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

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

Nizami Ganjavi Initiative for Global Dialogue in a Multipolar World

Rome, 26th — 28th of January 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 respon­si­bil­ity of the West is to sup­port the Islamic coun­tries to build their own response to extrem­ism. The West has been the one who has con­tributed to vast desta­bil­i­sa­tion.” Mas­simo D’Alema, Prime Min­is­ter of Italy (1998–2000).

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 pol­i­ticsnot 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.


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


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.

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:

  • What can be learned about faith-based con­flict and peace? Which fac­tors should be taken into account by lead­ers in global gov­er­nance?
  • 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?
  • (How) can reli­gion bridge cul­tures and nations in a com­mon under­stand­ing of shared val­ues?
  • (How) can gov­ern­ment lead­ers help/serve the global search of com­mon spir­i­tual val­ues?
  • What is the role of women and gen­der in processes of inter­faith dia­logue?
  • (How) can young reli­gious peo­ple world­wide become mes­sen­gers of peace instead of foot sol­diers in faith-based con­flicts?
  • 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

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