Council of Europe Secretary General on Burqa Bans 'Europe Has Suffered Under Fundamentalism'
Part 2: 'Obama Has not Succeeded, but He Has Started'
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Belgium recently passed a law banning the burqa. Can you really imagine a girl going to school fully robed?
Jagland: No, but do we need to legislate against that? I think it can be handled by each school individually. In my homeland, Norway, the schools can say that if you come to school wearing a burqa, then you are not allowed to enter because we cannot see your face. But do we really need such political debate and all these things that will trigger public reaction? I think there are bigger problems in society.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: In a Swiss referendum, voters recently agreed to a ban on the construction of minarets.
Jagland: Again, I ask: Were they a big problem?
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Swiss seem to think so.
Jagland: But should it be left to the majority majority to vote on whether to build a minaret or not? Local authorities could say no, we do not have space for a minaret or that it disrupts the townscape. But that is something different. The question is: Should this be put to a referendum? A basic principle of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is that basic human rights are not for the majority to decide upon. The majority has no right to harm the basic human rights of the minority.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: But is the construction of a minaret a basic human right?
Jagland: I don't think so. This is why I think it should be handled in a pragmatic way. Europe has suffered under fundamentalism and different ideologies. We should not enter into that business again.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: As chairman of the Nobel Committee in 2009, you pushed for awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to United States President Barack Obama. One of your justifications was that Obama was not just getting the prize because of his plans for nuclear disarmament, but also because of peace signals he was making toward the Muslim world.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: And how do you see it now, half a year later. Do you still think Obama was the right choice?
Jagland: Yes, it was an historic event when he first went to Turkey and spoke in front of the mosque in Istanbul. No US president had done that before him. And then he went to Cairo to talk to the Muslim world. It was conciliation with Muslim people all over.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: But there is still a lot of confrontation with the Muslim world. American troops are waging war in Afghanistan and in parts of Pakistan.
Jagland: Yes. Obama has not succeeded (with his policies), but he has started. Incidentally, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee also gave the prize to Dr. Martin Luther King very early on because he started a process. Somebody has to start the process, somebody has to take leadership.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: That's a bold comparison.
Jagland: Not at all. It is becoming more clear that we were right. Why did President Medvedev and Obama meet in Prague to sign a new treaty on nuclear disarmament? Because Obama started the whole process in Prague by extending a hand to the Russians. The same goes for the fact that he was willing to adapt the nuclear shield and that he said he would work for a ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. And all these things happened within a few months. We have never had a leadership which has changed the political agenda in United States so fast and so deeply.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Despite the disappointments in Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories?
Jagland: Political leadership is not without disappointments. The real criterion for the Nobel Committee was this: Who is the person who had done the most to develop peace in the world during the past year? I came to the conclusion very early on that giving it to Barack Obama was unavoidable.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Who also happens to be the Commander in Chief of one of the most powerful military forces in the world.
Jagland: I asked myself this too. Can we really do it? Give this prize to the most powerful person in the world? With that military machinery and that economic power? But, from time to time, you have to pay tribute to realpolitik -- that is a German word.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: But is the Nobel Peace Prize an award for realpolitik?
Jagland: Without realpolitik, you cannot change the world. We have given the prize to many idealists who were also indispensable. But from time to time, you have to focus on realpolitik, too. Former German Chancellor Willy Brandt got the prize for the way he improved relations with the East, because he changed the realities in Europe. That was realpolitik of the highest order.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: You once said that the European Union should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Two questions come to mind. First: Why? And second: When?
Jagland: The first question is very easy, because I have said many times that the European Union is the most important peace project ever in history, bringing former enemies together into one community. And this project is extending to the east and to the Balkans. It is unbelievable what has happened on the European continent, despite all the worries about the euro. And to answer your second question ...
SPIEGEL ONLINE: ... the question of when ...
Jagland: ... That is a delicate question for me because as head of the Nobel Committee, I cannot say more about it.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: But it would be possible?
Jagland: A lot is possible. The number of candidates is increasing every year. This year, we have around 240 candidates.
Interview conducted by Martin Doerry and Dietmar Hipp
- Part 1: 'Europe Has Suffered Under Fundamentalism'
- Part 2: 'Obama Has not Succeeded, but He Has Started'