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Strengthening Security and Dialogue: Insights from the Security Conference on Places of Worship

On November 8th, Fedactio, one of the partners of the PROTONE Project, organized the Security Conference in Brussels at the Chapel for Europe. The event successfully gathered diverse participants, comprising religious leaders and security experts, to explore the complex challenges of securing places of worship and advancing interreligious dialogue. Centred around the ethical aspects of security measures, the conference underscored the importance of fostering open dialogue, maintaining continuous vigilance in media coverage, and adopting a comprehensive approach to protect sacred spaces. The conference aimed to address several key objectives, including the examination of threats to places of worship, the identification of effective security measures, an analysis of the media's role in coverage, and the active involvement of religious leaders and civil society in ensuring the safety of sacred spaces. Through a combination of speeches, panel discussions, and participant engagement, the conference succeeded in providing a holistic view of the challenges faced and potential solutions. Lina Kolesnikova, member of the Institute of Civil Protection & Emergency Management (ICPEM), introduced the concept of "soft targets" – those locations lacking robust security infrastructure, making them susceptible to attacks and the terrorist modalities of lone wolves.  She also explained that some threats can be prevented as extremists often share intentions in advance, seeking attention and support.

Frédéric Coste, Research Director at the Foundation for Strategic Research, shared insights from the "SHRINEs" project and underlined that as places of worship vary according to the context, they require diverse protection measures against risks ranging from malicious acts to natural disasters. Institutional discrimination was highlighted, citing instances where countries failed to implement the right to freedom of religion, leading to unequal registration requirements for different religions. Discrimination in the form of obstacles, prohibitions, or special restrictions on constructing religious buildings was discussed. Coste also addressed the potential discriminatory use of security devices, pointing to the risk of profiling based on stereotypes related to race, ethnic origin, or nationality.

The third speech was delivered by Jean-Jacques Jespers, Professor of Information and Communication Deontology (ULB), who underlined the role of journalists in being vigilant to prevent the spread of misinformation. Despite diverse opinions, hidden biases may exist among journalists, underscoring the need for constant vigilance to maintain objectivity. Media can substantially impact controversial topics, at times escalating to violent confrontations among different parties. Finally, two panels marked the end of the conference. The first one revolved around how to actively involve religious leaders and civil society in the prevention of threats to places of worship. The second one focused on the ways interreligious dialogue can help deconstruct prejudices and strengthen societal belonging. Members from the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist communities were among the panellists and the audience. While aligning with the PROTONE project's goals, the conference shed light on crucial lessons, emphasising the need to explore root causes, develop concrete action plans, and comprehensively address discrimination and political challenges.

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