Goodwill Opening Speech – Religions for Peace Bangladesh Seminar

Religions for Peace Bangladesh is holding this symposium on the need for world and regional peace and the importance of dialogue, not only between religions but also within religions. We in Australia commend their initiative. I thank you for your invitation and gracious welcome. It is eight years since my first visit to Dhaka and in that time Bangladesh has made good economic progress which will continue into the future.


Goodwill speech given at the opening of the Religions for Peace Bangladesh seminar on November 27th. , 2018 in Dhaka, Bangladesh
Religions for Peace Bangladesh is holding this symposium on the need for world and regional peace and the importance of dialogue, not only between religions but also within religions. We in Australia commend their initiative. I thank you for your invitation and gracious welcome. It is eight years since my first visit to Dhaka and in that time Bangladesh has made good economic progress which will continue into the future.

The Rohingya crisis has erupted, and I congratulate Bangladesh on giving asylum to these refugees fleeing the depredations of the Myanmar military and on inviting the delegate from Religions for Peace Myanmar.

In particular, I want to thank my good friend, Principal Sukomal Barua, who has led this dialogue initiative. He is a unique man whose commitment to interfaith relations goes back many decades, and he is always a welcome delegate at the executive meetings of Religions for Peace Asia. Why is he unique and special? He is the only current executive member who attended the first Asian Assembly held at Singapore in 1976.

This symposium on peace and dialogue is being held in a very auspicious month. It is being held in the month of November, 2018, exactly one hundred years after the end of the so-called Great War (World War I) which convulsed Europe and the Middle East, finally ending with Armistice Day on 11th November, 1918, now generally known as Remembrance Day. So great was this so-called Great War that almost 10 million soldiers died in battle or from disease, and another 7-9 million civilians died horrible deaths. All war is a defeat, and no war can ever be a great war!

Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, once noted, “Peace is every step”. This symposium is one such step, and I congratulate RfP Bangladesh on holding this symposium. The role of religious leaders in the Great War was not honourable. On both sides, they proclaimed that God was on their side though some were wise enough not to claim victory as God’s victory. Indira Gandhi once said, “you can’t shake hands with a clenched fist”. Since World War II we have seen the rise of the interfaith movement and the movement of religions for peace. Our task is to keep the peace and to keep winning the peace.

Today we live in a more uncertain and unpredictable world as in recent decades we have moved from a Soviet-US bipolar world to a unipolar US world and now to a multipolar world. In many key nations, power is being centralized, nuclear arms control is being abandoned and we are seeing the rise of ethnic nationalist leaders on the back of populist, protectionist movements. As well, we have had to deal with the threat of national and international extremism and religiously inspired terrorism as well as the e-blasts coming out from evil, malicious websites. The internet is now the new global megaphone of religious and ethnic hatred as well as damaging pornography.

Such websites give us cause to reflect on the power not just of ideas but of dangerous ideas. One dangerous and destructive idea is the linking of nationalist and religious identities with the claims that to be Australian is to be Christian or to be Italian is to be Catholic or to be Indian is to be Hindu. Such linking immediately problematizes religious and ethnic minorities, and does not give appropriate recognition to their existence and their traditions. Rather, in multicultural and multi-religious societies, there are many ways of being Australian or of being Italian or of being Indian, just as there are many ways of being Bangladeshi.

We give our greetings here in Dhaka to our Bangladeshi sisters and brothers in their pursuit of peace and social cohesion. As religious leaders, we must exercise courageous leadership for social and economic development to uphold human dignity and to work for peace. With our prayers and good wishes for a successful conference, we are in admiration of Bangladesh’s initiative.