Astana religious confab strikes the right tone | MercatorNet

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Diplomats urged to double down on the language of reconciliation and compromise before engaging in conflicts

Astana religious confab strikes the right tone | MercatorNet
Astana VII Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions

In the heart of Eurasia, Kazakhstan, from September 13-15, the VII Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, a triennial event held in Astana since 2003, called upon secular and religious leaders across the globe to come to their senses and see that humanity’s shared values, universal and unchanging, must serve as the starting point for meaningful dialogue in a war-torn and conflict-ridden world. 

At this time of great peril when the drums of war are pounding across the globe, the Astana Congress emphasised that diplomats need to double down on the language of reconciliation and compromise before engaging in conflicts that are avoidable. Unfortunately, most mainstream media ignored the Astana Congress even though the religious world’s top hierarchs participated.  

Pope Francis summarised the Astana Congress in an interview on his way back to Rome, urging always dialogue, “an outstretched hand, always! Because otherwise we close off the only reasonable door to peace.” In other words, to argue that international or inter-civilisational conflicts are resolved only by force is not only shortsighted but the cause of immense suffering. Humanity can do better. 

No easy task

The Astana Congress represented a welcome dose of optimism in a world dominated by pessimism and the pursuit of self-interest. It was much more than incense, smells, and bells; it fomented concrete engagement between civilisations that at times have been at each other’s throats.  

Before doomsayers outright dismiss the efforts of religious leaders for peace as hopelessly naïve — as present-day followers of Thucydides, Machiavelli and Mackinder tend to believe — they should read the discourses of Pope FrancisYitzhak Yosef, Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Ahmed El-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, and Metropolitan Anthony of the Russian Orthodox Church, to understand that there is room for dialogue among civilisations. 

Patient dialogue before warmongering

The media and diplomats should take a cue from Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the host of the congress and head of state of the ninth-largest country in the world:  

“Unfortunately, tension, mutual distrust, and even hostility are returning to international relations. What can we rely on to counter today’s challenges? History provides only one answer — goodwill, dialogue, and cooperation. There are no other guarantees of success. Threats, sanctions, and the use of force do not solve problems. [W]e must turn to humanistic ideals, the main custodians of which are, of course, traditional religions.”

Declaration of the Astana Congress

To paraphrase the Astana Congress Declaration’s main messages: 

  1. The value system that should guide diplomatic engagement and public policy should not rest on a “will-to-power” philosophy but rather on ethical norms (permanent spiritual values) embedded in human nature from all eternity, that is, because human beings are rational and possess human dignity, dialogue and compromise are possible.  Thus conflict is not inevitable. 
  2. Any public policies, economic development plans or diplomatic initiatives that are narrowly focused, that is, ignore (by design or omission) the dignity of the human person, are doomed to undermine the common good and peace. The view that the maximisation of self-interest (in a zero-sum environment) defines “good moral behaviour,” no matter the cost to others, is fundamentally erroneous and can lead to the suffering and displacement of vast numbers of people. History is clear on this point. We must find another way. 
  3. It is of paramount importance that world leaders give special attention to the “institution of the family.” In other words, the world’s major religions oppose, not on theological but rather on philosophical and scientific grounds, the introduction of misguided ideas that alter the meaning of the family as understood over the course of millennia.  
  4. The dominant “culture of death” mentality in modern society, which is aggressively promoted by the highest international circles, works against unity and fraternity and fuels wars, economic dissolution, societal collapse and mass, involuntary migration. The “culture of life” is always better than “the culture of death.” 
  5. The meanings of “religion” and “political religion” are antonyms and must not be conflated. Whereas the former has built up civilisations over the centuries, and usually, though not always, advocated for peace, the latter’s whole modus operandi is the instrumentalisation of religion. Highly partisan, polarising and sometimes violent, it aims to achieve political power and often pursues policies detrimental to the person, family, and society. 
  6. “Extremism, radicalism, terrorism and all other forms of violence and wars, whatever their motivations and goals, have nothing to do with authentic religion and must be rejected in the strongest possible terms.” As such, “political and public figures, journalists and bloggers, [should refrain from identifying] extremism and terrorism with any nation or religion or using religions for political purposes.”

Much more is contained in the Declaration of the VII Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. (Also see the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together signed in 2019 by Pope Francis and Ahmad Al-Tayeb as well as the Makkah Declaration adopted in Mecca in May 2019.)

Introspection, fraternity, compassion

Pope Francis said, “I have come to echo the plea of all those who cry out for peace, which is the essential path to development for our globalised world.” Is anyone listening, the Pope is asking, or is it just too difficult to turn hatred off or see and experience the suffering of others? The religious leaders in Astana were saying that it is high time for deep personal introspection and compassion, that is, “Frater qui adiuvatur a fratre quasi civitas firma” (Brother helped by brother is a fortress). 

President Tokayev, in his closing remarks, underscored that the Astana Congress’ Declaration must “serve as a guide for governments, political leaders and international organisations,” whose responsibility is to “collectively condemn both ‘power politics’ and ‘hate speech,’ which contribute to the mutual alienation of nations, the erosion of states and the degradation of international relations.”

Let us hope that political leaders, diplomats, and the major media pay attention to these words and those of the religious leaders who came to Astana.

This article has been republished with permission from Asia Times. Read the original article here.

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