Gen. C.A. (ret.) Salvatore FARINA
President, Army Study Center
Based on my experience as a Commander − in northern Kosovo with COMKFOR, but also at the Allied Joint Force Command (JFC) Brunssum, focusing on Afghanistan, concrete actions on the ground need to be carried out jointly by all the actors who can contribute to provide stabilization, support peace, and prevent crises. This is not a formula for success, but no effort can be effective if the military, civilian, and religious sectors do not work together in projects that aim to better local life conditions, promoting economic development, and the respect for human rights. In this context, the security perspective needs to include interreligious dialogue as well, since the exchange and cooperation between religious leaders and faith-based actors can greatly help to achieve the strategic goals set by peace operations.
Mons. Rev. Lucio SEMBRANO
Delegate of the Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue
Why should we dialogue? Why should we get involved in interreligious dialogue? Dialogue should be without borders, as St. Francis said. He urged all forms of hostility or conflict be avoided and that a humble and fraternal “subjection” be shown to those who do not share the same faith. Interreligious dialogue should be a common daily practice for everyone. Humility is key to dialogue, since it enables us to move from the individual to the community and the grassroots level. The Samaritan encourages us to create a different culture in which conflicts are solved through care for one another. Universal love is the solution. It is necessary to call for forgiveness, and then, on this basis, dialogue is the only weapon we have in order to fully rediscover our common roots and direct our relationships towards the common good, beyond the protection of particular interests. To quote Pope Francis: “As believers, we are convinced that, without an openness to the Father of all, there will be no solid and stable reasons for an appeal to fraternity”.
However, in many countries extremism and polarization have become political tools. And if victory consists in eliminating one’s opponents, how is it possible to recognize our neighbours or help those falling along the way? This applies particularly to the MENA region, a space of ancient conflicts − still ongoing − as well as of “shattered dreams”.
At the same time, it is nonsense to speak about the West and the East, we need to overcome these traditional definitions, to halt speaking about blocks, but consider the different entities within these macro-areas. We are not all the same. Could you ever think that Israel and Palestine are the same? No, but they are in the same region. Moreover, if we do not support fragile and failing states in strengthening their political and economic systems, how can we help address conflicts and crises?
What is needed is a specific approach for every different situation. If the model is not changed and adapted, if we lack an effective plan, we will spread despair and discouragement, even under the guise of defending peace settlements.
To achieve reconciliation through dialogue, an open, honest, and patient negotiation is required. Dialogue entails the ability to acknowledge the point of view of others, which may include convictions and concerns that are different from our own, but legitimate and deserving respect and attention. Pope Francis stresses that differences are creative. They can create tension, but in the resolution of tensions lies the progress of humanity.
Dr. Michael Daniel DRIESSEN
Associate Professor, John Cabot University
Question to Dr. Majeda OMAR: Many political scientics have criticized the “Amman Message” and other similar declarations on the grounds that they were mere public relations strategies that proved unsuccesful in preventing a new wave of religiously-based violence in the Middle East, especially with reference to the civil war in Syria and the rise of ISIS. Of course, the “Amman Message” could not prevent these conflicts, nor was that its aim, and it is unfair to charge them with such a burden. That said, the continuation of religiously expressed conflict and violence in the region nearly two decades after the “Amman Message” should provoke our reflection. How have these conflicts changed the way you think about the success or the role or the meaning of the “Amman Message” or interreligious dialogue efforts in the region in general?
Question to Dr. Elie AL HINDY: The conflict in Ukraine also involves a religious dimension which has some parallels to the conflicts in the Middle East. For instance, on the part of Russia we can see a return of religious nationalism and the direct support for the war by the Orthodox Patriarch. At the same time, there is also the engagement of Pope Francis to halt the confrontation and promote dialogue between the belligerants. According to your experience in addressing religiously-based violence and in promoting interreligious dialogue in multi-dimensional processes, what could we learn from the Middle East experience that can be applied to the Ukrainian case? How might dialogue efforts be used in this scenario currently affecting Europe?
Answer by Dr. Majeda OMAR: Many of the root-causes underlying religiously-based violence are outside the scope of the “Amman Message”, and this applies also to the case of the civil war in Syria. Bad governance, the way some sectors of the Syrian society were treated, the economic predicament, the external interferences, and other factors tied to the history of the country and the broader region, together contributed to ignite the internal strife, which led to the rise of ISIS. On the other hand, addressing religiously-based violence from a theological and doctrinal perspective requires a lot of time, and tangible results can be seen only in the very long term, provided that we remain engaged in promoting the goals of initiatives such as the “Amman Message” among stakeholders and target groups, along with interreligious dialogue as an antidote to sectarianism and intolerance.
