February 4, 2016
Speaking at the International Dialogue Centre on Tuesday, the Federal President of the Republic of Austria, Dr. Heinz Fischer, stressed the importance of interreligious dialogue as Austria faces the challenges of integrating refugees fleeing turmoil and violence in the Middle East.
The President said that if the country does not face these challenges now, then there will be even greater problems in the future.
“The long-term integration of these individuals into our society is a major challenge. I would like to reiterate that Muslims who live in Austria can and should be a valuable part of our society. It is possible to be a good Muslim and a good Austrian simultaneously,” he said.
The President was speaking on the occasion of World Interfaith Harmony Week, which is celebrated every year in the first week of February. He was hosted at the event by the Secretary General of KAICIID, Faisal Bin Muaammar.
In his lecture, President Fischer emphasized that Austria’s longstanding record of promoting dialogue between religions and cultures has been a valuable asset in recent times, and that this sort of dialogue was now more important than ever.
The war in Syria has worsened the worst refugee crisis since World War II, and Austria has received one of the highest number of refugees per capita in Europe. As the refugee crisis makes it necessary for countries to quickly and effectively integrate large numbers of people from other religions into their own societies, the practical importance of interreligious dialogue becomes clear.
“The integration of refugees in Austria in the coming years will increasingly need to be part of the dialogue between religions. The inclusion of vulnerable people is a serious, societal responsibility that needs to be carefully and knowledgeably accomplished with a view to securing social cohesion and social peace in Austria. It cannot be denied that this will also entail problems,” he said.
“I consider dialogue, being open to discussion, and the ability to engage respectfully with other viewpoints (even when one does not share them), to be a basic requirement for peaceful coexistence between people, communities, cultures and religions,” he said.
The President traced the roots of several current international conflicts to the manipulation of nationalism, ideology, and power to marginalize individual rights, or the rights of the weaker sections of society. In order to bridge the mistrust, or oppression, of those of other religions and cultures or nationalities, he said, “voices of reason, signals of moderation and willingness to talk are needed.”
He emphasised that KAICIID exists to serve these goals. “As a platform for interreligious dialogue, as a bridge builder in interreligious and intercultural dialogue, it can seek to be a cosmopolitan, open, international dialogue partner. Its work and mandate, as laid out in the establishment agreement, strengthen cooperation and mutual respect at the international level, and promote a tolerant exchange of views between religious communities.”
“KAICIID is the only international organization to work together on an equal footing with leaders of the five major world religions. The center has the potential, through its work, to create a better understanding between religions and thereby make an important contribution to the development and advancement of human rights,” he said.
In his welcoming words, the KAICIID Secretary General, Faisal Bin Muaammar described how the International Dialogue Centre works to support the integration of refugees into Austria.
“If refugees are to return to peaceful homes, or to integrate into new circumstances, then we must find a way to help people accept and not fear differences. Dialogue helps us achieve this. In dialogue we recognize that we are all equals and share core values. Austrian religious communities have shown great commitment and resolve in supporting the integration of refugees here in Austria. We are trying to do our part to support these efforts, by providing religious communities the means to help more refugees, he said.”
About KAICIID The International Dialogue Centre (KAICIID) is an intergovernmental organization that promotes dialogue to build peace in conflict areas. It does this by enhancing understanding and cooperation between people of different cultures and followers of different religions. The Centre was founded by Austria, Saudi Arabia and Spain. The Holy See is the Founding Observer. Its Board of Directors comprises prominent representatives from five major world religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism). The Board designs and supervises the Centre’s programs.