the CFSP guidelines on FORB; fourth, on the EU-Turkey relations and the Rule of Law; and fifth, Islam and FORB.


I) The Rule of Law is the constituent principle of all EU member States The clearest and more explicit reference is made by TEU Art. 2:

”The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and human rights”. According to art. 2, these are “values”, and not mere “principles” like in the previous Treaties. Insofar it originates from constitutional traditions belonging to each member State, the Rule of Law is the overarching, constitutive norm of the Union.

The universality of the Rule of Law and human rights neither does  require that they were universal in creation, nor does it imply that they were the exclusive invention of mighty and powerful States.

In his book “Universal Human Rights in theory and in practice”, Professor Jack Donnelly notes that conceptions of security and sovereignty have been changing since 1975 Helsinki Final Act. That Agreement was signed primarily to ratify the European borders and to recognise States sovereignty as established by WWII. However, human rights were for the first time addressed in a major security agreement between superpowers and treated as a fundamental security issue. An approach which became deeply entrenched in all subsequent UN deliberations. The six leading human rights treaties had an average of 172 parties in 2012. A 88% ratification rate is strikingly high in contemporary world. Even more notable, as Jack Donnelly writes, is “the penetration of human rights into bilateral, multilateral, transnational diplomacy, and these rights have become standard subject”. China- just to make a telling example- a country where in the 1980’s the very use of the term “human rights” could land people in jail, is adopting that language and has undersigned most of the human rights related UN documents.

In this sense promoting   Rule of Law, human rights and FORB is now more than ever a fundamental task for the global diplomacy. In the 2000 Millennium Declaration the member States of the United Nations resolved to strengthen respect for the rule of law in international as in national affairs.

Systemic violations of human rights, intolerance towards political or religious belief, suppression of individual freedoms, are the most frequent sources of conflict between States and within States. Disregard for them is the common denominator when settlements by force substitute settlements by law, and arbitrary power overcomes reliance on law.


II) The Charter of fundamental rights of the European Union states the following: “The peoples of Europe … are resolved to share a peaceful future based on common values. Conscious of its spiritual and moral heritage, the Union is founded on the indivisible, universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity; it is based on the principles of democracy and the rule of law. The Charter reaffirms … the rights as they result, in particular, from the constitutional traditions and international obligations common to the Member States, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the Social Charters adopted by the Union and by the Council of Europe and the case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Union and of the European Court of Human Rights.”


III) CFSP Guidelines on FORB were adopted in June 2013 by the EU Foreign Affairs Council and are especially important: both in terms of definitions as well as for the concrete actions that member States agreed in the aftermath of Arab Springs, and the intolerance and radicalizations accrued with the crises in the Mediterranean and Middle East.

The Guidelines refer to the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB as  fundamental right of every human being, and as a universal human right which safeguards respect for diversity. Its free exercise directly contributes to democracy, development, rule of law, peace and stability. Violations of freedom of religion or belief exacerbate intolerance and constitute early indicators of potential violence and conflicts.  All persons have the right to manifest their religion or belief either individually or in community with others and in public or private in worship, observance, practice and teaching, without fear of intimidation, discrimination, violence or attack. Persons who change or leave their religion or belief, as well as persons holding non-theistic or atheistic beliefs should be equally protected, as well as people who do not profess any religion or belief. Violations or abuses of freedom of religion or belief, committed both by state and non-state actors, are widespread and complex and affect people in all parts of the world, including Europe.

IV) EU-Turkey relations and the Rule of Law. As stated by the Commission’s Communication to the Council and to the EP on 9 November 2016,Turkey remains a key partner for the European Union. Turkey has been linked to the EU by an Association Agreement since 1964 and a customs union was established in 1995. The European Council granted the status of candidate country to Turkey in December 1999 and accession negotiations were opened in October 2005. At the EU-Turkey Summit of 29 November 2015, the EU and Turkey decided to reinvigorate and deepen their relations in all key areas of joint interest.

The EU strongly and immediately condemned the attempted coup of 15 July 2016, which represented a direct attack on democracy in Turkey, and expressed its solidarity to the Turkish democratic institutions. Given the subsequent scale and collective nature of measures taken since the coup attempt, the EU called on the authorities to observe the highest standards in respecting the rule of law and fundamental rights, in line with Turkey’s international commitments and status as a candidate country.

Within the framework of accession negotiations, 16 chapters have been opened so far and one of these was provisionally closed. The preparatory documents were submitted to the Council for chapters 15, 26 and 31, without prejudice to Member States’ positions in accordance with the existing rules. Preparatory documents for chapters 23 on judiciary and fundamental rights and 24 on justice, freedom and security are in the process of being finalised. Turkey can accelerate the pace of negotiations by advancing in the fulfilment of the benchmarks, meeting the requirements of the negotiating framework and by respecting its contractual obligations towards the EU. The EU and Turkey continued to enhance dialogue and cooperation in the areas of joint interest, which support and complement the accession negotiations, including with a number of mutual visits at the highest level.

V) Islam and FORB. The point is , in my opinion , perfectly explained by a recent op-ed published in the NYT 28/3/2017 “Free speech and Muslims”, by Mustafa Akyol.

“…Often Muslims support liberalism when it serves them and reject it when it does not. They use the religious freedom in the West, for example to seek converts to Islam, while condemning converts from Islam to another religion as “apostates” who deserve death. Or ask for the right to freely organize rallies in Europe, while you are crushing opposition rallies at home … Such double standards can be found in every society, Mr. Wilders himself, who cheers for freedom while aiming to ban the Quran, is a striking example. But some contemporary Muslims do it too easily, switching at will between “our rules” and “ their rules”. The prominent Turkish theologian Ali Bardakiglu, the former head of the Religious Directorate, wrote about this “double morality” in a recent book and called on fellow Muslims to be more self critical about it. Muslims should not be, he argued, “people who can surf between different value systems”.

The deeper problem is that Islam as a legal and moral tradition, developed at a time when the world was a very different place. There was a very limited concept of individual freedom, as people lived in strictly defined communities. There were no notions of international law, universal human rights, the secular state, or freedom of religion. Moreover, Muslims were often the dominant faith, making the rules to their advantage – such as tolerating non-Muslims as “protected “ but inferior communities.

That pre-modern world is long gone. There is now an increasingly diverse world where boundaries fade, cultures meet and individuals roam. Muslim opinion leaders must decide where thy stand. Do we Muslims want a free world with universal principles in which everyone, including us, lives according to their own values?”

That is, in essence, the question also raised by President Al-Sisi in his address to  Cairo’s Al- Azar University at the end of 2014. The Egyptian President called to combat extremist ideology and said: “We need to revolutionize our religion.” Calling for “religious discourse that is in keeping with its times,” Al-Sisi warned that “the Islamic nation is being torn apart and destroyed” by extremism, and intolerance against religious freedom. Since entering office in June 2014, Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi, had – in fact – incorporated reforms meant to improve education,  tolerance and a  vision of Islam to be perceived as part of a long process of creating a democratic, religiously tolerant country, by also making changes in school textbooks on Islam.

In conclusion, I hope that the these considerations make sufficiently clear the fundamental importance of principles and norms related to the Rule of Law, human rights and FORB in the past, present and future history of the European Union, and more didely of the international community. We should therefore be aware of the split existing between deeds and words. Just to make a recent example, let me mention the “Rome declaration for the 60th Anniversary of the European Union”:

… In these times of change, and aware of the concerns of our citizens, we commit to the Rome Agenda, and pledge to work towards:

a Union which promotes equality between women and men as well as rights and equal opportunities for all; a Union which fights unemployment, discrimination, social exclusion and poverty; a Union where young people receive the best education and training and can study and find jobs across the continent; a Union which preserves our cultural heritage and promotes cultural diversity.…a Union …proud of its values and protective of its people, promoting free and fair trade and a positive global climate policy.





©2024 Giulio Terzi

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