2 December 2006 in the
Today, we have the unprecedented chance to associate with people from other cultures and religions. This creates the opportunity for new innovations and the spread of the wealth that wells up from cultural diversity. Historically, different cultures have always borrowed from each another and they have also nurtured each other.
You need two parties to build a flourishing life together. Everyone is equally responsible: a Christian, a Muslim or anyone else with another conviction. In an increasingly tense world, only dialogue and concrete action can lead to a just society that provides everyone with the same opportunities, respect and security regardless of their ethnic origin or conviction.
We need a national dialogue and we invite all parties to join in this process: Muslim communities, churches, other religious communities, non-governmental organisations and the government. We need dialogue between religious leaders and the authorities, but it is also important that this dialogue takes place within communities and among their members. Dialogue bears fruit only through active participation, through equality between the parties involved.
Over the past few years, we have had to witness the development of a growing gap between Islam and the West. Moderate voices are in danger of being drowned by the purposeful, over-simplified rhetoric of extremist groups. At the same time, they fan the flames of fear amongst the general population. This distorted discussion is taking us in a direction that we oppose. Our goal is a tolerant and safe Finland.
Over the past few years, there has been a growing feeling of frustration in Muslim countries. Unresolved international conflicts have been the source of bitterness, human suffering and violations against human rights. Extremist movements make use of these elements, and they adapt them to suit their own purposes. They try to give religious content and significance to problems even though in reality, these problems have a social and economic background. At its best, religion offers a safe and lasting foundation for life. When mistreated and misunderstood, it becomes a threat to the collective life of people.
In a world of hostile images, we are in danger of forgetting that the essence of all religions is good. We refuse to become tools for the rhetoric of hate. All religions rest on a firm foundation of respect for other human beings and what they hold sacred.
Open discussion calls for the free sharing of information and critical ability. Everyone needs the courage to express their own conviction and listen to each other. This calls for self-confidence and identity.
European countries have a multicultural and multiethnic population structure. We have to approach it with an open mind, without being overly sensitive. Each and every individual has right to feel that they are part of Finnish society and to be proud of their own cultural heritage.
We need concrete action. Such acts include training Islamic religious education teachers in Finland. All children must be allowed to receive high-standard education in their own religion in comprehensive schools. All people living in Finland must be guaranteed burial and a final resting place in accordance with their own religion. All religious communities should fall within the sphere of public funding.
There is a need to establish a systematic dialogue between Muslim communities and the authorities. Different countries have experimented with different models and we can learn from them here in Finland. We give our full support to the recently established Finnish Islamic Council.
The problems associated with integration into a new country should be prevented by providing immigrants with work, education and economic and social services. In this way, we shall avert conflicts based on religious belief. Furthermore, both Finnish people and immigrants need more knowledge of each other’s cultures in their dealings with the authorities and in their day-to-day activities.
Special attention must be paid to the status of women. They play a huge role as peacemakers. They have the right to participate in building society and its religious communities as equal partners.
Our values are democracy, the rule of law, the right to free speech, equality, tolerance and human rights, all of which benefit everyone living in Finland.
These values do not come free; we have to work for them and actively promote and defend them. Only when we fully implement these values do we guarantee a secure Finland – humanly, physically and socially.