H.E. Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser
High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations
at the 20th Eurasian Economic Summit
“Humanity at the Crossroads”
Istanbul, Turkey – 6 April 2017
Dr. Akkan Suver, President of the Marmara Group Foundation
Ladies and Gentlemen,
What a great honor and pleasure to be, once again, part of the Eurasian Economic Summit. First, I would like to congratulate and thank the organizers for inviting me to this 20th iteration and allowing me to share with you some thoughts on the importance of religions and interfaith dialogue in achieving peace.
The Eurasian Economic Summit was created with the aim to enhance relations between Europe, Central Asia, the Caucasus region, and the Middle East. Its strategic location translates its economic importance and influence on the World. There could not be a better venue than the city of Istanbul with its strategic position on the historic Silk Road, its networks to Europe and the Middle East, and its sea route between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean to held this Summit.
More than that, Istanbul is also a symbol of religious diversity and tolerance for differences that compose the city. A city that has served as a center for several of the world’s major religions throughout its history. The Sultanahmet Blue Mosque represents interfaith cooperation and religious tolerance worldwide.
Ladies & Gentlemen, the title of this year’s summit is very true: “Humanity at the Crossroads”.
Today, we live a time of upheaval and change, where people are interconnected around the World but yet where borders are being closed and where xenophobia is spreading in an uncontrollable manner, thanks to new and modern media platforms.
Vulnerable communities are increasingly targeted as main cause of problems. Far too often, hate speech, stereotyping and stigmatization are becoming today’s norm in many societies. Yet it is refreshing to see millions of people are speaking out against racism and intolerance. Many communities have opened their hearts and their doors to refugees and migrants – recognizing and appreciating migration as a part of the solution of our global problems.
Turkey is one good example. It opened its doors to refugees and migrants, and showed compassion.
The International Community must be vigilant and respond immediately and appropriately, including by prohibiting incitement to racial, national and religious hatred and ending racial profiling. Marginalization, polarization, racism and xenophobia often lead to extremism, fundamentalism and violence.
Violent extremism is increasingly present in our societies. Not only is it a threat to our security but it also jeopardizes our fundamental principles and values. Violent extremists use religious motives and perverted interpretations of religious scriptures to justify the horror of their acts and divide people.
The recent terrorist attacks perpetrated in London and in prosperous and democratic European countries pose the question of whether our initial thinking that poverty, lack of education, and absence of human rights are the root causes.
The use of religion for destructive purposes not only affects the religion itself but also the people sharing it, especially migrants and refugees. Let’s not forget that during conflicts and emergency situations, minorities are often at a great risk, and their protection and respect of ethnic and religious identities is crucial.
The protection of migrants and refugees through preventive actions is one of the objectives of UNAOC. The massive flow of migrants from the Middle East to Europe has led to anti-immigrant rhetoric and to a hate speech against the religious affiliation of these migrants. The media too often provides negative portrayals of migrants and minority groups, linking these negative images to religious beliefs.
At the Alliance, we decided to fight this scourge by launching an initiative: “Spread no Hate”, a series of Symposiums on Hate Speech in the Media to counter narratives of hatred and mistrust towards refugees and migrants in order to change perceptions and help them to be properly integrated in host societies. We already launched four successful Symposiums in New York, Baku and Brussels, in partnership with the European Union and other key actors.
The Alliance of Civilizations believes in the active role that religious leaders can play to bring people together, spread the message of peace, and to promote dialogue between communities.
Understanding, preventing, and thwarting violent extremism is one of the most challenging issues facing humankind. Violent extremism is an affront to the purposes and principles of the United Nations and its charter.
In January 2016, the United Nations Secretary-General released his Plan of Action on the Prevention of Violent Extremism, where he highlighted the role of faith and community leaders in mentoring “vulnerable followers so as to enable them to reject violent ideologies” and promote “tolerance, understanding and reconciliation between communities”.
The battle for ideas, for positive values, for hearts and minds, needs the contribution of religious leaders and their enlightened views in other areas where violent extremism is common, including public communication.
As such, the Alliance is committed to support the work of religious leaders and interfaith organizations. Religious leaders who have committed their lives to bring people from all communities together, in building inclusive and peaceful societies, have a crucial role to play in preventing and countering hatred, stigmatization that lead to exclusion and violent extremism.
Let’s not forget that in this struggle against violence and polarization, we are facing a number of significant challenges, including globalization and technology. The use of social media and other Internet-enabled communications by terrorist groups has a significant impact on youth.
We must stand by them in facing these challenges and support their endeavours. The Alliance is willing to work closely with faith and community leaders who are committed to prevent violent extremism, and to empower them to play an effective role in the plan of action.
I am convinced that ideas for concrete activities to follow-up will come from the discussions you will have today, and that it will enable us to move forward towards the goal of achieving peace and stability.
We can build communities that recognize that diversity is not a source of weakness. It is a source of strength and richness.
Let us stand up against intolerance and eliminate xenophobia and violent extremism.