I shall, first, define the three terminologies, religion, peace and diplomacy to have a common understanding. We have 2 definitions of peace, negative and positive peace. The negative peace is a narrow definition of peace which means lack of war while the positive peace, is a broad definition of peace and includes human rights, development, prosperity, security, democracy and good governance. I choose the second broader definition for peace.
Religion, has also two definitions. A broad definition means principles, beliefs and laws which define and regulate the life style of a person based on his/her views toward the world. There is a narrow definition which says religion is a set of divine programmes for salvation and happiness of the human being. I choose the second definition for religion.
On Diplomacy, some say diplomacy means foreign policy and its tools and democracy and foreign policy are the same. There is another definition which says diplomacy is the art of negotiation. We choose the first definition.
With this understanding, I would like to mention a few comments which I hope will help the discussion:
This issues have been already one the priorities on the diplomatic agenda of the international community. I touch up on some of them, from the past and now, just to confirm this fact that.
2.1) Within UN forums (some examples)
-UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, GA Res 36/55, 1981 which considers the fact that intolerance and discrimination driven from religion could be a cause to undermine peace and stability around the world.
- The project of faith for rights within human rights mechanism and its objective to foster for peaceful societies: The Robat Plan of Action in 2012, the Beirut Declaration in 2017 and its 18 commitments on faith to rights are two actions which prohibit advocacy for national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.
- The Plan of Action for Religious Leaders and Actors to Prevent Incitement to Violence that Could Lead to Atrocity Crimes (the Fez Plan of Action), and the Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites, during 2015 and 2016, organized under the leadership of the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect are other examples
- GA resolution (No A/GA/75/309, dated 22 July 2021) in its 75th Session (2021) entitled promoting inter-religious and inter- cultural dialogue and tolerance in countering hate speech.
- Activities conducted by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC),
- The United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech in 2019
2.2) OIC forum (some examples)
A systematic follow up on the role of religion, in particular Islam in promoting peace has been mainly taken place within the framework of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC). A mechanism was formed within the organization to intervene in conflicts between the Islamic countries of North Africa.
In previous years, through OIC in Geneva, a resolution has been approved annually within the Human Rights Council on Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against, persons based on religion or belief. Based on the initiative of OIC, GA also adopted a resolution A/RES/76/157 dated 7 January 2022, on the same topic.
Combating Islamophobia has been also always on the agenda of the OIC organization and OIC group in Geneva and New York has always promoted the concept of combating islamophobia and hatred within the UN forums. OIC group have tried to advocate that islamophobia is in line with incitement to violence and hatred and in some cases have causes to violating the rights of Muslims in western societies. We shall aa practice for more tolerance and in particular when it comes to Abrahamic religions, all shall respect religions and religious teachings. Radicalism and odd interpretations are not of the religion and should be addressed accordingly.
3) State practices (Iran case)
-Iran's initiatives about Dialogue Among Civilizations through a resolution in the GA,
- Iran initiative about World Against Violence and Extremism (WAVE initiative) through a resolution in the GA
- Following religious diplomacy, including dialogue between Iranian religious leaders and Cristian, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders to promote common understanding, cooperation and peace which has been a priority for Iran
- The notion of Unity between the Islamic countries within the concept of Ummeh and Unity with all nations around the word within the concept of Human Unity: The holy objective of unity between Shia and Sunni was one of the greatest legacy of Imam Khomeini which yet continues to be pursued by the Islamic Republic. The International conference on Islamic Unity is held annually in Tehran. A number of institution are working in that regard to promote Islamic unity.
4) Evaluation of activities:
Though, there are many examples of the role that religion has played in establishing and maintaining peace, we have also conflicts in which religion played an effective negative role.
Diplomacy may not be a tool to prevent producing war provoking interpretations of religion. In fact, there is no tool to prevent the emergence of various interpretations of religious or philosophical thought. But after the emergence of such negative radical diversions, it is possible to use diplomacy to contain them and to prevent the occurrence of war and violence.
Religion, includes traditions, way of thinking, insight and understanding towards the globe and life. If is accompanied by ignorance, radicalism, disrespect and humiliation, and supported by power or people in power, it automatically causes a kind of distance and contrast, and in the worst case, it can lead to divisiveness, fear, hatred, racism, clashes and destructive wars between humans and societies.
The formation of Al-Ghaede, ISIS and other terrorist groups, is an example that how some powerful States mis-use religion for the benefit of short political interests, and this creates chaos, tension, war and destruction. This reality confirms that States may adopt some contradicting policies and act based on hypocrisy which may end up in undermining peace and stability around the world and ruin all international efforts to promote peace through religious diplomacy.
Some colonial policies such as "divide and rule" as it has been involved in all seditions of the last two centuries, yet continue and is one main source of the problem.
