Concept Note for the High-Level Meeting "Interreligious Dialogue for Peace:Promoting Peaceful Coexistence and Common Citizenship"

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High-Level Meeting

Interreligious Dialogue for Peace:

Promoting Peaceful Coexistence and Common Citizenship

26-27 February 2018, Hilton Stadtpark, Vienna

Concept Note

  1. Context & justification:

 

In past decades, the world has witnessed several conflicts in which religion has been misused to justify violence. This has led to the emergence of a number of crises (such as internal conflict, violence, displacement and a massive increase in refugees) that have challenged and undermined the stability of the whole world. These conflicts have grown to target followers of different religions in many parts of the world. The violence committed in the name of religion threatens the cultural, social and religious fabric of relations in and between communities, as well as the very survival of religious institutions and communities affected by the conflicts. In cases such as Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Central Africa and Myanmar – this type of violence seriously threatens the existing cultural, religious and social fabric of the concerned societies. It damaged the relations between cultural, ethnic and religious communities and thus disrupting their peaceful coexistence.

By claiming to act in the name of religion, violent factions and certain policy makers and religious leaders harm the image of religion and lead to an increased polarization and intensification of internal tensions throughout the world. The societies become more vulnerable to other violent acts, even when such acts occur spontaneously elsewhere in the world. This also feeds into the process of generating lasting stereotypes and misperceptions, and may lead to further societal divisions, if the values and structures to support diversity are not preserved and strengthened.

Obviously, this behaviour by certain groups who claim a religious identity, and by some political leaders reflects ideas and beliefs that contradict the peaceful teachings prominent in all religions and destroys bridges, not only among followers of different religions, but also among believers within the same religion.

Hence, it is necessary to confront this complex challenge facing our world by combining the tremendous efforts of people of good will from different religious, political and social backgrounds, from different countries in the world. This multi-religious and multi-stakeholder approach requires the full cooperation to be effective in building new and enhancing existing interreligious joint frameworks and platforms based on values of dialogue, fostering common citizenship, enhancing social cohesion, and confronting hate speech. Such mobilization of efforts can assist all stakeholders in working on the prospects of a common future based on citizenship, respect for others, diversity and peaceful coexistence.

In the light of the above reality, there is an urgency to formulate effective responses to the need to foster interreligious and intercultural dialogue to face such a challenge. In this context, it was therefore necessary to launch a global initiative for interreligious and intercultural dialogue. This initiative has been solidified through the establishment of an international centre that fosters dialogue as a tool for peacebuilding and establishing bridges between policy makers and religious leaders – the International Dialogue Centre (KAICIID).

Among other activities, KAICIID launched an initiative named "United against Violence in the Name of Religion"(UVNR), during a conference organized in November 2014 in Vienna that resulted in the ‘Vienna Declaration’ and a set of recommendations to promote religious dialogue and diversity. At the conference in 2014 and subsequent meetings held in 2015 in Beirut, and Athens, as well as complementary efforts in 2016 in Marrakesh, Medina and Cairo, it became increasingly evident that a joint high-level religious leaders’ platform was necessary to both improve efforts and expand the impact of work done under UVNR. As part of the fifth anniversary of KAICIID’s launch as an intergovernmental and interreligious organization, the Centre is organizing a second high-level meeting for the purpose of launching the much needed and often requested High-level Religious Leaders Joint Platform. Meeting participants will partake in interactive discussions which move beyond celebrating the Centre’s achievements by examining the various ongoing UVNR programmes and projects conducted by both KAICIID and its partners, their impact, and developing a strategy consisting of concrete recommendations for ways forward. These recommendations will serve as the basis for a plan of action for the High-level Religious Leaders Joint Platform for Reconciliation and Social Cohesion in the Arab World.

 

2. KAICIID’s initiatives responding to violence in the name of Religion:

Since its establishment in 2012, KAICIID has launched several programs and initiatives aimed at promoting dialogue, reconciliation and citizenship while fostering dialogue based on the principles of coexistence, mutual understanding, cooperation and common citizenship. These efforts include, among others the following initiatives:

  • "United against Violence in the Name of Religion" conference: This conference, held in November 2014 in Vienna was focused on the critical situation in Iraq and Syria. It resulted in the adoption of a plan of action and inaugurated the official launch of the initiative "United against Violence in the Name of Religion", which includes several activities and projects aiming to support peaceful coexistence by focusing on four areas: 1. social media, 2. religious education, 3. reconciliation and social cohesion, and 4. strengthening institutional capacities in interreligious dialogue. In addition, at the close of the conference, attendees issued “The Vienna Declaration”, a joint statement formalizing their commitment to promote dialogue and mutual respect.

As the initiative has continued to grow, it has achieved increased recognition as more and more voices calling for peace and tolerance are emerging under its umbrella. In May 2015, KAICIID convened the first follow-up meeting on the UVNR initiative in Beirut, where participants agreed to continue to work together and identify concrete actions to implement the Vienna Declaration. This meeting was succeeded by a number of activities and workshops in the region, continuing the implementation of the recommendations. These events include the organization, in September 2015 in Athens, of a high-level religious leaders meeting under the theme “Supporting the Citizenship Rights of Christians, Muslims and Other Religious and Ethnic Groups in the Middle East” in partnership with the Ecumenical Patriarchate and under the auspices of the Greek Foreign Ministry.

