Dr. Gomez in Doha: “Harmony laws” foster hate against minorities

“Harmony laws”, while well-intentioned, their implementation has inevitably led to the spread of hate speech directed at minorities in Southeast Asia. This is primarily due to the use of these laws against ethnic-religious minorities and those seen as a threat to the majority group. 

This was the finding that Asia Centre’s Regional Director, Dr.James Gomez, highlighted in his keynote speech delivered at the 14th Doha Interfaith Conference titled “Religion and Hate Speech: Between Scriptures and Practice” which took place on 24-25 May 2022 in Doha, Qatar. 

His speech, based on his conference paper, titled “Legislating Hate Speech in Southeast Asia: Impacts and Recommendations” (read here) was drawn from two of Asia Centre reports: Hate speech in Southeast Asia, New forms, Old Rules and Harmony Laws in Southeast Asia: Majority Dominance, Minority Repression.

Dr. James Gomez was one of several keynote speakers invited by the Doha International Center for Interfaith Dialogue (DICID), a Qatar-based institution founded in 2007. DICID encourages and supports dialogue between religions and peaceful coexistence among adherents of different religions.

This is the second occasion that Asia Centre’s Dr. James Gomez was a speaker at a DICID event. He spoke in October 2021 at a virtual symposium titled “Interfaith Dialogue on Conflict Transformation: towards a Paradigm of Change”. The symposium, held in partnership with the Nordic Center for Conflict Transformation, heard Dr Gomez provide an overview of  “harmony laws” discriminating against ethnic-religious minorities in Southeast Asia.

The 2022 DICID conference also provided Asia Centre’s Dr. James Gomez the added opportunity to meet and discuss future collaboration with Nordic Center for Conflict Transformation’s Noufal Abboud as noted in their March 2022 Memorandum of Understanding, which the two organisations signed to partner on activities and projects between the‌ ‌Middle‌ ‌East‌ ‌and‌ ‌Southeast‌ ‌Asia regions. 

Hence, on 26 May 2022, both Dr. James Gomez and Mr.Noufal met with Dr. Ghassan Elkahlout, Assistant Professor and Head of Conflict Management and Humanitarian Work, and other representatives of the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies. They discussed possible collaborations between the institutions.

Separately, Dr. James Gomez was also able to meet with Keneshbek Sainazarov, Director of Asia, Search for Common Ground to discuss a research project on Freedom of Religion or Belief in Southeast Asia. While, Mr. Noufal Abboud, met with Dr. Moataz El Fegiery of the Human Rights Program of the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, to discuss collaboration possibilities.

With Doha, Qatar being based in the Middle East and straddling both Asia and Europe, Asia Centre hopes to deepen its engagement with Doha-based institutions moving forward.