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Protecting Religious Pluralism in the Middle East: The Need for a Concert of Religions
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by Amine Gemayel President of the Republic of Lebanon, 1982-1988

Protecting Religious Pluralism in the Middle East:

The Need for a Concert of Religions

 

Amine Gemayel

President of the Republic of Lebanon, 1982-1988

 

*   *   *

 

Conference on

Multinational Efforts to Promote Freedom of Religion or Belief:

Joint Action for the Common Good

New York, 17th – 19th September 2015

 

Panel on

Our Common Security: Developing a Multilateral Effort to Deliver

Freedom of Religion or Belief to All

18 September 2018

 

Sponsored by

Konrad Adenauer Stiftung

and

International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief 

*   *   *

 I would like to begin by thanking my dear friends with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief for organizing this important consultation.  

The questions we are discussing are vital, both to the future of the Middle East and to the emergence of a peaceful international system in the twenty-first century. 

 The direct link between freedom of religion and belief and peace was recognized by the founding father of the United Nations, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, when in 1941 he pronounced his basic philosophy of international security and world order known as the “Four Freedoms.” 

 Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms included freedom of speech, freedom from want, freedom from fear, and the [quote] “freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.” [close quote]

 Seventy-four years after Roosevelt’s declaration, even the most casual observer of the Middle East scene will grasp that—with few exceptions—the Four Freedoms are everywhere in retreat in the region. 

 Every dark victory by the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, is a defeat for civilization in general and for basic human decency and religious pluralism, in particular.  Amid such dire circumstances, what can be done?

 In the nineteenth century, the Austrian statesman Klemens von Metternich championed an approach to international cooperation that came to be called the Concert of Europe. 

 Basically, the Concert was an informal consortium of leading powers that worked to resolve international quarrels by means of diplomacy rather than war.  Arguably, the Concert was the precursor of formal multinational mechanisms like the League of Nations and United Nations. 

 In today’s environment—especially amid the Middle East’s crisis of pluralism—I submit for consideration that we need a “Concert of Religions” that can lead multinational, multifaith efforts to secure the conditions leading to freedom of religion and belief for all. 

 The proposed Concert of Religions could, like its European predecessor, eventually result in the creation of more formal machinery—a “spiritual United Nations,” if you will.

 As a first measure, the Concert of Religions must bring together the senior leaders of the various faiths for a spiritual summit that formally blesses combined efforts to safeguard religious pluralism, especially in the Middle East. 

 In my view, religious pluralism is the basis of religious freedom, but they are distinct: Pluralism indicates the co-existence of a diversity of religious communities; freedom implies the right of individuals to decide on matters of faith for themselves, and even to change or give up their religion.

 In the present Middle East climate, both religious pluralism and religious freedom are important issues, and both face mounting obstacles.  Nevertheless, I believe that in present conditions—in which pluralism is under daily assault—we must start by doing everything possible to safeguard religious pluralism.

 For this reason, as a second measure the Concert of Religions must draft a region-wide strategy for dealing with the Middle East’s crisis of pluralism.  One aspect of such a strategy could be circulating a joint statement on the importance of interfaith coexistence and harmony to be read simultaneously in mosques, churches, and synagogues throughout the region.

 As a third measure, the Concert of Religions must form a standing research and advocacy group tasked with collecting information on threats to religious pluralism and disseminating relevant policy options to the United Nations, regional organizations such as the Arab League and European Union, and national governments. 

 As a fourth measure, the Concert of Religions must do everything possible support the remaining patches of pluralism that still exist in the Middle East, including my own country of Lebanon.  Within a Middle East and even a global context, Lebanon is central to religious pluralism because it is both a symbolic and applied center of interfaith dialogue and coexistence. 

 Lebanon is, in fact, the only Arab country with an intricate array of confessional communities that has not experienced widespread internal conflict; therefore, it can and should serve as the springboard for a regional effort to protect and extend religious pluralism. 

 In Lebanon and the Arab world generally, the two most pressing religious pluralism issues are first, securing the status of Christians and other communities, and second, placing Sunni-Shiite relations on a long-term peaceful footing.

 As a fifth measure, the Concert of Religions must work with organizations in the Middle East that are devoted to building up a civil society infrastructure, one encompassing elements such as gender equality, rule of law, and independent media. 

 In this regard, I would like to share that I recently drafted a concept paper, or charter, for achieving Arab democracy (available online at: http://www.aminegemayel.org/lectures/65/a-guiding-charter-for-arab-democracy).

 The charter discusses key democratic provisions that must be strengthened in the Arab world, including human rights, civil rights, religious rights, media rights and, perhaps must crucially, the protection of pluralism. 

 Additionally, for some years now I have advocated a concept that could help move the Arab world away from its destructive tendencies, a concept called the Arab Marshall Plan. 

 This Plan is not a detailed blueprint with specified funding levels, metrics, and timetables.  Rather, the Arab Marshall Plan is designed as a moderate alternative that will encourage Arabs, and especially Arab youth, to embrace democratic ideas—including political and religious pluralism—as a prelude to embracing democratic systems.

 Ladies and Gentlemen, the Middle East without question is convulsed by a crisis of epic proportion, one epitomized by the raging sectarianism of a so-called Islamic State that wars against everything decent, including religious pluralism.  

 Fortunately, recent developments suggest that, at least on a diplomatic level, states of the wider Middle East are beginning to coordinate their anti-ISIS efforts.  But such state-centered efforts, including military campaigns, must be supplemented by efforts undertaken by religious communities to protect religious pluralism. 

 Launching a second, and potentially more powerful, front against ISIS should be the primary duty of a Concert of Religions.  I respectfully urge the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion to lobby in favor of such a Concert.  

 

Thank you.

November 18, 2020
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