Countering Hate Speech and Embracing Diversity in Europe:

What is the Outlook for Policy-Driven Approaches?

for the International Dialogue Centre Forum 

Msgr. Indunil J. Kodithuwakku K.

21 October 2021

On behalf of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, I would like to thank the organisers for inviting me to speak in this opening plenary.

In my presentation, I will try to explore briefly the following two questions:

  1. How can we account for hate speech in Europe today?
  2. How can we counter hate speech and foster diversity in Europe?
  1. How can we account for hate speech in Europe today?

The motto of the European Union is United in Diversity. Yet, today, we see a gradual deterioration of this motto due to multiple crises. Addressing the World Conference on the theme “Xenophobia, racism and populist nationalism in the context of global migration”, Pope Francis noted: “We live in times in which feelings that to many had seemed to be outdated appear to be re-emerging and spreading. Feelings of suspicion, fear, contempt and even hatred towards other individuals or groups judged to be different on the basis of their ethnicity, nationality or religion, and as such, believed not to be sufficiently worthy to participate fully in the life of society” (Rome, 18-20 September 2018).

Furthermore, due to media discourse with a repetition of expressions like a ‘huge migration crisis’, the radicalisation of migrants and members of diasporas, ‘migrants and refugees may be infiltrated by terrorist groups’ etc., migrants are perceived as a threat to national identity, domestic security and the social fabric. As a matter of fact, some of these concerns should not be dismissed outright because some terrorist attacks have taken place and radicalisation is a social phenomenon. Yet, labelling all migrants as possible radicals or extremists for terrorist attacks carried out by tiny groups or fanatic isolated individuals create a fertile ground for radical groups to thrive.

On the other hand, far-right extremist parties and movements exploit these fears and transform them into political discourses on security and identity issues.

  1. How can we counter hate speech and foster diversity in Europe?

The drama of hate speech has been exacerbated by the global crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Legal provisions alone cannot regulate and combat hate speech. Relevant stakeholders and organizations need to work together to build a stronger civil society through reactive measures and response mechanisms. How can the religious actors contribute to prevent and combat this social plague?

Family and fraternity: Charity begins at home. So, religious actors can help the family to be a place of nurturing and promoting the values of sharing, welcoming, fraternity and solidarity.

Fostering interreligious dialogue as an essential function to build civil coexistence, and as a necessary condition for peace in the world.

Dialogue and religious extremism: – we cannot speak of interreligious dialogue as a way of fostering a fraternal world without addressing the scourge of religious extremism. Therefore, Religious communities need to do some soul searching.

Dialogue and cooperation: Pope Francis said: “There is no alternative: either we will build the future together or there will be no future. Religions in particular cannot renounce the urgent task of building bridges between peoples and cultures.” (Address of Pope Francis at the Global Conference of Human Fraternity, Founder’s Memorial Abu Dhabi, 4.2.2019).

Need of Healthy and open Dialogue between religious actors and policy makers

Dialogue and Education: United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech 2019 encourages “using education as a tool for addressing and countering hate speech”. In the same vain, promoting the initiative of a Global Compact on Education, Pope Francis highlights that “Religions have always had a close relationship with education, […] to advance universal fraternity”.

Dialogue and social communication: – those who work in the field of social communication, have the duty to put themselves at the service of truth and to broadcast information taking care to promote a culture of encounter and openness to others with mutual respect for diversity. Tackling online radicalisation is a responsibility of all.

Dialogue and migrants: – All believers and men and women of good will, need to share the responsibility to welcome, to protect, to promote andto integrate” the migrants and refugees.

The role of free speech and hate speech: – There is an ongoing debate about the role of speech in society. Freedom of religion and freedom of speech are both fundamental human These rights need to be practised without offending others. Here, the Golden Rule– “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” as an ethical principle needs to be applied.


Countering Hate Speech and Embracing Diversity is a great responsibility of all of us – believers and men and women of good will are called to respond together with generosity, promptness, wisdom and courage. Because hate speech violates the dignity of the person and treats him/her as something, not as someone. Here, we need to recognize the praiseworthy efforts of some countries, international and local organizations and communities for their hospitality, fraternity, solidarity and struggles, concretely expressed to prevent and combat this social menace. I wish to reaffirm our shared responsibility with the following words of Pope Francis:

You have to know in order to understand.

It is necessary to be close in order to serve.

In order to be reconciled, we need to listen.

In order to grow, it is necessary to share.

We need to be involved in order to promote.

It is necessary to cooperate in order to build

(Message for the 106th World Day of Migrants and Refugees2020).