May the spirit of dialogue prevail 

Mediterranean Peace Forum – Lecce, Italy
27-29 November 2008

Ladies and gentlemen, you have chosen the Mediterranean as a target, a framework and a forum for dialogue. Such ambition for this region is justified, perhaps more so than anywhere else in the world, as the Mediterranean is perfectly placed for intercultural and interreligious exchanges.

I recognize among the founding members of your Forum, as well as members of the board, the strength of unwavering hope; this bodes well for success in your attempts to let the spirit of dialogue prevail and for peace to emerge triumphant. I am aware that the primary roles played by leaders of your movement as being were as peace activists, with peace always held as inseparable from justice.

Let me summarize the topics I would have liked to go into more detail with you, but knowing you need to give time to other speakers, I’ll keep it short.

Over the last 15 years I have made interreligious dialogue one of my main concerns, and recently I came to the conclusion that it is impossible to separate interreligious dialogue from intercultural dialogue. Indeed, the greatest enemies of dialogue are the kinds of clashes that stem from ignorance of different cultures. That is why it is the dialogue among ordinary people that must prevail over dialogue among the elite. Along these lines, I pay tribute to the work of Mary Eisenhower, the granddaughter of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who runs People to People International, the organization President Eisenhower founded for this very purpose, intercultural dialogue among regular people.

Throughout the years I dedicated to interreligious and intercultural dialogue, from Paris to London, from New York to Brussels, from Davos to Doha, from Amman to Sharm El Sheikh, and of course in the capital of dialogue of civilizations, Madrid, I learned several lessons that I would like to share with you today:

1. Those who truly support real dialogue must recognize that the time has come for some serious self-criticism. We must be honest enough to admit that so far we have failed engage regular people in the kind of dialogue conducted among the elite.

2. We must remember that dialogue at the grass-roots level will not bear fruit unless each of us dares to upset some of our peers by siding with what is just and lawful. Peace is unsustainable without justice, and if dialogue is not aimed at achieving justice, it will not be taken seriously.

3. It is important to halt the wholesale rejection of entire groups of people through the generalization of judgment. For example, crimes perpetrated by Al Qaeda must never be used as an excuse to hold all Muslims responsible for the results. The same goes for what is happening in the territories occupied by Israel. We must never condemn all Israelis for the violence against Palestinians and attacks on their lands. We know very well that there are people in Israel who support peace now and always.

4. As for the interfaith part of intercultural dialogue, I firmly believe that there are no conflicts among religions but rather conflicts among political groups taking religion hostage to serve their plans for domination and control. The time has come to support a universal alliance against extremism, the source of all evils, including religion-justified violence.

Therefore, all believers must assert vigorously that regardless of religious beliefs there can be:

No monopoly on faith in God

No monopoly on the word of God

No monopoly on interpreting the word of God No monopoly on determining where anyone stands in the eyes of God.

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