How can religious communities foster peaceful, inclusive societies and counter violent extremism?
The Secretary General of the United Nations, the President of the United Nations General Assembly and the High Representative of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations invited senior religious leaders in Religions for Peace to respond to this question in a high-level thematic debate held on 21 and 22 April at UN Headquarters in New York. Also participating were representatives of 193 Member States and diverse stakeholders.
This interfaith, intergovernmental thematic debate represented a milestone for the United Nations. Its recognition of the pivotal role that religious communities play in helping to reverse the rising tide of hostility through multi-religious action calls for concrete cooperative programs.
In opening the High-Level debate, General Assembly President H.E. Mr. Sam Kutesa stated that “Given today’s globalized and highly interconnected world, it is incumbent that the international community collectively addresses the serious challenges posed by intolerance and violent extremism through an integrated and balanced approach.”
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned in his opening remarks “Too many communities have been shattered; too many children have been torn from their schools and their families; too many people have been needlessly and cynically pitted against each other, warned.” He added: “Violent extremism is a global test. Our response must solve the problem – not exacerbate it.”
Religions for Peace Leaders with AOC High Representative, the Secretary General of the United Nations, and the President of the United Nations General Assembly
Among the Religions for Peace leaders who addressed the United Nations were H.E. John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja, Archdiocese of Abuja [International Co-Moderator of Religions for Peace]; Bhai Sahib, Bhai Mohinder Singh Ahluwalia, Chairman, Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha [International Co-President and Trustee of Religions for Peace]; Chief Rabbi David Rosen, International Director of Interreligious Affairs, American Jewish Committee, [International Co-President of Religions for Peace]; Emmaus Maria Voce, President, Movimento Dei Focolari, [International Co-President of Religions for Peace]; H.H. Samdech Tep Vong, Great Supreme Patriarch, Kingdom of Cambodia, [International Co-President Religions for Peace]; H.H. Sri Sri Sugunendra Theertha Swamiji, Abbot, Sri Puthige Matha [International Co-PresidentReligions for Peace]
The religious leaders’ high-level interventions sharply focused on counter-narratives that emphasized the benefits of pluralism as an alternative to extremist ideology.
Bhai Sahib, Bhai Mohinder Singh Ahluwalia stated in his address that “Religion in the contemporary world seems to be merely tolerated by a large segment of humanity. Religion is a useful resource that can provide unique solutions to the very heart of questions that we are addressing at this high-level thematic debate. Apathy towards others is unacceptable, just as intolerance unquestionably is demeaning. The Divine does not merely tolerate us, because Divine Love is unconditional.”
“In the Focolare Movement, which I have the honour to represent,” commented Emmaus Maria Voce, “the encounter between cultures and religions is an ongoing and fruitful experience not confined to tolerance or the mere recognition of diversity. It goes beyond reconciliation, essential as that is, to create, so to speak, a new identity, one that is broader, more general and shared. It is an effective dialogue which brings together people of very different beliefs, including non-religious beliefs.”
Chief Rabbi David Rosen stated that “More often than not it is violent extremist isolationist elements that are highlighted by both political culture and the media. In order to promote tolerance reconciliation and harmony, it is necessary for politicians and civic leaders and media at large, to give greater visibility to those enlightened inclusive voices and thus demonstrate to their respective communities that it is precisely this approach that is valued and respected; enhancing the esteem of the community concerned in the wider context, and serving the wellbeing of all.”
(L-R) H.H. Sri Sri Sugunendra Theertha Swamiji, Emmaus Maria Voce, and Bhai Mohinder Sahib Singh Ahluwalia
Source: Religions for Peace International