By Gülay Mutlu*
The international conference “Religions against Terrorism” was held on May 31 at the Palace of Peace and Harmony in Astana, during the 15th session of the Secretariat of the Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions.
Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the head of the Secretariat of the Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions and chairman of the Senate of Kazakhstan, moderated and led the conference, which was attended by around 70 delegations from around the world. Together, they worked to move the issue of terrorism and religion to the top of the international agenda. The most emphasized point during the conference is that terrorism is not associated with any religion, any culture or nation, referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Boko Haram and other terrorist organizations around the world.
Recently, debates on global governance and humanitarian assistance have sought to find a way to manage crises on the micro level via sub-regional orders, organizations and the like before the crisis affects global order. However, today the international community is faced with a number of terrorist organizations claiming to act in the name of God. This is indeed a global issue, as “cruel acts of terror in various parts of the world … have claimed the lives of many innocent people, violated human rights and freedoms and become a tragedy for whole nations and states,” according to a statement at the conference.
This issue is closely related to the topics of education, sustainable development, and the fair allotment of resources. During the conference, the delegations first determined the size of the problem faced by the world today.
The Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions is a body working to find a strategy that can directly address the issue. It will take a respected place in the modern history of the world. Its main philosophy rests on the belief that all religions are built on the pillars of peace, harmony and tolerance.
In order to fight against terrorism and separate the concepts of religion and terrorism, the delegates brought up several significant points: 1) They emphasized the importance of good religious education and the need for specialized training of religious leaders in order to effectively confront the spread of terrorism and extremist ideologies; 2) They stressed the role of women and families in educating the youth in the battle against extremist ideologies; 3) Expressing particular concern that youth are becoming more vulnerable to extremist ideology, they called upon states to redouble their efforts in engaging with and empowering the younger generation to prevent their radicalization; 4) They are convinced that humanity can fight back against this global threat by strengthening dialogue and deepening mutual understanding among cultures and religions, as well as by building joint associations to combat terrorism; 5) They acknowledged the importance of the involvement of community leaders and civil society in the fight against terrorism and believe that, with their participation, governments can achieve greater success; 6) They urged the entire international community to join in efforts to counter terrorism and underlined the need to continue constructive dialogue among parliamentarians and religious leaders.
These are just six of the delegations’ 28 statements. However, they summarize the crucial points and next steps. Research demonstrates that unequal socio-economic conditions and instability in the realm of politics and security have triggered the radicalization movement. In addition, surveys of public opinion show that support for radical actors is increasing. Furthermore, terrorism forces mass immigration. Linked to this, the West is dealing with an ongoing migrant crisis. It should be noted that human beings move about a great deal, but not because they love to move. Most of them are inclined to stay where they are if life is not unbearably difficult.
In conclusion, as Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev urged in his message to the participants of the conference, “we should move from local actions to a comprehensive strategy to root out terrorism.” This sentiment also summarizes recent global governance debates. The challenges we face are dauntingly complex and require a comprehensive strategy to combat successfully. The Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions provides a concrete path to finding this strategy and creating the necessary dialogue.
*This op-ed was first published at Hurriyet Daily Newspaper, 06.06.2016 entitled “From local actions to a comprehensive strategy”.
Gülay Mutlu is an expert at the Center for Eurasian Studies of the International Strategic Research Organization (USAK). She is also a PhD candidate at the Middle East Technical University (METU). She focuses on Central Asian and Caucasusian studies.