9 February 2017, Geneva. Switzerland - UNITAR hosted the second edition of the Dialogue on Faith, Peacebuilding & Development, to discuss how to leverage faith as an instrument of international harmony. The event was a unique dialogue that comprised two panels with six ambassadors and several scholars and faith leaders. Held at the Emirates Room of the Palais des Nations, it was attended by United Nations staff and diplomats, as well as by media, observers, students and activists from civil society organizations.
The Dialogue was conceived two years ago by Geneva-based staff members belonging to the United Nations Christians Association (U.N.C.A.) who requested UNITAR to organize it under the auspices of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 65.5/L.1 adopted in October 2010. Its relevant text reads as follows: “…proclaims the first week of February every year the World Interfaith Harmony Week between all religions, faiths and beliefs; … [and] encourages all States to support, on a voluntary basis, the spread of the message of interfaith harmony and goodwill in the world’s churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and other places of worship during that week, based on love of God and love of one’s neighbour or on love of the good and love of one’s neighbour, each according to their own religious traditions or convictions.”
UNITAR joined forces for a second year with the Permanent Mission of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, as part of its efforts to build capacity and to foster peacebuilding dialogue in all regions of the world. It was in fact His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan who proposed the GA resolution to create the World Interfaith Harmony Week, and who personally led the effort for its unanimous adoption. During the event, the ambassadors of Jordan, Bahamas, Sri Lanka, the Holy See, the Order of Malta, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) shared remarks with one commonality: to reaffirm the truth that no religion promotes violence, and that no religion ignores the value of peace. Each panelist demonstrated -- from the unique perspective of his or her own national, institutional, and religious context – that if we want to see a better world for future generations, we as the international community have a collective imperative: to launch a crusade, together, against religious strife.
UNOG’s Director-General Michael Møller opened the Dialogue with these words: “Across the world, we can observe a trend of powerful individuals and groups misusing diversity, including religious differences, to pit people against each other…. [M]any individuals around the world show resistance to these divisive narratives…, [but] solidarity cannot be practiced by any one individual alone. It should be a global effort, and the support of the international community is essential to overcome divisions based on religion, culture, language, colour and other characteristics.”
Over the course of the afternoon, we heard about the landmarks of faith, both physical and metaphysical, that dot the Jordanian countryside, from the Biblical town of Bethany visited by Jesus to the tree that is said to have shaded the Islamic prophet Mohammed. The ambassador of Jordan in Geneva, painted a tableau of the inter-religious co-existence and even fraternity that marks her ancient land: “In Jordan, you can enjoy on a daily basis the music of the Azan calling for prayer, blending in perfect harmony… with the chiming church bells.” This perspective was complemented with the words of the Apostolic Nuncio who shared the views of Pope Francis on the importance of inter-religious dialogue, and then offered up his own insights on the oft-hailed notion of “tolerance:” namely, that the concept of tolerance is wildly inadequate, and that only a deeper, truer love of neighbor can ever hope to bring harmony.
The Dialogue went on to discuss broad-ranging aspects of peace-building and development work currently going on in the name of faith. We heard about the many programs of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, from elections monitoring, to poverty alleviation, to combatting religious extremism and violence, and many more. We heard testimony from the Sovereign Order of Malta about the role of religion as an impetus for humanitarian and human development works, and as a moral framework that undergirds the delivery of concrete good to marginalized people. Panelists from academia also spoke to the issue of religion as a source of peacebuilding values, one invoking Christ’s intonation from his Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” As if by way of example, the Ambassador from Sri Lanka then recounted the reconciliation process in his nation after three decades of conflict. This ongoing work of peacebuilding encompasses the four major religions of the country – Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity – and has harnessed the best qualities of each to build concrete mechanisms to promote interfaith understanding throughout the country, particularly in schools. In her closing statement, the ambassador from the Bahamas affirmed just this truth: that our peacebuilding responsibility is both personal and collective, and that the two tasks are intrinsically linked.
The Second Annual Interfaith Dialogue in Geneva was a testament to that fact, not just through the discussion it fostered, but also in its very origins; for the conference came into existence first and foremost through a type in-house interfaith dialogue within the Palais des Nations. UNITAR has been pleased to be part of this unique initiative for a second year.