As 2019, the Year of Tolerance, comes to a close, preparations are underway to welcome a new year that will carry a new name to focus attention on a national issue that serves the interests of the UAE and its most important objectives.
It is worth pausing to take stock and assess the UAE’s achievements during the Year of Tolerance; particularly its status regionally and globally, its image as a symbol and incubator of international tolerance, as well as its role in promoting the values of tolerance and acceptance in the region and world.
Before delving into discussing the achievements of the Year of Tolerance, which was declared by His Highness Shaikh Kh alifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, I think it is worthwhile to highlight a pivotal idea that has for more than ten years governed the overall philosophy of our wise leadership.
Annually, the state dedicates a year to highlighting a national issue or specific value. The attention given to that issue places it at the top of national priorities for both state and society, and plays an important role in enhancing the UAE’s power and cohesion, in addition to consolidating its development and civilisational model.
Elevating an issue by making it a state symbol and the primary media and official focus for an entire year undoubtedly contributes to strengthening that national value or issue, promoting societal awareness of it and consolidating the idea in the minds of the public.
It also encourages official and non-official institutions within the state to propose ideas, mechanisms and innovations that support and strengthen that issue, so that it becomes part of the general culture in society and official policy guidance. This has been our experience from previous annual initiatives.
The project will bring together the three Abrahamic religions; Islam, Christianity and Judaism, and will seek to promote globally tolerant religious discourse, extolling the values of humanitarianism, peace, love and human fraternity among different religions and sects in the world.
The answer is ‘yes’
Since the launch of the Year of Tolerance, its goals were clear. These goals covered a number of key areas, the most important of which include deepening values of tolerance and openness in Emirati society; consolidating the position of the UAE as an international capital of tolerance; stressing the value of tolerance as a sustainable institutional endeavour by adopting legislation and policies to achieve this goal; promoting a culture of tolerance; and, enhancing a discourse of tolerance and acceptance through purposeful media, educational and cultural initiatives. The pivotal question that arises is: Have these goals been achieved? Are the achievements of the Year of Tolerance limited to these areas, or are they more comprehensive?
An objective review leaves no room for an answer other than “yes”. The first objective of deepening values of tolerance, openness and acceptance in society has been realised to a great extent. State and media focus on tolerance, and the variety of events and programmes to consolidate the value, have created a general atmosphere that supports tolerance.
Societal awareness of tolerance has increased in official and non-official state institutions, such as schools, universities, government and private institutions, and in intellectual and research institutions, at the forefront of which is the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR).
The ECSSR has made this issue its pivotal intellectual endeavour, organising seven academic lectures on tolerance to inform Emirati society of the importance of its various dimensions. In addition, the ECSSR has issued several publications, studies and articles aimed at raising society’s awareness of tolerance and enhancing the UAE model of tolerance regionally and globally.
The focus here is on enhancing the value of tolerance, because this value is already deep-rooted in the culture and history of the UAE’s sons and daughters. It represents one of the most crucial elements of the legacy of the Founding Father, the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. However, the tide of extremism, hatred and violence propagated by terrorist organisations and extremist groups has made it imperative that we refocus on the value of tolerance and consolidate it in the hearts and minds of all in society.
Tolerance represents the greatest weapon in confronting the spread of terrorist ideas, ideologies and actions. I can say with absolute confidence that the greatest outcome of the Year of Tolerance is that it has brought tolerance to the fore, increasing society’s awareness.
The second objective to establish the UAE as a global capital of tolerance was achieved by the initiatives launched in the country. I would like to refer to two significant events.
The first is the launch of the Document on Human Fraternity, signed by His Holiness Pope Francis, Head of the Catholic Church, and His Eminence Dr Ahmad Al Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar, in the UAE in February 2019, under the auspices and with the involvement of the UAE’s wise leadership.
With exemplary principles that aim to consolidate tolerance, acceptance of others, human fraternity and harmonious coexistence between the followers of the two largest religions in the world, this document highlights, in unequivocal terms, the message of humanitarianism, peace and tolerance that the UAE seeks to convey to the rest of the world.
Promoting tolerant religious discourse
The second event is connected to the Document on Human Fraternity, the Abrahamic Family House, which is to be built on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, under the direction of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. The project will bring together the three Abrahamic religions; Islam, Christianity and Judaism, and will seek to promote globally tolerant religious discourse, extolling the values of humanitarianism, peace, love and human fraternity among different religions and sects in the world.
These two extremely important events affirmed to all that the UAE is not only a land of tolerance, but also a vital hub for spreading tolerance throughout the world.
The third objective is to highlight the value of tolerance as an institutional action, which is something the UAE sought to achieve even before announcing the Year of Tolerance. In 2016, the UAE introduced the post of Minister of State for Tolerance, the first in the world. In June 2016, the UAE Cabinet approved the National Tolerance Programme, and in 2017, the International Institute for Tolerance was established. The Year of Tolerance 2019 has built on these efforts, as the value of tolerance has been promoted and cultivated in government and private entities, and through awareness programmes.
The UAE has managed to transform tolerance into an institutional framework that sustains and strengthens these values. It has bolstered its approach with a package of legislation and laws that criminalise any intolerant act that incites hate, extremism and contempt for others, for any reason or justification; the most significant of these laws is the Anti-discrimination/Anti-hatred Law issued in 2015.
Focus on tolerance will persist
Other objectives related to cultivating tolerance in education through constructive media and cultural initiatives, were a huge success.
The world marks tolerance on a single day, November 16, yet the UAE has designated a whole year for celebrating this value; launching hundreds of events and conferences that saw the name of the UAE become synonymous with tolerance across the world.
This effort to strengthen the value of tolerance will not fade from the national agenda, because it embodies an essential value of Emirati society and constitutes a major part of the UAE’s civilisational progress. It is also a guarantee of society’s continued stability, unity and cohesion, and a vital factor in safeguarding societies against the waves of hate fuelled by extremist groups.
Therefore, the focus on tolerance as a core value in UAE society will persist, since it is, along with other human values, the most important element of the UAE’s soft power, which garners global respect and appreciation. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, stated in the Message of Tolerance he shared on the International Day of Tolerance in November 2016: “The greatest achievements of the UAE are the upstanding morals, values and principles that the world respects us for and that we wish to pass on to the generations to come.”
— Dr Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi is a UAE author and director-general of the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research.