Remarks by the High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations
at the High-Level Meeting on
Promoting Interfaith Pluralism and Understanding for Prevention:
An Interactive Panel Celebrating the 2019 Interfaith Harmony Week
New York, 19 Feb 2019
Ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you very much for being here today for this important event in observance of World Interfaith Harmony Week.
For me to take the floor in such an event is an important moment as the High Representative of UNAOC. On the first day I arrived in New York, Her Excellency, Dr. Sima Bahous, Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations, informed me that we had this important event and that UNAOC should be a strong partner.
We are very pleased and very determined to work hand in hand; between Jordan and the Alliance; and between the Alliance and all of you.
Why did Jordan take this initiative? For the majority of the guests in this room, the answer may be straightforward: Jordan is an important country in the Middle East. A country at the crossroads of different civilizations, religions, and cultures.
I have had the honor and privilege to know Jordan deeply, and to immediately understand that it was natural for the Permanent Mission to organize this event. There are numerous examples of peaceful coexistence in Jordan: Not only The Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies (RIIFS), an initiative launched by His Royal Highness, Prince El Hassan bin Talal, but of course, His Royal Majesty, King Abdullah II who launched the Amman Message of 2004; A message of peace, harmony and solidarity.
Peace, Harmony and Solidarity, strange words in today’s environment. How important are they? Peace; we talk too much about security and we do not talk enough about peace. Harmony; equates to having an atmosphere, a framework of understanding and respect between different cultures and religions, as noted by Ambassador Santos Maraver. And of course, solidarity; to the people who suffer, to the people who need support and backing.
And these are the main components of His Majesty’s Amman Message.
A Common Word of 2007 followed the Amman Message. And finally, General Assembly resolution 65/5 recognized the important need for dialogue between different faiths and religions.
All these three initiatives are interdependent and mutually reinforcing.
But my dear friends, let’s be sincere, where are we today? I just returned from an impressive gathering in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates. It was a conference organized by the Council of Muslim Elders. We had the great honor to be in the presence of His Holiness, Pope Francis, and Dr. Ahmad Al Tayyeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar.
Some of the distinguished panelists that are going to follow up on these introductory remarks were present. What we immediately sensed in Abu Dhabi was a different opportunity, a different momentum. We felt how these exchanges between different cultural and religious groups were possible, and how we create this positivity via a political will to advance our common humanity for the future.
Today we are celebrating Interfaith Harmony Week. We have to be extremely pleased; we have to congratulate each other; and continue to maintain, to form and to launch new religious leader meetings, gatherings, and conferences.
But to be sincere, it is not enough. It is not enough because we need to go a step further.
Look at the news today. Unfortunately, I want to pay my condolences to the Egyptian Ambassador. Last night in Cairo, there was a terrorist attack in Khan El Khalili, a place we have all visited. We have to categorically condemn these attacks. Just today, I condemned an attack in Burkina Faso. And we continue to condemn.
But we have to go a step further; we have to start to see how in these gatherings – that are absolutely essential and require our support – we can identify new ways to be much more efficient.
We have to be able to undermine anyone who tries to hijack our holy scriptures to justify incitement to violence, and all other crimes they commit in the name of religion.
And Islamophobia, Antisemitism and Xenophobia continue to persist in our world despite our global, regional and national efforts.
This gathering, on the occasion of Interfaith Harmony Week, provides us with an opportunity to recall that the problem is never the faith. The problem lies with those who manipulate the faithful, and turn them against each other, through a perverse distortion of religious scriptures.
For this reason, I think we should try to identify areas where we can all work together. Of course, Interfaith Harmony Week, which promotes pluralism and mutual understanding, can facilitate the work of Mr. Voronkov, in his efforts to prevent and combat terrorism.
In the Olympic Games, we have an Olympic oath taken at the opening ceremony. In a similar spirit, why not introduce an oath during Interfaith Harmony Week? Every year we are honored to host regional leaders and other attendees who convene for a week of peaceful coexistence. Maybe we have to extend this week to have one month of Harmony.
We also have to see how we can combine our good work during this week with other measures and events that promote mutual understanding and respect between different cultures and religions.
Perhaps in 2020, we could ask His Holiness, Pope Francis, while addressing his audience in Rome during the first week of February, to declare the beginning of the week of harmony between different faiths. Can we imagine that the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar or the Rabbi in Jerusalem send the same message? Can we go to a Church, Synagogue, or other places of worship and send the same message of harmony? That would be one step further in our work.
When I explain the role and responsibility of the Alliance, I always go back to its origin, in order to understand why we call it an Alliance. Dialogue is essential, and we are here to treat each other with respect, tolerance and empathy.
But we need to be committed. We need an Alliance that works together. And this is what we are aiming to achieve during this week of harmony. Together with the Governments of Jordan and Spain, as well as with the United Nations Office of Counter Terrorism, let us produce some elements, some initiatives, which can make the world better.