Answer by Dr. Elie AL HINDY: From the Middle East experience, what we can learn most importantly is that any religious form of nationalism should be definitely discouraged, because it is automatically exclusive to the other. Religious nationalism leads to troubles inside a country and with its neighbors, and is definitely not the way to go. On the other hand, according to the Middle East experience, religion and the religious identity of citizens need to be included and acknowledged, within the framework of the “civic state”. The notion of “civic state” differs from the secular state because it accepts religion and promotes it as a relevant factor in society, although not in an exclusive way. This is the reason why we speak about “inclusive citizenship”, which encompass the different religions and beliefs present in society, as anthidotes to religious nationalism and sectarianism. Unfortunately in Lebanon, religious nationalism was a main factor in the civil war and is still manifesting itself in many ways, constantly putting the Lebanese on the verge of another civil war.
Imam Yahya PALLAVICINI
President, Islamic Religious Community of Italy (COREIS)
Ambassador for Dialogue among Civilizations, Islamic World Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ICESCO)
Member of the Executive Board, WMCC World Muslim Communities Council, UAE
As for the difference between the secular and “civic” state, it is actually possible to acknowledge a secular state as an inclusive system that ensures freedom of religion with no double standards, and allows for the participation in the public life of religious leaders and believers, without leading to a confessional state. I am against political parties with a religious identity, but I am not against the principle that a governor of a local municipality, as much as the President or the Prime Minister, can be believers of any religious identity and succeed in managing their leadership and political role for the benefit of the whole community, non-believers included. This is a secular neutral government. On the other hand, if government authorities and political leaders should provide the best opportunities only for their fellow believers, such a behavior would correspond to a non-honest interpretation of their religious identity.
As for the “Amman Message”, this and other similar initiatives have triggered a negative reaction in the narrow-minded, radical, and ultra-confessional identities. At the same time, they have led to a major intrafaith consensus on the true tenets and fundamentals of Islam between Muslim scholars from all over the world, in order to counter the attacks against Islam waged by certain new ideological interpretations that have no relevance within the Islamic traditional doctrine.
Dr. Ziad FAHED
Full Professor of Religious Studies, Notre Dame University-Louaize
President, Dialogue for Life and Reconciliation (DLR)
Coordinator, Sustainable Network of Religious Leaders in the North of Lebanon
To be born in an interreligious country does not necessarily mean that we are equiped to live in peace together. Living in peace together is something that we learn, for which we prepare ourselves. Peace is something that we build together. According to my experience with the Sustainable Network of Religious Leaders in the North of Lebanon, when we launch interfaith initiatives on the ground, I am often surprised by the level of ignorance of each other, by the lack of mutual knowledge and understanding, although we have built the Network together and we are working shoulder to shoulder to achieve the same goals. This is most probably due to an insufficient theological preparation both of Christians and Muslims, who are not prepared enough to engage adequately in the encounter. Our theological formation should give us a rich experience based on theological texts and principles, but it does not actually prepare for what I call “celebrating the dignity of being different”.
During his life, the Rasoul (Prophet Muhammad) has never lived in a religious state. Every single city he was in had the characteristic of being rich in diversity. Also the other prophets before him, lived all their lives in culturally rich societies. Therefore, let’s not be afraid of diversity. Diversity shows the existence of two types of believers: one who is not secured enough to share his own religious beliefs and traditions, and the other who is so at peace with his own religion and has a deep understanding of it, to create interactive bridges and share the beauty of being a Muslim, a Christian, or of any another religion.
So, point number one: how to learn to live together. Number two, I would like to highlight the importance of texts such as the “Amman Message” and the “Human Fraternity Document for Peace and Living Together” signed in Abu Dhabi, as they greatly help create new spaces for interreligious dialogue and for what I call “spiritual solidarity” in the MENA region. In Tripoli and North Lebanon, I saw religious leaders living close to each other for years without ever trying to get close and enter into a dialogue. Through the Network, we have been able to overcome these barriers, making the encounter possible. “Spiritual solidarity” is needed to contribute to heal the wounds of our societies, and the process of healing will never start without small initiatives at the grassroots level. Even just a soccer game, a walk in the street, and other small initiatives can heal and reconcile. The more we create spaces for the encounter between religious leaders and believers from different religions, the more we can move forward in working together for the common good.
