Image credit: Kazakh Permanent Mission to the UN in New York. - Photo: 2017

Promoting Peace and Security Through Interfaith Dialogue

By J Nastranis

NEW YORK (IDN) – The Mission of Kazakhstan to the United Nations focused early May on ‘Interfaith and Inter-Ethnic Dialogue as a Key Instrument to Promote Peace and Security, an Inclusive Society and State Building’, with Kazakhstan’s Minister for Religious Affairs and Civil Society, Nurlan Yermekbayev, as a keynote speaker.

The importance of this event on May 12 is underscored by the fact that Kazakhstan is a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the two year-period 2017-2019. The Security Council is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations, tasked with the maintenance of international peace and security.

A background note prepared by the Kazakh Mission, headed by Ambassador Kairat Umarov, Permanent Representative of Kazakhstan to the UN, rightly pointed out that the Security Council and the General Assembly, together with UNESCO, UNODC, and the entire family of UN organizations, have adopted key landmark resolutions for which concerted collective action is needed to reverse the wave of violence, xenophobia and racism – the under currents that are eroding societies worldwide.

“Member States have launched processes such as the UN Global Counter Terrorism Strategy, as well as platforms of action, and introduced measures such as sanctions regimes to halt the relentless brutal thrust of ISIL/Dae’esh, Al-Qaida, Boko Haram, other terrorist organizations and armed groups,” stated the background note. 

The note also stressed that religion is a common though, unfortunately, largely abandoned asset to promote peace. Doing so involves challenging those who use violent extremist ideology and barbaric terrorist acts to draw lines of divisiveness, as well as those who misrepresent religion and abuse its values.

But one does not have to accept the misinterpretation of religion as something inevitable. It can indeed be fought in a variety of ways. One way is to bring together faith leaders to discuss how religious teachings may contribute to recognizing diversity and promoting tolerance. This is what President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan did as early as 2003 when he convened the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, designed to stimulate an intellectual debate and personal exchanges between representatives of the main faiths.

Since then, this triennial Congress has grown not only in size but also in scope, expanding its agenda from initial discussions among faith representatives of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and other religions, to dialogue with political elites on how religious leaders can help tackle modern-day challenges such as extremism and terrorism, and foster peaceful and inclusive societies.

Against this backdrop, the May 12 event at the Kazakh Permanent Mission was of great importance. It was attended among others by Ambassador Sima Sami Bahous, Permanent Representative of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Jehangir Khan, head of UN CTITF, Weixiong Chen, Deputy Executive Director and currently Officer-in-Charge of Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED), Matthew Hodes, Director, UN Alliance of Civilizations, and Anttii Pentikainen, Executive Director, Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers.

The keynote remarks by Religious Affairs Minister Yermekbayev helped underline the need for strengthening secularity and religious freedom, helping civil society progress, against the backdrop of extremism and terrorism, which have become global threats affecting all corners of the world. All the more so since there has been a fivefold increase in people killed by terrorists since September 11, 2001, with religious extremism overtaking national separatism as the main driver of attacks. This underlines the need for putting the stamping out religious extremism at the top of the global agenda.

This task must start with young people who have been deliberately targeted by the extremists. They frequently feature in the so-called Islamic State’s propaganda videos while Twitter and other social media outlets have also been used to increase their appeal to the younger generation. Tragically, these attempts have encouraged thousands of young individuals to travel to Iraq and Syria to join the terrorists.

But the threat from this warped ideology has not stopped within Iraq’s and Syria’s borders. Countries as far-flung and different as the United States, Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Afghanistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Mali, Nigeria, along with many others, have been hit by radical Islamist extremists.

“Kazakhstan sadly also joined this list when extremists struck in Aktobe in June. It was a stark wake-up call for our society that has prided itself on tolerance and inclusive growth since we gained our independence 25 years ago,” Yermekbayev wrote earlier in a U.S. journal.

“Our response has been to strengthen our determination to preserve the secular nature of our country and its religious moderation while protecting the rights of religious believers and preventing and countering extremism through well-thought-through and balanced policies. It is for these reasons, as well as for the need to further develop our civil society as a key partner and ensure youth is properly included in our country’s progress, that Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has established the Ministry for Religious and Civil Society Affairs,” the Minister stated.

The new Ministry is playing an important role in helping Kazakhstan continue along its development path and incorporate the global standards enshrined in the 100 Concrete Steps, as unveiled by President Nazarbayev. This will be achieved through three main responsibilities: ensuring the secularity of our state while protecting the interests of Kazakhstan’s religions and individual religious freedoms; strengthening civil society; and putting in place policies to help the development of young people within Kazakhstan.

In the short-to medium-term, the Ministry will look to directly counter the threat of religious extremism through information and education. “We will work with those who may already have been influenced by this warped ideology, as well as reconnecting disenfranchised groups back into Kazakhstan’s society through economic, employment, and cultural programs. This last initiative is especially important as the biggest recruiting tool for extremist groups is a feeling of disenfranchisement.”

This gives the Ministry a special responsibility to make sure all young people feel part of Kazakh society and can contribute, through their talents and energy, to achieving the country’s long-term goals.

The Department of Youth Policy has been established within the Ministry, with regional branches in all local government bodies, which will be responsible for the Councils of Youth set up in every region. There are also almost 200 youth resource centers across the country to address the needs of our young people. “We must make sure the younger generation, including students and the unemployed, feel they belong to Kazakhstan’s society and do not fall prey to extremist ideologies,” noted Yermekbayev. [IDN-InDepthNews – 28 May 2017]

Image credit: Kazakh Permanent Mission to the UN in New York.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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