VII High-Level Meeting

Addressing/Challenging Radicalisation and Extremism with Interfaith Dialogue for Peace: What works?

 

Nizami Ganjavi International Center & Italian Society for International Organization Initiative for Global Dialogue in a Multipolar World

 

Rome, 26th – 28th of January 2016

VII HLM 2 - 2016

“The accumulation of anger and rage is not necessarily connected to religion. It is a problem everywhere and radicalizers know how to capitalise on that.” Ismail Serageldin, Director of the Library of Alexandria; Co-Chair of the Nizami Ganjavi International Centre.

The context

The terrorist attacks in Beirut, Paris and elsewhere have underscored the worldwide sources and the global effects of religious radicalisation. With faith as a recurring rationale behind civil strife and political violence, religion is often considered an influential factor in international conflicts nowadays.

In the Middle East for instance, where strong cleavages are ripping societies apart and deepening their countries’ distrust against each other, conflicts and political loyalties are coalescing around sectarian identities and extreme ideologies. Meanwhile, in Europe, the migration crisis has deepened the challenge of bridging the social and cultural gap between new entrants and native populations. The enduring inequalities between and within societies, which have been aggravated by the recent economic crisis, have shaken social trust and worsened the position of marginalised groups. We have witnessed populist and extremist movements exploiting and deepening the cultural gaps between natives and newcomers, very often by emphasising “cultural values”, including religious identities. The fact that some migrants as well as their descendants have rallied around radical religious movements, travelling to the Middle East to fight or taking up violence against their adopted countries in the name of their faith, exacerbates the feeling that different — especially Islamic — faiths are a security threat not only in the Middle East, but also in Europe.

Problems today and the promise of a connected world

In this age of online videos and social media, cross-border extremism is deeply intertwined with the emergence of global channels of instant communication. And, with local customs and identities being increasingly exposed to global markets and foreign ideas, religious beliefs have emerged as powerful markers of identity and allegiance.

Many extremist groups have successfully used social media such as Twitter and YouTube to disseminate their ideology and attract tens of thousands of new recruits and sympathizers. Using the Internet, they can generate support not only from conflict-riven countries and marginalized corners of societies, but also from members of educated classes in developed countries, most notably young people across Europe. Such a reach demonstrates how powerful and pernicious extremist ideas can be when using new technologies.

In today’s world, where civil society and social media are tightly interwoven and therefore play an unprecedented role in shaping public opinion, those new technologies and global channels of instant communication also create an enormous opportunity to foster a greater common understanding amongst manifold cultures in order to generate peace. As a result, social media may amplify the impact of interfaith dialogue and empower it to play a key role in easing international tensions and countering extremist ideologies. This begs, of course, the question of the role of the State on the one side, and that of the frontiers of free expression on the other.

Interweaving faith and political dialogue

Nowadays, political leaders are constantly facing the question of how to accommodate political dialogue within global efforts towards fostering stability, mutual understanding and respect. Too often, these efforts have seen to be disconnected, to proceed along different logics rather than to join forces. As Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union points out: “Religion plays a role in politics—not always for good, not always for bad. Religion can be part of the process. What makes the difference is whether the process is democratic or not.”1

Drawing on faith to bridge different cultures and reinforce the values that unite humanity is key to overcoming political differences and counter extremism in all its forms.

The ability of religion to reconcile and create peace has been shown by many leaders in this world, including Desmond Tutu’s call to faith-based values to campaign for human rights against discrimination and champion efforts to alleviate poverty and HIV/AIDS. Indeed, as the world faces enormous common challenges, such as that of climate change and the need to fundamentally change existing production and consumption habits, common spiritual values are a powerful potential source of inspiration and unity.

Towards a Better Understanding for a Peaceful Coexistence of Religions

It is in this context that, at the 2015 Baku Forum, Abdulaziz Altwaijri, Director General of ISESCO, called for an ‘alliance of civilizations’, which would be based on a simple premise: accepting the other without negation. In shaping a peaceful world order, religion and interfaith dialogue can prove useful in further promoting understanding between cultures and heritages.

1 Federica Mogherini’s remarks at “Call to Europe V: Islam in Europe”, FEPS conference” 25.6.2015

In order to engage influential leaders in the effective development of policies that foster interfaith dialogue, the Nizami Ganjavi International Centre & Italian Society for International Organization is convening a high-level meeting of 30 eminent guests—among which current and former presidents, prime ministers and renowned academics from the East and West as well as religious leaders— in Rome, Italy.

Here, we will address the pivotal question of what can be learned from past and present practices  of interfaith dialogue in order to discuss the way and advise on how international policymakers can elevate interfaith dialogue as a genuine instrument for conflict prevention and fostering international peace.

In this landmark meeting, we will thus reflect upon the following questions:

  1. What can be learned about faith-based conflict and peace? Which factors should be taken into account by leaders in global governance?
  2. Is there a genuine possibility to initiate an interfaith dialogue as a way to prevent radicalisation? What can international leaders do to make it work?
  3. (How) can religion bridge cultures and nations in a common understanding of shared values?
  4. (How) can government leaders help/serve the global search of common spiritual values?
  5. What is the role of women and gender in processes of interfaith dialogue?
  6. (How) can young religious people worldwide become messengers of peace instead of foot soldiers in faith-based conflicts?
  7. What are the concrete steps governments should take to overcome divisions, and through which kind of interfaith dialogue—if any?

“Success in interfaith dialogue is only possible if we avoid condemnation and promote acceptance.” Abdulaziz Altwaijri, Director General of ISESCO