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Faith leaders critical to combating ‘groundswell’ of hatred globally

The Council met specifically to discuss “the values of human fraternity in promoting and sustaining peace”, building on a 2019 declaration co-authored by Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church, and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Al Sharif, Ahmed Al-Tayeb, Chairman of the Muslim Council of Elders, and also considered the highest authority in Sunni Islamic thought. 

The declaration urges religious and political leaders to bring an end to wars, conflicts, and environmental destruction. 

‘Groundswell’ of hatred 

Although threats to peace come in many forms, hatred is “an all-too-common denominator to the onset and escalation of conflict,” Mr. Guterres told the high-level meeting, convened by the United Arab Emirates, which holds the rotating Security Council presidency this month. 

“Around the world, we are witnessing a groundswell of xenophobia, racism and intolerance, violent misogyny, anti-Muslim hatred, virulent anti-Semitism, and attacks on minority Christian communities,” he said. 

“Neo-Nazi white supremacist movements today represent the top internal security threat in several countries – and the fastest growing.” 

Halt online hate 

Meanwhile, “social media has equipped hatemongers with a global bullhorn for bile”, giving credibility to unverified assertions and lies and facilitating the spread of hateful ideas and language “from the margins to the mainstream”. 

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The effects in the real world have been deadly. The perpetrators of heinous attacks on a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand; a synagogue in Pittsburgh in the United States, and a church in the US city of Charleston, were all radicalized online.  

Mr. Guterres called for action to reign in the hate spreading online.  Earlier this week, he launched a policy brief that proposes a code of conduct for making digital spaces safer and more inclusive while also upholding human rights, such as the right to freedom of opinion and expression.   

Respect for diversity 

He emphasized the need for greater investment in social cohesion as societies become more multi-ethnic and multi-religious. 

“We need to ensure that every community feels respected in their unique identity while feeling valued as an integral part of society as a whole,” he said.  “We need to recognize diversity as a richness of all societies – not a threat.” 

Because “hatred takes root in the soil of ignorance and fear”, countries must ensure quality education for everyone, and support education systems that both instill respect for science and celebrate humanity in all its diversity. 

Compassion and solidarity 

“Finally and fundamentally, we must strengthen the values of compassion, respect and human fraternity anchored in international human rights norms and standards, and secure free and safe civic spaces. They are our best antidote to the poison of discord and division,” he said. 

“This demands action by all of us – across international organizations, governments, civil society, and the private sector. And it requires intervention by faith leaders everywhere.” 

Mr. Guterres said that because examples of intolerance are found in all societies, and among all faiths, religious leaders have a duty to prevent instrumentalization of hatred amidst their followers.  

He urged the international community to take inspiration from the 2019 declaration and renew commitment to stand together as one human family.  

“Together, let us forge an alliance of peace, rooted in human rights and the values of human fraternity. Rich in diversity, equal in dignity and rights, united in solidarity,” he said.

End ongoing wars

The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Al-Sharif addressed the Council via videoconference from Egypt.

Speaking through an interpreter, he said it is logical that relations among people from different backgrounds “should be built upon the bedrock of peace and security”.

He appealed for the international community to end the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and “on the eastern borders of Europe”, and “to expedite without delay the recognition of an independent Palestinian State, with Jerusalem as its capital.” 

He also addressed the refugee crisis and environmental degradation, among other global challenges.

Concern for humanity 

The Grand Imam underlined the need to continue advocating for peace and love.  He also called for opposing hate speech, the manipulation of religion and doctrines to ignite wars among nations, and instilling fear and terror in the hearts of people. 

He said this was the mission pursued by Al Azhar Al-Sharif, in partnership with the Catholic Church, Western and Eastern Churches, and other religious institutions, in a collective effort to revive the culture of dialogue among followers of religions and to consolidate the principles of peace and harmonious coexistence

“Our gathering today is not a luxury, but a necessity, dictated by concern for the future of humanity,” he said. “We are seeking a solution to its complex crisis which has begun to expand and infiltrate, warning of severe consequences if allowed to persist on this disastrous path.”

‘Famine of fraternity’ 

Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher of the Holy See delivered remarks on behalf of Pope Francis. He lamented that even though the globalized world has brought humanity closer, it has not made us any more fraternal. 

“Indeed, we are suffering from a famine of fraternity, which arises from the many situations of injustice, poverty and inequality and also from the lack of a culture of solidarity,” he remarked. 

The worst effect of this famine is armed conflict and war, according to the English priest, who serves as the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States and International Organizations. 

Say no to war 

“As a man of faith, I believe that peace is God’s dream for humanity. Yet sadly I note that because of war, this wonderful dream is becoming changed into a nightmare,” he said.

“The time has come to say an emphatic ‘no’ to war, to state that wars are not just, but only peace is just: a stable and lasting peace, built not on the precarious balance of deterrence, but on the fraternity that unites us.” 

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