We shall be very careful not to define religion or some religions as the source of violence, especially with regard to women. This narrative is not helpful and only add to the existing problems and challenges.
Some powerful countries are abusing religious-phobia to coerce others to pursue their interests.
We should be also very careful not to let inter-religious dialogue to be exploited as a political tool for covering past systematic violations of human rights of other nations for decades. No entity or group can have impunity. That is a toxic and destructive approach for the promotion of peace and human rights. Serious systematic violations of human rights of nations, shall not be forgotten and all perpetrators must be held accountable. Without accountability and justice, we cannot have true peace. Justice must always be applied and no entity can abuse religious dialogue as a coverage to escape from its human rights violations.
So far, the discussions about religion and its impact on prevailing peace, have been focused more on freedom of religion, opinion and expression, preventing violence, hatred, racism, terrorism, extremism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, intolerance, etc and on have to promote conflict resolution and humanitarian aids, peace-making and building. But a more strait discussion is needed to be move forward at international level on how to use religion to promote peace and to avoid wars.
Some believe that diplomacy cannot stop abusing religion for promoting violence because the abuse is consciously done and is based on deception. Others believe that the language of peace exists in all religions and only with the same language peace can be prevailed. But politics and political language cannot use religion for the purpose of peace. It is not possible. But I believe diplomacy is a tool not a goal and it can be used to stop abusing religion for violence but divided opinions confirm that we difficult job ahead of us.
As one of our Ambassadors in one of the countries affected by conflicts said religion and the importance that it attaches to the life of human and God`s creatures is the most important factor for preventing war and we shall all build upon that through diplomacy. Any case of war reported in history caused by deviation and wrong interpretation in religion. As it has been mentioned in Quran (Maedeh, 32) whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land - it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one - it is as if he had saved mankind entirely. مَن قَتَلَ نَفْساً بِغَیْرِ نَفْسٍ أَوْ فَسَادٍ فِی الأَرْضِ فَکَأَنَّمَا قَتَلَ النَّاسَ جَمِیعاً وَمَنْ أَحْیَاهَا فَکَأَنَّمَا أَحْیَا النَّاسَ جَمِیعاً
To deliver this statement, I conducted a research by asking around 40 diplomats a question. The question was that whether they think diplomacy could be used to promote peace by preventing abuse of religion and if the answer is yes, how?
The answers include the following suggestions and solutions:
- Like- minded governments can monitor and combat those religious contents that provoke violence and hatred. Islamophobia, Cristian phobia and anti-Semitism are among those negative interpretations which should be avoided.
- Diplomacy is a tool in the hands of governments. If all the governments that practice "diplomacy" agree and believe that they will not use religion to promote violence and war, or, on the contrary, will use religion as a tool for peace and tranquility, that will work. In other words, the intention of decision makers on the international stage is decisive.
- Diplomacy shall try to mobilize efforts at individual and collective level in order to be succeed to end abusing religion for war, violence and tension,
- Strengthening the mechanisms at bilateral and multilateral diplomatic level or creation of a global mechanism and building consensus among countries, in particular like-minded countries can prevent abusing religion for violence and promote peace,
- Holding various international seminars on the importance of peace from the perspective of religions,
- Giving priority to religious diplomacy over other forms of diplomacy,
- Enhancing negotiation within and between religious leaders and preachers at the international level,
- One of the strongest guarantees for the world peace, is respect for all the different existent religions around the world and diplomacy can promote this respect which will finally support peace. (Views expressed by a Venezuelan diplomat)
I would like to suggest two theories in line with our discussion today:
1-The theory of religious peace: Like the theory of democratic peace, the theory of religious peace can be proposed, here. That means societies that adhere to the original religious principles and values will never go to war with each other. The elaboration of this foundation requires more theoretical work. There is always a common denominator between all religious societies and that is peace and stability.
2- Justice peace theory: Justice, which is the soul of religion, is provided more in peace than in war. And peace as the foundation of religion is more provided in justice than in inequality. Therefore, religion basically wants peace and justice and only through a just peace, we can promote real peace in the world.
I would like to finish my statement by the comment of one of the Iranian high level diplomats who was once the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He said by holding the people in power, accountable to God (in addition to and not instead of physical mechanisms), religion can create a stronger enforcement guarantee to prevent war and bloodshed. But radical and petrified reading of religion can be the most destructive factor towards war and fratricide.
Having said that, I would like to finish by concluding 2 points:
- That ethic, conscious and being responsiveness to God still has its role in preventing the abuse of religion to trigger war and ruin peace,
- That radical and petrified reading of religion is the main source of violence and tension and if we are supposed to use diplomacy to prevent abusing religion for war, we have to prevent fratricide and radical reading of religion through abiding to values of religions and promoting justice and that is only possible through education, dialogue, cooperation and collaboration.
Seyed Mohammad Sadati Nejad
(The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)