ULAB-CES organizes webinar series on protecting diversity, tolerance and pluralism amid the pandemic
Global and local thinkers at a webinar series said that protecting diversity and pluralism along with practice of tolerance have become more important than ever in the Covid-19 pandemic, as the pandemic has created a void in people’s life. This void in people’s lives might lead them into engaging with extremist ideologies online, they said. Intolerant and communal propaganda, online radicalization can make its way to people’s lives using social media platforms. The civil society organizations should come forward to identify these vulnerable groups in the community and promote human rights, tolerance, diversity, and pluralism to protect them from misinformation, disinformation, and conspiracy theories circulating online about the ongoing pandemic.
The webinar series was organized by the Center for Enterprise and Society (CES) at University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB), in partnership with Chatham House, a leading international think tank based in London, UK, and Impact and Policy Research Institute (IPRI), India on September 19, September 26, and October 3.
It was originally prepared for an international conference in Dhaka on diversity, tolerance and pluralism. Due to the pandemic, the organizers turned it into a webinar series where leading scholars of this field from and abroad joined virtually.
CES Director Sajid Amit told Dhaka Tribune, “ The outcome is a more learned and aware audience who witnessed the discussions live on Dhaka Tribune's page and various platforms of influencers we hosted, who are now more likely to engage in critical thinking regarding issues of diversity, tolerance and pluralism.”
In the first webinar, speakers discussed the role of education in promoting diversity, tolerance, and pluralism.
Dr Tariq Modood, professor of Sociology at University of Bristol, said, “Tolerance means accepting other people despite having different cultures and views. Tolerance has its limitations too. Sometimes people put up with things they do not approve of. Discrimination, sexism, and homophobia often coexist with tolerance.”
In the second webinar titled “The role of Civil Society Organizations (CSO) in Promoting Diversity, Tolerance and Pluralism”, Afsan Chowdhury, an esteemed historian, writer, and teacher in Bangladesh, said: “Civil society in Bangladesh is not strong enough as it is an informal society.”
The third webinar focused on the role of youth in protecting diversity, tolerance, and pluralism. Speakers in this episode of the webinar series shed light on the role of parents to protect their children from being radicalized.
The first webinar, moderated by Sajid Amit, discussed the role of education in promoting diversity, tolerance, and pluralism
Dr Francis X Clooney, SJ
Professor, Harvard Divinity School
"The pandemic has shown that caring for your own community is not enough. Covid-19 is a dark cloud with a silver lining. It taught us to reach out to each other,"
Dr Imtiaz Ahmed
Professor of International Relations, Dhaka University
“We should take lessons from Cuba or Vietnam. These countries are doing very well tackling the virus. On the other hand, many political leaders who are promoting political ideologies like their parties or nations are the greatest, are struggling with the Covid-19 virus.”
Dr Samia Huq
Associate Professor of Anthropology, Brac University
“Religious textbooks should be about religion, but not for religion. This does not mean that education should be against religion.”
Dr Agustín Fuentes
Professor of Anthropology, Princeton University
“Covid-19 does not differentiate between humans on the basis of their race, culture, and religion. But its impact does vary on people from different cultures and nationalities.”
Dr Tariq Modood
Professor of Sociology, University of Bristol
“Tolerance means accepting other people despite having different cultures and views. Tolerance has its limitations too. Sometimes people put up with things they do not approve of. Discrimination, sexism, and homophobia often coexist with tolerance.”
The second webinar focused on the role of civil society organizations to protect diversity, plurality, and tolerance
Head, FE/HE Regional Delivery Network (Prevent and Counter Extremism)
‘‘The pandemic is driving young people to spend more unsupervised time online, where the feeling of boredom and isolation may be exploited by negative influencers and online groomers of all kinds.”
Professor, Brac University
“The civil society in Bangladesh is not strong enough as it is an informal society. The real extremists in Bangladesh are economic criminals and these criminals cannot be stopped without the support of the government.”
Senior Program Manager, International Centre for Counter Terrorism (The Hague)
“Violent extremism flourishes where there is lack of mutual respect, a lack of peaceful coexistence among different ethnic, social or religious groups.”
Second Secretary, British High Commission in Dhaka
“Institutions that provide higher education are required to put systems in place to identify, address and challenge extremism in order to help prevent vulnerable students and staff being drawn into terrorism.”
Dr Indu Prakash Singh
Human rights activist
“Muslims in India are being blamed for spreading Covid-19 as a few Tabligh Jamaat attendees tested positive for the deadly virus.”
The third episode, moderated by 10 Minute School CEO Ayman Sadiq, focused on the role of youth in protecting diversity, tolerance, and pluralism
CEO, Cloud Tuition
“Neither religious groups nor racial groups are inherently violent in any way. The discrimination is a result of political ideologies being used for political motives. It boils down to an anti-diversity rhetoric spreading on social media. We need to be careful of what sources of information we surround ourselves with. Pluralism is not about agreeing with anyone’s views, it is about not discriminating, treating each other equally as humans.”
Founder and CEO, Identity Inclusion
“During this pandemic…we spent a lot of time on social media, because of our work online. That resulted in all these hate crimes increasing. If we practiced good mental hygiene, then we would take our time to listen to people, ask questions.”
CEO and Editorial Director, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI)
“Unfortunately, there are parents who are unable to communicate…about the struggle that the families are going through.”
Journalist and Co-founder, Switch Perspective
“We always work with stories, and we really believe that it’s not just that we tell stories about the world, it’s also the way we tell stories actually shape the world, so it’s a small thing for us, any of us, to change things.”
Founder and CEO, Change
“Youth can play a vital role to help their senior family members and their young members to adapt technology and use different ICT platforms because we all know, suddenly in a few months the whole world’s work culture has changed. Now mostly we’re working from home while offices and businesses are operating remotely’’
Speakers at the webinar series recommended that the civil society organizations should consider exploring options for critical thinking, online safety, and media literacy for these vulnerable groups and promote human rights and values like diversity, tolerance, and inclusion in the communities they work with to prevent violent extremism and terrorism.
As coronavirus does not respect any religion boundaries, it is high time people regardless of their religious identity should reach out to each other. In this way people can build communal harmony and dispel religious intolerance in a society.
Dhaka Tribune asked CES Director Sajid Amit about the reason behind this series. The interview has been condensed for clarity and length
What was the goal for organizing this webinar series? Has that been achieved?
We had prepared for an international conference in Dhaka on diversity, tolerance and pluralism. The goal was to approach it from the angle of what educational institutions can do to foster the aforementioned issues. We planned to cover how social media figures in this discussion, and alsaym
o what the role of youth leaders, influencers, may be in this day and age, given how much time our youth spend online. Covid-19 put an end to such aspirations, but the CES team acted nimbly, if I say so myself, in transforming the conference to a series of webinars. We were still able to feature high-profile speakers such as academics from Harvard, Princeton, and Bristol, alongside youth leaders and civil society stalwarts. We captured the findings and are currently working on producing conference proceedings and other such academic and communications materials.
Does CES/ULAB have any plans for implementing the outcome from the webinar series?
The outcome is a more learned and aware audience who witnessed the discussions live on Dhaka Tribune's page and various platforms of influencers we hosted, who are now more likely to engage in critical thinking regarding issues of diversity, tolerance and pluralism. Past research indicates that such discussions open minds of our youth. In terms of other outcomes, there is a plan to continue such initiatives by means of a massive open online course (MOOC) on the subject matter. We expect to be working on this MOOC soon.