Religious Values: Perspectives on Peace and Respect for Life
Sixth Doha Conference of Interfaith Dialogue – Doha, Qatar
16 -18 July 2008
Violence that is used to force an individual or a group to comply with the perpetrators’ demands must be rejected by individuals, communities and the state. This sort of violence is used to break the will of the victim and transform him into an object to be used in trade for a material or political gain. The root of this is usually intellectual and ideological extremism. We can summarize the thinking of an extremist as the objectification of another and complete disregard for the ideas and texts he believes in.
When extremism claims that it takes its legitimacy from religious thought, there is either a misunderstanding, or an adapting of sacred texts to suit its goals. This is not part of a clash between religions. This is a politically motivated conflict of power that takes religions hostage to manipulate and use as a diabolical means to an end.
At the same time, we must recognize when extremist thought comes from injustice or oppression, from the inability to obtain legitimate rights. No one can dispute that all respected religions reject violence and call for justice. No one doubts that this is the real meaning of pacifism. Violence must always be rejected, but in order to eliminate its roots we must go to the main causes that drive many people to such extremes.
The time has come for some serious work on the legal definitions of extremism, violence and terrorism so as to enable us to distinguish between those and the legitimate right of all people to conduct resistance in order to restore their usurped rights. Rulers, writers and intellectuals have the responsibility to refuse the separation between peace and justice.
Those who promote or rule through tyranny, injustice, oppression and denial of the rights of others should not benefit from our call for peace and coexistence. “Respect for life”, the title of the second part of our meeting today will be achieved only if we succeed in establishing true justice for people and respect their right to dignity and sovereignty.
There is much to be said about the relationship between media and violence which I would like to summarize in the following points:
1. Media today is the most dangerous weapon, yet media can be the school from which the public learns to reject extremism, violence and terrorism. The media also has the ability to reach millions and enlighten them to a degree that lectures and conferences would never achieve.
2. When media has no principles, its work can enflame emotions and confuse the masses, potentially inciting people to violence. The media then become as dangerous as a nuclear weapon in killing innocent people.
3. We have seen over the last few years how the feelings of millions of people can be negatively aroused by a newspaper article, some pictures, or a film that they perceive as defiling their religious values or symbols. Reasonable people must calmly come up with an intelligent and objective balance between the freedom of opinion, thought, and expression on the one hand; and on the other hand, some red lines to avoid crossing in order to respect and protect the symbols and values of different people.
Two years ago, from this place, I called for inviting twenty international media professionals from the west and twenty experts in religions and cultures for a roundtable to produce the foundation of a charter of principles for this potentially historic reconciliation of freedom expression with the right of all people to have their values and symbols treated with respect.
Before concluding, and as we are in an interfaith dialogue conference, I’d like to say that dialogue is at a crossroads and is in need for a new language and style. Otherwise we will be left stranded.
• recognize that the dialogue, so far, has not succeeded in conveying its message of mutual respect to a broad base of the public.
• understand that dialogue will not work unless each of us is willing to upset part of his family or people and firmly insist upon justice for all people, including their human rights.
• consider interfaith dialogue and intercultural dialogue parts of an integral whole, especially on the grassroots level. The absence of cultural understanding about each other is among the causes of conflict and violence. The time has come for the followers of the three monotheistic religions to say “we know that we are not the only believers and that there are other valid religions and spiritualities.” It is time to extend a hand of cooperation, brotherhood and common understanding in the knowledge that stability, freedom and happiness are the ultimate goals.