REMARKS OF H.E. MR. NASSIR ABDULAZIZ AL-NASSER
High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations
at INTERFAITH HARMONY: Embracing the Other
February 6, 2017, 1:15pm
Tillman Chapel, Church Center for the United Nations
Dear Reverend Dionne Boissiere, Chaplain,
Distinguished Religious Leaders,
Dear Colleagues and Friends,
I am pleased to be with you today, for the fourth time, to celebrate, the Interfaith Harmony Week, gathered as we are in this beautiful Church Center of the UN, symbol of the Interfaith Harmony of our organization. The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations was created to find ways to diminish hostility and to promote harmony between nations, communities and people. The Alliance is the United Nations’ platform for intercultural dialogue, understanding and cooperation and has an important mediating role in many conflicts where culture or religion plays a part.
The theme this year: “Interfaith Harmony: Embracing the Other,” might seem to signal that everything is going well and we have already reached Sustainable Development Goal 16 of living together peacefully in this diverse world. But in fact, we have a long way to go to eliminate hate speech routed in xenophobia, discrimination, exclusion, extreme violence and the fear of the other!
As part of UNAOC’s mandate, we are committed to combating xenophobia. In the current climate of fear and mistrust communities face throughout the globe, the Alliance strongly believes that the leaders and shapers of the public opinion have the special responsibility to promote understanding among cultures and mutual respect of differing religious beliefs and traditions.
The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations is continually working on upholding diversity while reducing the fear of the “other” that is evident in the recent rise in hate speech.
Last month, UNAOC, held our third #SpreadNoHate Symposium in Brussels in partnership with the European Union gathering a 100+ selected participants to discuss topics such as the role of media in the rise of reactionary “populism,” that triggers hate speech against migrants and refugees, as well as the role of Internet intermediaries in combating hate speech and promoting balanced narratives.
We just held UNAOC’s 7th Global Forum in Baku, Azerbaijan under the theme: “Living together in inclusive societies: a challenge and a goal”. This was a special opportunity for the participants to find new perspectives for people to live together regardless of differences in religious, cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Together, we addressed the challenges posed by the growing threat of religious polarization, hate, xenophobia, racism and exclusion. We reaffirmed our commitment to promote interfaith harmony as a key to implement the Sustainable Development Agenda.
ALL of you here present, from various faiths should know that the cooperation with our growing network of religious leaders is fundamental to our work in advancing new perspectives for humanitarian action. Religious leaders can reach out to their own communities and advocate a message of inclusion and understanding. You can build bridges across communities plagued by humanitarian emergencies. As Religious leaders you can help to reduce polarization and develop inclusive societies in which diversity in experience is an asset.
We share a mission to enhance the voices of understanding and moderation. As Religious leaders you are well equipped to counteract the false narratives of extremist groups who seek to divide communities along cultural, religious and ethnic lines. But we must also insist that global political leaders by their words and actions must especially lead the way with moderation and conciliatory approaches.
Promoting dialogue between religions and cultures needs to be supported by concrete action plans. I have organized the activities of the Alliance around four pillars: migration, education, media and youth, which can play a critical role in helping to reduce cross-cultural tensions and to build bridges between communities to be able to embrace the OTHER.
All our projects have one common thread: the promotion of religious and cultural tolerance.
Last November, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations in cooperation with the Spanish government in Alicante, Spain, sponsored the Summit of Religious Leadership for Peace in the Middle East. The meeting brought over twenty religious leaders, mainly from the Palestinian territories and Israel, to engage in interreligious dialogue in support of tolerance and mutual respect and to voice their rejection of extremist ideologies.
The Summit in Alicante concluded with the release of a Declaration, composed and signed by Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders, recognizing what connects us, not what divides us. The Religious leaders agreed to increase their responsibility in promoting a life of peaceful co-existence based on justice and security within their communities and called for the end of the distortion of the image of the “other”.
The religious leaders committed to “educate future generations to uphold mutual respect”, recognizing the importance of Goal number 4: Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.
At the UNAOC, through our Spread No Hate Initiative, we have held or participated in forums to help foster diversity and bring an end to radicalism. We have a portfolio of projects that allow young men and women from diverse cultures and religions to meet, discuss, work together on accepting their differences and understanding how much they can gain from these differences.
As the High Representative of UNOAC, I am determined to build bridges between nations, societies, communities of different cultures and religions. My approach is to defuse religious and cultural tensions by mobilizing religious leaders, grassroots organizations and especially youth and women leaders. They can inspire reconciliation. They are fundamental in solving sectarian conflict. They can act as forces of moderation ad understanding.
I am convinced that instilling our shared values among youth is essential for our world to prosper in peace and embrace the other.