Monday, 12 March 2012

Times: Combating discrimination and hate crimes
Editorial, Wednesday, February 15, 2012

In the wake of two condemnable incidents thought to be homophobia related, the Prime Minister has rightly insisted on the respect due to the dignity of every person independently of colour, belief or sexual orientation. He also called on the forces of law and order to follow the government's direction by enforcing the legal provisions and announced a revision of laws with a view to establish whether it is necessary to make them tighter.

The incidents in question raise the issue of whether society is doing enough to truly and effectively drive home the message – among all generations, it must be stressed – about the full respect due to the personal dignity impressed by the Creator upon every human being.

If society wants to really succeed in its endeavours to avoid having incidents directly or indirectly linked to the respect due to the dignity of the human person, whoever that person may be, the main foundations must be in education.

The central objective of education is the comprehensive development of the human personality, in all its dimensions. Therefore, it should be an all-round proper education that also opens the person to others and promotes mutual acceptance, appreciation of diversity and social cohesion.

Such a framework of education should primarily take shape through school and community programmes. Educators, administrators and other leaders in the community should be provided with professional information and training to assist them in their formation endeavours of the younger generations. It should also help them in recognising, combating and preventing bias-related incidents and crimes.

However, there needs to be state-encouraged or sponsored additional initiatives applied through the means of social communication.

In the case of the mass media, one particular area that surely needs to be educationally addressed is the internet, which, in many respects, is a most powerful means of communication where people multiply their contacts and sharing and where blogs, social networks and channels are thriving.

The internet's potential for good is, without doubt, enormous. It is a source of many benefits. It provides an almost unending flood of information, offers extensive knowledge and marvellous facilities for exchanges and dialogue. Yet, the internet can be and sometimes is also used irresponsibly and in damaging ways. This happens, for instance, where the "forum" is turned into an "arena" in which practically everything is considered acceptable by certain intolerant people because of, say, racist or xenophobic tendencies.

The action on how best to address such a problem needs to be inspired by the wisdom that the task of communication, properly used, should be to help build and sustain a community based on mutual respect and understanding, human dignity, fairness and justice and a meaningful dialogue also towards unity in diversity.

The foundation of diversity lies in creation itself. Its reality is part of the human existence. We must, therefore, do everything we can to transform discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance into understanding and mutual acceptance.

The best cure is in education, respect and open, constructive and persuasive dialogue. Nonetheless, there could and will always be those who refuse to listen and go their own way. Thus, education needs to be accompanied by all the other legitimate actions possible to combat effectively discrimination based, for example, on race, origin, colour, culture, religion, sex or sexual orientation.

Moreover, hate language and hate crimes, whatever the motive , should be dealt with promptly and sternly.

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