By Kassym-Jomart Tokayev
NEW YORK, Oct 6 2023 (IPS)
It is not a secret that the world is witnessing rising international tensions and erosion of the global order that has been in place since the establishment of the United Nations. Divisive blocs, which have not been seen since the Cold War, are making a swift return. As a result, our planet is facing severe threats, including a new global arms race, the threat of the use of nuclear weapons, and the proliferation of wars in all formats, including hot, hybrid, cyber, and trade.
In this atmosphere of tension and increasing geopolitical turbulences, it is vitally important to develop new approaches to strengthening inter-civilizational dialogue and trust.
Diplomacy is, undoubtedly, key to facilitating cooperation. Kazakhstan has always supported solving disputes exclusively at the negotiating table based on the UN Charter. Our country has consistently promoted principles aimed at achieving lasting peace, security, and sustainable progress across the world.
Despite best efforts, conflicts remain ubiquitous in many regions of the world.
To build a new system of international security, the world requires a new global movement for peace. I believe the role of religious leaders will be indispensable here. Approximately 85% of the world’s people identify with a religion, making it a significant factor in our lives.
Religious leaders therefore have a significant influence on global affairs. Moreover, the sacred value of human life, mutual support, and the rejection of destructive rivalry and hostility are a set of principles shared by all religions. As a result, I am convinced that these principles can form the basis of a new world system.
How can religious leaders help push for world peace?
How can this work in practice?
Firstly, religious leaders can contribute to healing the wounds of hatred following an enduring conflict. Syria is a case in point. Kazakhstan welcomes the fact that hostilities have all but ended in that country. We are glad to have contributed to this through the Astana Process peace talks, which since 2017 facilitated negotiations between representatives of the Syrian government, the opposition, as well as Turkey, Iran, and Russia.
Yet while the hot phase of the conflict is over, the divisions within the country remain. Spiritual leaders can play an important role in healing Syrian society through the power of religion.
Secondly, human nature is contradictory. There will always be provocations and hatred. Recent actions to burn the holy Quran in a number of northern European countries are negative trends that undermine the culture of tolerance, mutual respect, and peaceful coexistence. In this regard, the targeted communication of religious leaders in preventing such situations and trends is crucial.
Thirdly, new technologies are radically changing all spheres of human life. These changes are mostly for the better, including improved healthcare, unlimited information online, and ease of communication and travel. At the same time, we observe how societies are being fragmented and polarized under the influence of digital technology.
In the new digital reality, it is also necessary to cultivate spiritual values and moral guidelines. Religion has a key role to play here, too, as all faiths are based on humanistic ideals, recognition of the supreme value of human life, and the aspiration for peace and creation.
These fundamental principles should be embodied not only in the spiritual sphere, but also in the socioeconomic development of countries and international politics.
Without reliance on humanistic ideals and ethics, the rapid scientific-technological revolution can lead humanity astray. We are already witnessing such debates with the advent of general artificial intelligence.
Ultimately, moral authority and the word of spiritual leaders is crucial today.
That is why I am proud that for 20 years, Kazakhstan has been hosting the triennial Congress of Religious Leaders. Established in 2003 in direct response to the rise in interfaith disagreements and extremism following the 9/11 terrorist attack in the United States, the Congress has strengthened interfaith dialogue by bringing together religious leaders.
It has enabled meaningful dialogue on ways to combine efforts to promote better understanding between representatives of different cultures and religious communities.
Prior to becoming the president of Kazakhstan in 2019, I had the honor to serve as head of the Secretariat of the Congress.
I observed how the Congress promoted tolerance and mutual respect in contrast to hatred and extremism.
Last year, our country held the Seventh Congress of Religious Leaders. It was attended by delegations from 50 countries, including representatives of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Shintoism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, and other religions. I was honored to welcome Pope Francis, the second visit by the head of the Catholic Church to Kazakhstan following the visit by Pope John Paul II in 2001.
Over the past two decades, the Congress became a platform for inter-civilizational dialogue at the global level. I believe it made a significant contribution to Kazakhstan’s success in forging a stable and harmonious society from a population made up of more than 100 ethnic groups and 18 confessions that live in peace in our country today.
Through its commitment to religious tolerance and human rights, Kazakhstan sets an example for the world, showcasing the importance of interfaith dialogue in creating a more peaceful and harmonious global society.
As the world continues to be embroiled in political uncertainty, a bridge of rapprochement between cultures and civilizations is required more than ever. I am determined to ensure that Kazakhstan facilitates global dialogue between religions and nations, including through the work of the Congress of Religious Leaders, thus contributing to mutual understanding and respect in societies.
The writer is the president of Kazakhstan.
IPS UN Bureau