The panel discussion was a side-event in relation to the 34th ordinary session of the UN Human Rights Council. The objective of this event was to study the alternatives to identify a common strategy that addressed the issues of religious discrimination, fanaticism and xenophobia, which have worsened in several countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and North America.
- Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim, Chairman of the Geneva Centre (Opening Remarks);
- H.E. Sheikha Lubna Khalid al Qasimi, the Minister of State for Tolerance of the United Arab Emirates (UAE),
- Reverend Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC);
- Mr Lakhdar Brahimi, the Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Algeria and a member of the Elders;
- Dr. Tarek Mitri, the Former Acting Foreign Minister of Lebanon and the current Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs in Beirut;
- Dr. Mark D. Siljander, the former US Ambassador to the United Nations and former US Republican Congressman;
- Reverend Timothy Radcliffe, the Former Head of the Dominican Order;
- Ambassador Tehmina Janjua, Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations.
A special video message was also delivered by His Royal Highness Prince Hassan bin Talal of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan who highlighted the importance of fostering religious tolerance and inter-faith harmony between Christians and Muslims as well as intra-faith cohesion.
The decades of violence in the Middle East and Northern Africa, resulting from the proliferation of international and local conflicts, have strained the social fabric that once held peaceful and prosperous Arab societies together. The resulting power vacuum has provided fertile ground for the emergence of terrorist groups advocating a distorted view of Islam in an attempt to access power through violence exercised against Muslims, Christians and other religious minorities calling into question the beauty of the diversity of religion and creed.
This situation has had a spillover effect affecting also the West and other regions in which the disruptive effects of globalization, and the growing disengagement of political elites from the concerns of ordinary people, have given rise to a populist tidal wave. The emerging populism has a strong xenophobic component. Societies are prey to the growing polarization created through the manipulation of religions and beliefs. The rise of far-rightist populist movements goes hand in hand with the political instrumentalisation of religions, which exacerbates divisions and incites hatred and violence. While Islam and Christianity are vectors of peace, their malevolent manipulation seeks to accentuate alleged differences and depict them as incompatible and opposed to one another.
The goal of the Geneva Centre’s initiative was to highlight the many convergences that exist between Islam and Christianity, to recognize the potential of a “great convergence” between both religions, and to mitigate and to reduce the marginalization of religious minorities, discrimination, xenophobia and the resulting violence. The panel debate also aimed at restoring globality to the debate taking into account the need to empower all minorities so that the very notion of minorities ends up dissolving into the broader and more inclusive concept of equal citizenship rights.
Video Report: Islam and Christianity, the Great Convergence