When more than 100 religious leaders and other actors from around the world gathered at the UN in Vienna in mid-February, it was a manifestation of unity between religious and non-religious organizations, and a genuine commitment to cooperate in dealing with hate speech and incitement to violence that could lead to atrocity crimes.
The objective of the Vienna conference was to discuss strategies and turn them into action. A number of concrete commitments were made to do so, namely develop capacity-building activities for religious leaders and actors; disseminate and share curricula for inter-religious coexistence; and include youth and women in all activities.
One country, plagued by atrocities committed in the name of religion in recent years, is Nigeria, from which several religious leaders attended the Vienna meeting.
”This meeting has reinforced the need for religious leaders to raise their voice for what is right, to be voices of theologies of liberation, voices against corruption, hate speech and extremism and voices to prevent mass genocide and atrocity. It is also a breakthrough for religious communities and stakeholders to have the United Nations and others accepting the reality that religion can be part of the solution,” says Imam Dr Muhammad Nurayu Ashafa, chief executive officer of Islamic Matters at the Interfaith Mediation Centre in Kaduna, Nigeria.
He describes the Plan of Action as ”very inclusive and fruitful” and hopes for active support from governmental agencies, development partners and corporate bodies with resources for effective implementation.
”The plan reinforces the need for religious leaders to be voices of what is right, of the theology of liberation, and voices against corruption, extremism and hate speech”, he adds.p>
The general secretary of the Christian Council of Churches of Nigeria (CCN), Rev. Dr Yusuf Ibrahim Wushishi agrees:
”The Plan of Action proves that the religious community has the capacity to contribute to the peace of the world. We are committed to make advocacy, to introduce the plan to people in our constituencies and to walk together”.
”I am walking in my head already”, responds Pastor Dr James Movel Wuye, jokingly as he expresses his appreciation of the pragmatic outcome of the meeting, which he believes will entail concrete and immediate action. As chief executive officer of Christian matters at the Interfaith Mediation Center in Kaduna, he is a strong believer in dialogue and advocacy:
”We, who have participated in this meeting, represent millions of religious entities in this world. We have platforms where people gather, where we can disseminate messages and where negative narratives can be challenged. The impact will be felt quickly and some actions are already being implemented,” he points out.
His assessment of the situation in the world today is that, though religion – or rather actions in the name of religion – often has caused tension and conflict, it is also the solution to global problems because religion and faith bring people together. “The problem is when religion is politicized,” Imam Ashafa says, expressing his outrage over “those who corruptly enrich themselves and then come into temples to receive honour”.
“It is time for us to raise our voices and say no to the politicization of religion, and to speak out against oppressive leadership and impunity by security agencies. Religious leaders must stand up against negative solidarity and stop legitimization of illegitimacy”, he explains.
This trio of determined religious leaders from Nigeria is in itself a sign of hope for a better world, where people no longer have to fear hatred and violence. “Yes, there is hope if we work together, which this meeting clearly demonstrates. All of us must now go home and start implementing the Plan of Action”, they conclude.
Turning plans into action to prevent incitement to violence (WCC press release of 14 February 2018)
United Nations Secretary-General launches first action plan for religious leaders to prevent incitement to violence (WCC press release of 14 July 2017)