Dr. Pejman ABDOLMOHAMMADI
Associate Professor of Middle Eastern Studies, University of Trento
On interreligious dialogue and the encounter between different faiths, the discussion should extend beyond Abrahamism, since an Abrahamic-centered approach can turn out to be a form of non-pluralism and exclusivity. There are other religions as well and, although not originating from the MENA region, they are nonetheless relevant to conflicts resolution and peace-building. To ensure a real pluralism, “inclusive citizenship” and the protection of minorities is fundamental, and this involves the concept of democracy as well, which may take shapes other than the Western model, in the same way as the “civic state” as a form of governance in MENA countries differs from the Western-style secular state.
Dr. Elie AL HINDY
Executive Director of the Adyan Foundation
Associate Professor at the Notre Dame University-Louaize
As per the essence of the term, democracy is the rule of the people and not simply of the majority, and this implies the inclusion of religious and ethnic minorities. Democracy and “inclusive citizenship” goes hand in hand. On the other hand, the need for the elaboration of the concept of “civic state” lies in the twisting of the original meaning of secularism. Going back to its roots, secularism is the separation of the political authority from the religious authority, and not the seperation of religion from society and from politics, as it was subsequently conceived and promoted. Religion is a major factor in society, and naturally manifests itself in the public sphere, through its sets of values and beliefs. Accordingly, a politician who is a believer has the right to represent his or her values in politics, just as a non-believer politician does. Therefore, to be suitable for the MENA countries, secularism needs to recover its early sense and purpose, focusing on the seperation between political and religious authority, and fully acknowledging religion as one of the main factors that make up the social and cultural fabric.
Dr. Elie ABOUAOUN
Senior Fellow, Religion & Security Council (RSC)
Director of Middle East and North Africa Programs, U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP)
The crises and troubles of the MENA region are not only religious in nature. They have a very marked political and social dimension, which, from my perspective, prevail over the religious one. In Libya, the issue is not religion, but the lack of governance and the poor management of diversity between the different components of society. In Lebanon, although the problem has religious facets,a deeper look reveals it is mostly political and social.
As for the secular or confessional models of state, a further reflection is needed to better define the content and the contours of these concepts. However, through adequate constitutional guarantees and power sharing arrangements, confessionals types of governance can certainly allow for equality, pluralism, and respect for human rights for all the citizens, irrespective of their religious and ethnic belonging. Therefore, the secular state that has rose to prominence mainly in Europe is not necessarily to be regarded as the solution for MENA countries, since it is completely dissociated from the reality of the local societies.
Similarly, in MENA countries and Europe, or the West in general, there is a major difference in the way political parties or organizations are formed. Political parties or organizations are needed everywhere to establish any functioning and inclusive governance model. But in the societies of the Middle East and North Africa
, they are mostly established around the religious and ethnic identities of the people, rather than ideologies and views referring to the left-center-right continuum. This does mean that one is good, and the other is bad. We are just different.
Dr. Francesca Maria CORRAO
Full Professor of Arabic Culture and Language, LUISS University Rome
The focus of dialogue between different religions and cultures is to achieve the recognition of the dignity of the “other”, as a basis to bring about a real transformation in conflict scenarios. Recognition is a process whose first step is education, including the study of the history of other people and countries from the early school levels. To be sure, it is necessary to learn primarily about our own history, so as to be able to understand our own identity, but in a globalized world the identity of the “other” can no longer be overlooked, since we are increasingly called to interact with people from different religions and cultures.
From education to practice. This Study Seminar is an example of concrete dialogue between people from all over the world, who are engaged in working together for the sake of peace. It is a remarkable initiative also because participants have different professional backgrounds, combining scholars specialized in humanities and security experts. In another context, I would like to highlight the “Mediterranean Mayor’s Forum” that has been taking place in Florence since 1958, as an initiative launched by the politician and statesman Giorgio La Pira. The latest edition of the event was organized last February, and also featured a meeting between religious leaders and decision-makers from the two sides of the Mediterranean in an interreligious framework.
Proceedings of the Study Seminar
A Strategic Perspective on “Religion, Peace, and Security”
Dr. Elie Al Hindy: “Interreligious Dialogue: Three Levels of Engagement for Peace and Security”
Dr. Majeda Omar: “The Amman Message and Other Insights from Jordan”
Prof. Aicha Haddou: Preventing Extremism: The Moroccan “Experience”
Imam Yahya Pallavicini: Policies and Initiatives Against the Radical Discourse in the MENA Region
Dr. Elie Abouaoun: “Food for Thought” On How to Foster Peace and Reconciliation in the MENA Region
Hon. Pascale Warda: Sectarianism and the Predicament of Religious Minorities in Iraq