GENEVA, 10 December 2018 - Respect for the other lies at the heart of peace education and was a key thread through a debate entitled “Education for Peace in a multi-religious world”. It was held on the 2018 World Human Rights Day at the United Nations Office in Geneva.
Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue and the World Council of Churches held the debate on 10 December on the impact of peace education to promote mutual understanding and cooperative relations between people and societies.
Countering extremist narratives
The conference focused on how education for peace can engage different stakeholders to counter violent, extremist narratives, build peaceful and inclusive societies as well as to promote universally shared values upheld in diverse faiths and creeds.
Ambassador Idriss Jazairy, Executive Director of the Geneva Centre’s Board of Management, a former head of a UN specialized agency and top diplomat for Algeria opened the panel debate. He said, “Today I would say peace is in jeopardy once again.
Ambassador Jazairy opened the debate on behalf of Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al-Qassim, Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, who was prevented for health reasons from participating in the conference. Ambassador Jazairy quoted the Chairman of the Geneva Centre who issued a statement on the occasion of World Human Rights Day 2018, saying that: “Education constitutes an important building block to enhance inter-faith dialogue, break down social barriers and to overcome the fear of the Other."
He also referred to the message of His Royal Highness Prince El Hassan Bin Talal of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan addressed to the Conference, saying that: "We unite our voices today to promote education as a vector for enabling diversity to be understood as an asset wherein minds meet into shared aspirations at the national level and beyond as a gateway to peace.”
Ambassador Jazairy added that “we are exposed to a kind of a pincer movement between populism on the one hand and extremism on the other. In those circumstances, we need to see how we can defuse this tension and give the right of way to peace. We have to do this by addressing the problem already at the school level.”
WCC General Secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fyske Tveit, said in a speech opening the debate, “The question of how faith communities can educate for peace in a world torn by war and conflict is most pressing in today’s world.”
Tveit was unable to attend the panel discussion and his speech was read by Rev. Dr Peniel Rajkumar, who heads the WCC’s Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation programme.
“It is imperative that leaders of religious communities of various kinds recognize that one of the most solemn tasks laid upon them is to pass on a vision for the pursuit of peace to those they lead, those they teach, those whose imaginations they shape and whose consciences they help to form,” said Tveit.
“Faith communities as communities of edification at various levels – formal, informal, religious and secular – have a definite role in this. What are the motivations and means for us to capitalize on the constant opportunities for religious communities to teach their members how to be peacemakers?” he asked.
‘Knowing about each other’
Professor Majeda Omar of the University of Jordan and former director of the Royal Institute for Inter-faith Studies of Jordan said, “What we need to know about is, each other’s religions and cultures.”
She noted that it is the “lack of religious knowledge,” that is the question not “the lack of religions”. Omar said, “What is needed, is not just tolerance, but mutual understanding. We have to learn how to listen to one another.”
Professor Anantanand Rambachan, Professor of Religion at St. Olaf College (US) spoke from a Hindu perspective but also quoted Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi who spoke of “the duty of every cultured man or woman to read sympathetically, the scriptures of the world. If we are to respect others’ religions, as we would have them respect our own, a friendly study of the world’s religions is a sacred duty.”
Rambachan said, “Accurate knowledge of other traditions must be complemented by the development of relationships and friendships between people of different traditions.”
After his speech, Jazairy said, “Ecumenism should encompass all the Abrahamic religions, and Hinduism.”
Monsignor Indunil Janakaratne, Undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said, “only by changing education can we can change the world”. He explained that a humanized education can lay down a pathway for “paternal humanism”.
Dialogue is essential for “your own maturity in confronting other cultures and religions” and that “as we grow, and we develop, and we mature, this dialogue is what creates peace,” said Janakaratne.
“Our goal is unity and not uniformity,” said panellist Dr Debbie Weissman, who as an “Israeli Jew”, a former president of the International Council of Christians and Jews.
Author of “Memoirs of a Hopeful Pessimist: A Life of Activism through Dialogue,” she referred to the biblical story of the creation of the human being in the image of God as “the basis of respect for the Other, which lies at the heart of peace education. Human diversity is the manifestation of God’s greatness.”
Those conducting the panel discussion included: Ms. Maria Lucia Uribe, Director of Arigatou International Geneva - Ethics Education for Children; Mr Renato Opertti, Senior Programme Specialist, IBE-UNESCO; Ms. Beris Gwynne, Founder and Managing Director of Incitare. Former Australian diplomat and aid official and NGO Executive; and Mr. Jan-Willem Bult, Head of Children & Youth Media and Chief Editor of WADADA News for Kids.
About the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue
The Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, an organization with special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, is a think tank dedicated to the promotion of human rights through cross-cultural, religious and civilizational dialogue between the Global North and Global South, and through training of the upcoming generations of stakeholders in the Arab region. Its aim is to act as a platform for dialogue between a variety of stakeholders involved in the promotion and protection of human rights.
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Photos from the Education for Peace conference can be downloaded at: https://oikoumene.photoshelter.com/galleries/C0000zK3nWPEUFR4/G0000.WdYK4y02PU/I0000cGBeu_z0IfA/IMG-0813-JPG
Statements and presentations of panellists can be downloaded below: