Church representatives across Europe cautioned Wednesday against a rise in xenophobic attitudes toward minorities and urged political leaders to stop pinning blame, and start promoting human values. “Simple slogans and cheap propaganda at the expense of immigrants and against the EU may have their impact on some people who are worried about their future; however, they are not a response to the complex challenge of our times,” Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg said Feb. 18. The archbishop made his comments at the launch of the European Justice and Peace Commissions’ 2015 Concerted Action. Founded in 1971 by bishops conferences, the European Justice and Peace Commissions are a network of 31 committees mandated to work for the promotion of justice, peace, and respect for human dignity. They work in close relation with the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in promoting Catholic social doctrine in European societies and institutions. Each year the commissions jointly issue a “concerted action” point, which is agreed upon and then implemented by the national commissions at the national level. With this year’s concerted action titled “The nationalism of exclusion,” the commissions hone in on the growing phenomenon of racism and xenophobia across Europe — as evidenced by the rise of the UK Independence Party, a British anti-immigration political party skeptical of the EU which made strides in 2013 elections; the October 2014 formation of Pegida, a German political organization that demonstrates against “Islamization of the West”; and anti-Semitic attacks in France which led 7,000 French Jews to emigrate to Israel last year. The commission's document opens with a call-out to political parties which advocate for “narrow national interests” at election times, rather than a concern for universal human values and international obligations. Calling the phenomenon a “matter of serious concern,” the commissions asked political leaders at every level “to join ranks in developing a robust response to growing racism and xenophobia in Europe, in order to ensure respect for the rights of every individual.” The pursuit of autonomy or a specific state for a particular nation or ethnic group within an already existing European state is a valid political goal, according to the commissions, so long as it is achieved by democratic and non-violent means. Commission members also affirmed the right of minorities living in foreign countries to maintain a strong attachment to their place of birth and mother tongue. The Church’s social teaching, which holds that all human beings are equal in dignity, protects this right. What is worrisome, they said, is the increased search for popularity and power through “simplistic political programs and slogans” founded on the idea that national prosperity and security can only be achieved “by unilateral measures, if necessary to the detriment of other peoples.” Often finding their way into mainstream media, these measures frequently fuel nationalistic political agendas expressed in a racist or xenophobic way reminiscent of the “belligerent and ultra-nationalist politics which preceded both World Wars,” commission members observed. The promotion of a specific nation or nationality by party leaders as the solution to contemporary challenges, rather than solving any problems, makes matters worse and often leads to exclusion, they noted. What they termed the “nationalism of exclusion” runs contrary to human dignity and “denies justice because it denies fundamental rights on the basis of national, racial or religious origin.” Commission members condemned the actions of certain “populist nationalist politicians” in playing on peoples’ fears in order to obtain power. Simplistic solutions based on injustice and the marginalization of certain members of society, they said, will never allow for the blossoming of a peaceful and progressive community. Migration, the document read, “is one very pertinent example to illustrate a tendency to ignore realities” since historic causes of migration often include political and religious conflict, and now climate change. A rapid shortage of labor in Europe was also mentioned as a growing concern. In this light the complete closure of borders, the commissions said, “is both unrealistic and inhumane.” “Other solutions should be developed at European and international levels,” members said, explaining that without immigration, Europe will also lose its ability to maintain high levels of social care for the sick and elderly, in addition to other social services. Another example of the temptation to disregard reality is that of seeking to pin individual blame on the European Union for social inequalities as well as the current economic and unemployment crises. While some nations advocate that leaving the EU is the best solution to continental problems, commission members observed that these same nations become far less explicit “when asked to explain how they see the future of their country” within framework of production, distribution, and consumption. Although the EU is far from perfect, it continues to serve as a means of maintaining peace and assists in resolving conflicts on the European continent, the document continued. To attack the European Union or any other country “has to be recognized for what it is — a smokescreen.” Solutions countering the “nationalism of exclusion” are the responsibility of everyone, commission members noted, saying that respect for human values must be at the core of any and all resolutions. “Racist and xenophobic violence in word or deed is unacceptable from a moral and legal point of view. It must be condemned and penalized,” they said, recognizing that the courage to do this is found within a deep love for common values. Christians, the document read, must seek “to take an active part in public life, and to work for the benefit of the whole human race, as well as for (our) own political communities.” The document closed with an appeal for politicians to work toward developing migration policies that contain shared responsibilities and measures to counter various forms of forced migration. Leaders were encouraged to promote European integration through both positive praise and constructive criticism. They were also cautioned to avoid the temptation “to scapegoat the European Union for domestically generated problems.” Citizens at the civil and ecclesial levels were also asked to speak out against both public and private expressions of nationalist rhetoric, and promote the deepening of democracy, solidarity and respect for human dignity.
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