  • Social Media as Space for Dialogue trainings: As part of the UVNR initiative, KAICIID implemented a training program: “United against Violence in the Name of Religion: Social Media as a Space for Dialogue” which gathered more than 200 leading young religious leaders and representatives from different religions in the Arab world, representing the various religious communities that make up the social and religious fabric of the region. This program has continued through the implementation of various local initiatives (social media campaigns) in the Mashreq, and Gulf regions, as well as an initiative with UNDP in the Maghreb.
  • Dialogue and Interreligious Education: A “Network of Religious and Theological Institutions” in the Arab region was also established, while the centre still organizes consultative meetings with religious leaders to launch a platform for activists and peacemakers in the region. In addition, in late 2014, the Center launched the International Fellows Programme, which aims to train teachers and educational institutions from different religions (Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim) to prepare students and tomorrow’s religious leaders to be builders of peace and leaders in the field of interreligious dialogue.
  • Reconciliation and Social Cohesion: Beyond its efforts in Iraq and Syria in this area, in the past five years, the Centre and its partners such as the Network of Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, the International Mediation Center and UNDP have worked on the development and implementation of programmes in each of KAICIID’s focus countries (the Central African Republic, Nigeria, and Myanmar), in order to support peacebuilding in areas where conflict is spreading and to help communities develop their skills and use dialogue as a tool to reach mutual understanding and to enhance social cohesion.

Partnerships are a cornerstone for working on developing strategies and action plans that promote a culture of dialogue and foster a culture of peaceful coexistence and diversity. In this context, the UN Office for Genocide Prevention and Right to Protect and KAICIID convened religious leaders in Rabat, Morocco in 2015, followed by five regional meetings (Middle East, Asia and Pacific, Africa, Europe, and Americas) with KAICIID the World Council of Churches and other partners to develop the Fez Action Plan and regional action plans that encompass effective ways to counter hate speech and incitement to violence in the name of religion launched in 2017.

  • Strengthening Institutional Capacities in Interreligious Dialogue:  Since its establishment, KAICIID has worked in collaboration with number of international and intergovernmental organizations to enhance the engagement with religious institutions and leaders. For example, its partnership with the World Organization of the Scout Movement (whose membership includes more than 40 million members) aimed to incorporate dialogue within the training and education of scouts of different ages in order to foster a generation of young believers in dialogue as a tool to resolve conflicts and to deal with the disputes and differences. Strengthening institutional capacity also comes in the form of working closely with governments and policy makers. Most recently KAICIID has become a member to the Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development (PaRD) which comprises 68 members (states and international organizations) and partners (faith-based organizations), a platform which enhances the role of religion in sustainable development and incorporates interreligious dialogue as part of this work.

 

  1. Objectives of the Meeting:

Five years after the establishment of the centre and three years from the launch of the initiative "United against Violence in the Name of Religion (UVNR)," the aim of the proposed meeting is to stop, reflect and examine both past achievements and the current and future endeavours and their challenges. However, it is crucial to acknowledge that the importance of interreligious dialogue and preventing violent extremism has become more apparent in this context, and that religious institutions as well as religious leaders have become more aware of the importance of working together to ensure a better world and promote peace and mutual respect. Additionally, in recent years, political leaders have become more aware of the important role that religion plays in being part of the solution to today’s challenges, and therefore policy makers are more inclined to include religious leaders at the dialogue table. This is an opportunity to encourage religious leaders and policy makers to work together and address the current challenges.

By convening followers of different religions and cultures and key policy makers, this proposed meeting aims to address the following questions:

  1. What follow-up initiatives have been launched since the 1st High level meeting in November 2014? What are the continued activities and initiatives are planned for 2018/2019?
  2. What are the successes/challenges faced by the various programmes/projects under the UVNR initiative? How might the challenges that have not successfully been resolved be address in the future?
  3. How can we build on the success and deepen the impact of the work under UVNR?
  4. How can the relationship between policy makers and religious leaders be enhanced to strengthen UVNR initiatives?
  5. Given the global and regional developments that have occurred since the launch of UVNR, what are the areas of focus to which we should direct UVNR activities in the coming three years?

The proposed meeting will be attended by approximately 120 participants, including 80-100 international participants and 20-30 local participants from international organizations and representatives from government missions. It will take place over the course of two days and will be broken into both panel presentations, with time for in depth interactive discussion and small working groups on certain thematic areas. Specific meetings will also be organized, as part of the event, for the launch of a regional inter-faith dialogue Platform in the Arab region.

The core substance themes will focus on the three main thematic areas of programming under UVNR (“Social Media”, “Reconciliation” and “Building Social Cohesion through Education”). Discussion points through all three themes will include:

  1. Discussing the implementation status of the action plan adopted during the previous High level meeting;
  2. Incorporating interreligious dialogue in UVNR initiatives;
  3. Examining ways to enhance the relationship between religious leaders and policy makers;
  4. Sharing and learning about each other’s work in the Middle East and other areas where violence in the name of religion is an escalating issue
  5. Identifying successes and how to build upon them, as well as discussing challenges faced, potential challenges and strategies to overcome them.