European Network on Religion & Belief: Babah Tarawally and the importance of hope and your narrative

by , under Enrique Tessieri

I had the opportunity to attend on 6 October the European Network on Religion & Belief’s (ENORB)* General Assembly, when writer and columnist Babah Tarawally gave an inspirational talk on hope and Ubuntu, an African philosophy that draws strength communally. 

As many migrants and minorities readily learn, hope is the fuel that keeps one from moving forward in one’s new homeland; it also gives you strength to pick yourself up after failing.

Tarawally lives in the Netherlands and writes about Otherness as a writer and columnist. He is a source for migrants and others who want to succeed in their new homeland and be treated equally, not as victims.

“They called me a refugee [in the beginning], and putting [that label] on me all the time is very frustrating for me because it made me feel in a space as someone who is a victim all the time,” he said. “I don’t want to be seen as a victim but as an expert who is equal [to everyone].”


Babah Tarawally’s talk at ENORB’s GA.

Tarawally said that he empowers migrants in the Netherlands by asking them to see themselves in a picture that has a gold frame.

“I tell them to make their own frame, which is made of gold,” he continued. “And that they should never let someone convince them to believe their frames are made of ash or toilet paper. Teaching them to believe in themselves is paramount; if they don’t believe in themselves, who else will? The media?”

Tallaway said the media is usually the first to announce the arrival of new migrants and how the host country will receive them.

“The media presents the facts, sets the tone and the pace for the public and politicians to form their opinion and acts [of the newcomers],” he said. “The ensuing public and political debates depict these refugees and migrants as invaders who need to be stopped, contained, and combatted. The media [that] generated this public opinion succeeds in telling the narrative that frames migrants and refugees for social and political agenda-setting.”

Tarawally said that, unfortunately, the media successfully paints refugees as a threat to European societies, their fragile economies, and their security, linking them to terrorism. The gains made by populist and far-right political parties in recent European elections are an example of the negative narrative spread by the media in Europe.

“It is true that we view the media as an important tool for managing the increasing diversity in society and promoting inclusion,” he said. “But so far the media, especially in Europe, has not met that criteria [but] instead played a central role in framing refugees and migrants entering the shores of Europe as a Tsunami of crisis.”

Tarawally added that the toxic reporting by newspapers has contributed to the hostile attitudes housed amongst Europeans toward refugees and migrants, permitting harsh treatment of these people to go unabated.

“We cannot hope alone on the media to start reframing a frame they had built with a picture that shows a dangerous invading army,” he said. “Migrants themselves should start building a new frame with a picture telling their own story from their own perspective. As the old adage goes, if the lion does not tell its own story, the hunter will.”

*”ENORB works collaboratively and in partnership with faith, belief and anti-racist based civil society organizations and their leaders to combat racial and religious discrimination, hate crimes, and community harms.

The network aims to strengthen mutual understanding and harmony in the field of religion and belief by promoting stronger, safer, and more resilient community responses.”