“Differentiating the identities, mandates, and capacities of both religions and states is, I would submit, the key to facilitating their partnership for building Peace. Such partnerships can be firmly aligned around advancing human dignity and building up the common good, without asking religious leaders to function as governments or governmental leaders to function as religious scholars. Each have their gifts to give.”
Dr. William Vendley addresses an event by the German Foreign Office on the ‘Responsibility of Religions and Governments for Peace – Between Autonomy and Complementarity’
HE David Gill, Consul General
HE Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, High Representative UNAOC
Ms. Gillian Kitley, UN Office on Genocide Protection and the Responsibility to Protect
Ladies and Gentlemen
We are gathered to focus on the responsibility of religions and governments for peace. In agreement with our important sub-title “between autonomy and complementarity,” I am convinced that honoring the differing identities, mandates and capacities of governments and religions can provide a key to advancing their fruitful collaboration in building Peace.
My conviction is based on experience. I would like share with you a still dynamically unfolding example that I will call somewhat awkwardly “Marrakesh November 2011, Marrakesh January 2016 and Beyond.” Your Excellency Nassir al-Nasser and you, Dr. Mohammed Al-Senousi, were both directly involved in the example I will share.
Marrakesh November 2011:
In November 2011, Religions for Peace convened senior religious leaders from across the MENA region — Muslims, Christians and Jews — to help build Peace across that region based on their widely shared religious values.
It was a moving gathering during a turbulent storm. The region — indeed the world — was reeling from 9/11, the invasion of Iraq, shocking experiences of violent terrorism, and ugly expressions of Islamophobia and stigmatization.
In that painful context, the religious leaders in Marrakesh issued a call for their communities to develop “contracts of mutual care.” Each religious community was to identify and share its own religious grounds for respecting and protecting the well-being of others.
Importantly, these religious leaders produced powerful religious warrants for robust notions of citizenship, religious warrants to protect minorities and — very interestingly for our purposes — religious reflections on the importance of Human Rights Resolution 16/18, which had just been unanimously adopted 6 months earlier.
Notice here, the conjunction of the political and the religious — the religious leaders gathered in Marrakesh offered religious reflections in support of the
importance of a diplomatic resolution, HR Res. 16/18.
A capsule review of the history provides needed background: from 1999 until 2010 significant political differences arose in the UN regarding concern over the
“defamation of religion” on the one hand and “freedom of expression” on the other. The Islamic bloc—led by the OIC—supported the defamation of religion resolutions, while the West opposed these resolutions. The Islamic bloc was incensed at the ways freedom of speech was being used with legal impunity to insult and defame Islam, while those in the West were concerned that the anti-defamation sentiments advanced by the OIC could be used to oppress freedom of speech and legitimate protest and dissent.
This deadlock was overcome in April 2011 when the OIC introduced and the Human Rights Council in Geneva adopted by consensus Human Rights Resolution 16/18. This resolution was designed to combat intolerance, negative stereotyping, stigmatization, discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons based on religion or belief.
HR Res. 16/18 was a kind of political “break-through.” It was achieved by the political intelligence and skill of all states involved during those fraught days.
Now back to religious leaders gathered in Marrakesh in 2011. Religions for Peace had invited the then ambassador of the OIC to the UN to give an insider’s report to the religious leaders on the resolution that their own states had adopted by consensus. It was as if the laborious decade-long political process opened a door for the religious leaders to walk through. Once opened by the diplomats, the religious scholars had no difficulty at all in carting through the opened door the foundational and deeply liberating riches of their respective traditions on human dignity and the common good essential for the peaceful renewal of the region.
But the plot thickens. Fast forward with me to Marrakesh in January 2016.
If diplomats through HR Res. 16/18—so to speak — opened a door for religious leaders to walk through, the great scholar Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah, together with other eminent Islamic scholars — with the patronage of the King of Morocco and the Emir of the United Arab Emirates — returned the favor by opening a religious door for diplomats to walk through.
In briefest terms, the great Shaykh focused on the Prophet Mohammed’s historic Medina Charter, in which Prophet Mohammed — requested by Jewish tribes to help mediate a tribal conflict — established an early form of a political “constitution” that united Jewish tribes with his own believers in a single political covenant, a single ummah. In short, with equal measure of historical erudition and faithful creativity, Shaykh Bin Bayyah and his distinguished Islamic scholar colleagues issued a Marrakesh Declaration that marked out the historically rooted obligations of all Muslim majority states to offer full citizenship — including all religious freedoms — to non-Muslim minority members.
Thus, the Marrakesh example—spanning from 2011 through 2016 and still unfolding—marks out a “virtuous cycle.” If the skilled and patient diplomats behind HR Res. 16/18 opened a door for religious leaders in MENA to port their traditions’ treasures into our own day, so Shaykh bin Bayyah and his Islamic scholars returned the favor by using authentic Islamic heritage to open a door for MENA states and their diplomats to afford robust notions of citizenship to non-Muslim minorities in Muslim majority states.
Attend to the beauty of this reciprocal complementarity: Each sector — the diplomatic and the religious — made its own distinctive contribution that supported and even — so to speak — liberated the other sector to fulfill its own mandate.
Let me conclude by drawing the obvious lesson from my still unfolding example: religions and states have distinct identities, mandates, and capacities. Religions root their identities in their experience of God, understand their mandates as commissioned by God and recognize that their religious capacities flow from their respective alignment with and participation in the Love of God.
Governments on the other hand — including governments that acknowledge a relationship to a particular faith — highlight that their identities are rooted
fundamentally in the peoples they are mandated to serve.
Differentiating the identities, mandates and capacities of both religions and states is, I would submit, the key to facilitating their partnership for building Peace. Such partnerships can be firmly aligned around advancing human dignity and building up the common good, without asking religious leaders to function as governments or governmental leaders to function as religious scholars. Each have their gifts to give. May the cooperation go forth!
Warm thanks for your kind attention.
Dr. William F. Vendley
Religions for Peace
5 December 2017
Dr William F Vendley, Secretary General Religions for Peace, speaking at Responsibility of Religions and Governments for Peace – Between Autonomy and Complementarity