Viewed through the lens of recent events it might be easy for some to lay the blame for extremism and terrorism firmly on religion. To do so would be a mistake.
Radicalism thrives where inequality and injustice hold power. Violence is a symptom of this environment, consigning those trapped in these areas to a downward cycle of despair and anger. Religion’s role in breaking this cycle is multi-faceted. We use it to challenge the reasoning of those who hide behind it to commit acts of cruelty and violence. We use it to hold their ideology up to the spotlight where it is found wanting and more than anything, we use it to set ourselves apart from what those espousing these views stand for.
Religious authorities have the responsibility to leverage their positions to unite their congregations and nations based on global responsibility and mutual understanding. Too often, we see religious communities fall back on the ugly rhetoric of isolationism and fear; mistrust and misunderstanding.
To encourage this responsibility, cooperation will be key. Increased economic, intelligence and military cooperation will be the bedrock in the physical fight against terrorism and extremism, but religious cooperation must play its role too. If economic aid can alleviate the hunger that drives young men into the arms of despotic regimes, religious cooperation can show the common humanity that binds us to each other and discourage the need for violence.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has put this theory into action already in the joint statement with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan where Islamic rapprochement is to be used as a tool to build an inclusive partnership covering political, economic and civil aspects built on our common religious links. Through agreements like this we can counter the negative portrayal of Islam by creating a new narrative based on peace and understanding.
Kazakhstan believes strongly in this approach. Indeed President Nazarbayev’s recent Manifest “The World. The 21st Century” outlined the necessity of global peace and how we can look to achieve it. In many ways, the call to develop mutual trust between states as a precursor for living in a more peaceful world echoes the need to promote mutual trust between religions.
To do this, it must first come to terms with the divisions within the broad tent of global belief structures. Centuries of conflict can be laid directly at the door of misinterpretation and ignorance. It is therefore imperative that we promote greater understanding between religions to foster an environment whereby religious leaders can present a united front.
Last year’s Fifth Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Astana proved how valuable this can be, bringing together different faiths to repudiate those who misappropriate religion for their own ends and use it as a cover to lend their selfish desire for power some form of legitimacy.
The impact of increased harmony and understanding between religions can be seen in the practical application of international relations. President Nazarbayev’s proposal to establish a global anti-terrorist coalition under the UN auspices can only succeed through the alignment of religious and political voices. The May 31 conference in Astana, “Religions against Terrorism,” will help to bring together representatives from the many faiths and beliefs, as well as members of parliaments from dozens of countries, to provide that support.
Those holding religious beliefs cannot remain silent when violence is done in their name. Neither can their faiths hope to flourish in the 21st century without holding true to the peaceful purpose that binds all of them, no matter how diverse, together. With the world watching on, leaders of all faiths now have the opportunity to prove the positive impact religion can have on world affairs.