Vienna – Austria
November 20th, 2013
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As High Representative of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, it is an honor for me to have the opportunity to address such a distinguished audience of religious and political leaders, here in Vienna.
I sincerely wish to thank Religions for Peace, and Dr. Bill Vendley, the Secretary-General of Religions for Peace, for organizing and hosting this event and for the kind invitation. This is the very first time that I have had the privilege to speak at a World Assembly for Religions for Peace, and I am truly thrilled to be here.
I say this also in specific recognition of the proud record of achievement that Religions for Peace has in its 43 years of collaboration with the United Nations, on issues as far afield as disarmament, child protection, HIV AIDS, and sustainable development.
If you allow me, I would like to take a brief moment of your time to applaud Religions for Peace on its fantastic record.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
When we look at some of the thought currents of the last century, whether secular or religious, ideological or political, we realize that we are facing a unique moment in of the world’s geopolitical development. But why do I say this to you religious leaders in this moment?
Because I believe you and I have a common objective in serving the world by promoting peace, stability and harmony.
As leader of UNAOC, an organization that is utterly committed to fostering a culture of peace and inclusive sustainable development, I find that our world is facing serious major difficulties: water scarcity, rising food prices, high unemployment, growing income disparities, and environmental de-gradation, to name just a few.
Part of the reason I believe it is important that we are here is, because we have let the logic of a ruthless cycle of production and consumption overtake our world and our societies.
We have slowly become less vigilant in upholding our belief that the value of every human life is the same; that our role in this life we share as human beings on this earth is to assist the poor, as we help our own and to protect the vulnerable as we protect ourselves.
This is where I believe, you, religious leaders, have a crucial role to play. Central to all the great religions of the world, is a commitment to the aforementioned tenets, and, moreover, a shared commitment to building peace across communities.
Yet, as I say this, I find that our world is also grappling with a rising tide of hostility.
Hostility toward the “other” takes the form of intolerance, and too often violence. The targets of hostility are often vulnerable populations, including members of national, ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, refugees, migrant workers, and immigrants.
A growing number of governments are placing unjustified restrictions on religious beliefs and practices by minority religious groups. Equal opportunities became a dream in some societies where discrimination prevails, where religion, color and race, make it hard for some to get the dignity they deserve.
Regretfully, some groups within some religious communities, misuse religion to foster hostility toward others. Sectarian and communal violence is dividing societies, fueling violent conflicts and destroying innocent lives.
By impugning the dignity of other believers, some members of religious traditions, from various faiths, are all responsible for contradicting the most sacred tenets of their own faiths and tradition.
Incitement, is not a natural part of faith, neither is hatred or any destructive doctrine. It is our responsibility and that of our religious leaders, to prevent any mis-representations of our true peaceful cultures.
Intolerance and violence in all their manifestations are obstacles to peace. Religious communities, leaders and people of faith have a responsibility to confront hostility toward the “other”, as an obstacle to our shared security and a profound threat to peace.
At the same time, religious leaders and religious communities also affirm a common humanity in which all men and women are recognized as human beings, endowed with inalienable dignity, and with rights and responsibilities that flow from that dignity.
We recognize that each of our respective religious traditions has its own understanding of the foundation of human dignity and common humanity.
These traditions are sacred and constructive by nature, whether these are perceived as God-given, a reflection of divine nature, derived from universally accepted norms, or understood as an element of inherent purity that provides harmony with the universe.
By affirming our common humanity, we are also able to affirm our other forms of identity, such as religion, race, age, sex, ethnicity and status, as part of the wonderful diversity of human life.
This latter point is extremely important to me as High Representative for the Alliance of Civilization. This worldview, enlightens both my own life and our daily activities as an organization.
When we at the Alliance, empower young Somali men and women in coastal Kenya to protect them from the scourge of radical movements, we are giving them a better chance to live with dignity and without fear.
When we at the Alliance improve working conditions for and educating the children of waste pickers in New Delhi, or creating opportunities for young men and women to launch for-profit social enterprises around the Mediterranean basin—we are driven by the fundamental belief that: we all have a stake in each other’s lives, and that we MUST work with one another in order to improve our own lives.
I emphasize the same point over and over when I speak about the post 2015 development agenda. To me, it is absolutely critical that we incorporate the cross-cultural dimension into our development approaches. I do not believe that we can meet our goals here if we don’t work across faith lines.
Similarly, I have instructed my staff not to rest until we can get more and more voices of religious leaders and religious communities into the mainstream of the UN’s activities around conflict resolution and mediation.
The UN Secretary-General and I have on numerous occasions made the point that many conflicts have an identity based dimension.
Responsible religious and political leaders are also mindful of this fact. Often, this identity dimension has to do with religious identity.
I have thus challenged my team to work much more closely with their colleagues in relevant UN departments and agencies to ensure that faith-based communities are heard when we discuss these topics.
In the part of the world that I come from, and in particular among some of co-religionists, we have certainly seen the misuse of religion for political and violent ends.
So if I might speak from a place that is personal, I have a personal stake in seeing to it that we find ways to re-assert true religious values into the public conversation.
This is why I am proud of what UNAOC does in the realm of media. I am deeply troubled that it is easier for the loudest voices with the most extreme views to get all the attention.
This is why I have mandated my team to work closely with journalists in order to elevate the quality of analysis and debate available to members of the public.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In conclusion, I remain firm in my conviction that all the difficult challenges we face—from the environment to the economy, from conflicts to development—are solvable, if our will remains strong.
We must remember that security is more than the elimination of armaments; Economy is more than a few of us getting richer; and the future we all want is not just for our very own children. We share a planet, and we are vulnerable to each other and to each other’s needs.
In this world, you religious leaders have a great responsibility and great charge before you. I hope, and believe, that you can meet that challenge.