In remarks given at the “Countering Terrorism and Other Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief: Fostering Tolerance and Inclusivity" event held at the United Nations on June 24, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN, defended the fundamental “right of all citizens to freedom of religion (and) equality before the law.” Only when this basic demand of justice is respected will “harmonious and fruitful coexistence among individuals and communities” be possible, he said.
The Permanent Mission of Pakistan to the UN, together with the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the UN, the Permanent Mission of Turkey to the UN and the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, organized this event to discuss the steps necessary to violence against religious believers.
The panelists condemned the recent attacks on religious sites and worshippers. These attacks are, in Auza’s words, turning “havens of peace and serenity” into “execution chambers” for those “simply for coming together to practice their religion.” Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi, Permanent Representative of Pakistan, noted that “hateful words and views can kill,” referencing the attacks on religious sites in Christchurch, Sri Lanka and Pittsburgh. She asked all present to work together to eradicate extremist ideology.
Ambassador Feridun Hadi Sinirlioğlu, Permanent Representative of Turkey to the UN, stated that “we can no longer turn a blind eye” to the growth of violence against religious believers, as well as increasing examples of xenophobia, racism, and other forms of intolerance.
Archbishop Auza outlined a seven-pronged approach to combat acts of violence against religious believers, beginning with the need for countries to protect all citizens equally and to address the cultural factors necessary for tolerance and inclusivity.
Auza called for a “robust promotion of the right to freedom of conscience, religion, and belief, as enshrined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” A failure to protect these rights, he said, “fosters an environment in which believer’s rights, including their right to life, are more easily violated.”
He drew attention to reports by the U.N. Special Rapporteur, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and the 2018 Report on Religious Freedom in the World by Aid to the Church in Need, all of which noted, he said, that “increasingly aggressive forms of nationalism hostile to religious minorities have led to systematic stigmatization and intimidation of religious minority groups.”
Auza also highlighted the necessity of a “positive and respectful separation of religion and state,” noting that, whilst the two spheres ought to collaborate, there should be no confusion about their roles. Quoting Pope Francis, he cautioned that without careful management, “religion risks being absorbed into the administration of temporal affairs and tempted by the allure of worldly powers that exploit it.”
He called upon world leaders to condemn the use of religion to justify violence and to ensure that “religions themselves not be blamed for homicidal madness.” Rather, the blame should remain with those who “misinterpret or manipulate religious belief to commit evil.”
He expressed the Holy See’s gratitude for the General Assembly resolution condemning “all terrorist attacks against places of worship that are motivated by religious hatred, including Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and Christianophobia.” He noted that attacks on Christians are often unacknowledged or described using “novel euphemisms.” Confronting the evil of terrorism, he said, requires “the courage and candor to call things by their proper names.”
To be successful in the fight against terrorism and religiously motivated violence, there must be a real commitment to intercultural and interreligious dialogue. Auza stressed that “religion is not a problem but a part of the solution.”
The landmark “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together,” signed on February 4 in Abu Dhabi by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, underlines the importance of interreligious and intercultural dialogue for mutual understanding, tolerance, and cooperation.
Similarly, Imam Feizel Abdul Rauf, founder of Cordoba House, stated that when religious believers of various faiths “live in orientation towards the Absolute, the propensities within us towards violence of any kind diminish.”
Archbishop Auza, Dr. Lodhi and Ambassador Sinirlioğlu emphasized the role of education in combating hatred. “The importance of forming the head and the heart cannot be overstated,” remarked Auza, “especially for young people.”
The panelists also discussed the challenges of technology and social media, which can propagate hate speech across borders. Mr. Adama Dieng, Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, noted that “no country is immune from hate speech and the impact it has on our societies.”
While countering violence and fostering tolerance and inclusivity will be difficult, Auza and his fellow panelists expressed hope that we can all work to be part of the solution.
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