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Introductory speech of the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, I. Amanatidis, at the 2nd Int’l Conference on Religious and Cultural Pluralism and Peaceful Coexistence in the Middle East (Athens, 30-31 October 2017)
Your All Holiness, Your Beatitudes, Your Eminences, Ministers, High-ranking Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Middle East has always been a mosaic of cultures and religions. This alone shows that the coexistence of population groups of different cultures can, under the right conditions, be rendered peaceful. One can conclude from careful study of the region’s history that the rivalries between different religious groups are caused not so much by their differing theological approaches or dogmatic differences as by ongoing challenges faced by the religious communities in the Middle East, such as the marginalization or political persecution suffered if they do not represent the minority of the population of a state, or the non-enshrinement of the fundamental rights of their members, whether in law or practice.
Productive interfaith dialogue on the level of Senior Religious Leaders, with the message it sends, can inspire communication between local religious leaders in regions of multi-faith nature, contributing to the cultivation of relations founded on respect and tolerance. If we consider the influence religious leaders have on their faithful, we can see the immediate implications of the interfaith dialogue for management of the rivalries that break out in the neighbouring Middle East. Moreover, this will not be the first time religious leaders have joined their voices together for a single purpose. I will give just one example: In December 2014, the Senior Religious Leaders of the Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu faiths issued a Joint Declaration against modern slavery.
There is no question that the political resolution, based on dialogue, of the crises unfolding in the region will lay the foundations for a return to normalcy. But there are fields of action in which non-governmental actors can confront challenges arising from and perpetuating the crises in the Middle East. As long as the power struggles continue to unfold, people will be preyed upon, forced to migrate, and, in some cases, be radicalised. So, starting with the admission that the individual human being is at the epicentre of our joint effort, regardless of their ethnic or religious identity, we are being called upon to submit specific ideas/proposals for policies and actions that will bring relief to populations afflicted by ethnic or religious conflicts, before, during and after their resolution.
From this standpoint, public dialogue on these deficiencies in the political or institutional organization of societies, like today’s dialogue, are an effective means in the effort to remedy these deficiencies, and this shows that democracy’s shortcomings necessitate more democracy, not less.
Dear Guests, we all hope for the speedy and complete eradication of the terrorist threat of ISIS in the Middle East. However, there is a real risk of older conflicts in the region reigniting, because the more the common foe of many minorities recedes – a common foe that obviously, to some degree, gave these different groups common cause – old conflicts may resurface, whether over governance of the liberated regions or for reasons of retaliation.
The international community needs to attach particular importance to the religious dimension of the conflict under way and implement an ongoing, comprehensive programme for combating religious extremism and encouraging wealthier states to sharply increase their support, humanitarian aid and support for refugees, for the persecuted minorities who live in these territories, regardless of their religion or creed, age, gender or ethnic identity. And there should also be special emphasis on women and children, persons with disabilities, the aged and persons who have lost their families.
The 2nd Athens International Conference aspires to provide an opportunity for an exchange of views among state agencies, religious leaders and civil society, and to settle on specific proposals for the rescuing and subsequent peaceful coexistence of cultures and religions in the Middle East. Moreover, if the international community and religious institutions are to successfully shape a policy for the critical period of reconstruction and recovery in the affected regions – once the conflicts have ended – timely and productive consultations among the involved and interested parties are vital.