Holy See to United Nations: Religious Authorities Have to Be the Leaders in Stopping Terrorism

levantThe Permanant Observer of the Vatican to the United Nations gives account of recent terrorism and the role of religious leaders in countering terrorism. The recent Marrakesh Declaration is cited as example of efforts by religious leaders to repudiate, refute and rebut erroneous presentations of religious teachings which seek to recuit those symapthetic to false interpretations of religious teachings.


Here is the statement of H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, at the Security Council Open Debate on Countering the Narratives and Ideologies of Terrorism, delivered at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, 11 May 2016.

11 May 2016

Mr. President,

The Holy See sincerely thanks the Presidency of Egypt for bringing the topic of countering the narratives and ideologies of terrorism to the attention of the Security Council and of the International Community.

The theme of this Open Debate is extremely important, because it calls us to strike terrorism at its very roots and where it must primarily be fought: namely, in the hearts and minds of men and women, in particular of those who are most at risk of radicalization and recruitment by terrorist groups.

The narratives and ideologies of present-day terrorist groups are well known. They do not attempt to conceal their purportedly religiously inspired beliefs, values and principles. Terrorist groups identify multiple “enemies”, so that those who respond to their propaganda can “legitimately” attack these “enemies” wherever they may be, whether in Paris or in Brussels, in Istanbul, in Aleppo, or elsewhere.

Countering the narratives and ideologies of terrorist groups is a grave responsibility of all. It should be recalled, however, that by building their ideological narratives, which justify their horrendous acts of violence, upon tendentious interpretations and an abusive use of sacred texts, terrorists groups are throwing down the gauntlet principally to religious leaders and to the authoritative interpreters of these same texts. Religious authorities, therefore, have a particular responsibility to refute the falsehoods and condemn the blasphemy of terrorist narratives and ideologies. Religious leaders and people of faith must be at the forefront in delegitimizing the manipulation of faith and the distortion of sacred texts as a justification for violence. Anyone who considers himself or herself a believer while planning and carrying out actions against the fundamental rights and dignity of every man and woman, must be condemned.

The fight to unmask the lies behind the narratives and ideologies of present-day terrorist groups summons all religions to unite in confronting not only the unacceptable misuse of religion by these groups, but also all forms of religious bigotry, stereotyping and disrespect for what people hold sacred. Religious leaders must be the first to demonstrate what the Fourth Meeting of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies of Amman, in the Vatican last May 7th, called “the humanizing and civilizing role of our religions.”

This brings us to the fundamental importance of education in countering narratives and ideologies of terrorism. Much of the recruiting success of terror groups is based on misinformation and the distortion of both history and the meaning of sacred texts. Objective education would counter these false narratives. The Marrakesh Declaration is to be commended for urging “Muslim educational institutions and authorities to conduct a courageous review of educational curricula that addresses honestly and effectively any material that instigates aggression and extremism, leads to war and chaos, and results in the destruction of our shared societies.”

My Delegation believes that the more religion is manipulated to justify acts of terror and violence, the more religious leaders must be engaged in the overall effort to defeat the terrorism that hijacks it. Spurious religious fervor must be countered by authentic religious instruction and by the example of authentic communities of faith. There is a strong nexus between religion and diplomacy, between faith-based “informal diplomacy” and the formal diplomacy of States. Strengthening this nexus would be wise diplomacy, given its enormous potential in confronting terrorism at its very roots.

Measures to counter the narratives and ideologies of terrorism must address the root causes upon which terrorism feeds, which make even the most outrageous claims of the terrorist groups sound credible. Young people who join the ranks of terrorist organizations often come from poor immigrant families, disillusioned by the lack of integration and values in certain societies. Those who feel excluded from, or live at the fringes of, society are immediately attracted to terrorists proclaiming themselves as “freedom fighters.” Governments should engage with civil society to address the problems of communities most at risk of radicalization and recruitment and to achieve the satisfactory social integration of those communities. Certain terrorist groups have excelled in the art of cyber recruitment, giving them transnational and borderless reach. Their access to cyber space must be denied to prevent their narratives and ideologies from poisoning the hearts and minds of millions of people everywhere, to cut off their financing activities and to disrupt the coordination of terrorist attacks.

Mr. President, The Holy See is convinced that if we are to win the minds and hearts of our children and young people and prevent their joining terrorist groups, we must build inclusive societies and prevent illicit arms trafficking, build bridges rather than walls, and engage in dialogue rather than in mutual isolation. Thank you, Mr. President.




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