United Nations backs resolution on interreligious understanding

By Ecumenical News International
25 Nov 2008

A special United Nations meeting in New York earlier this month adopted a resolution calling for interreligious dialogue, while the leader of Pakistan, which co-sponsored the move, has said terrorism and violence against women are un-Islamic - writes Cheryl Heckler.

The United Nations resolution was co-authored by the Philippines and Pakistan and co-sponsored by 60 other countries during a meeting of the assembly in New York on the night of 13 November 2008.

"This resolution is the affirmation that mutual understanding and interreligious dialogue constitute an important part of the alliance of civilizations and of a culture of peace," said Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in support of the resolution. "The adoption of this resolution will demonstrate once again our solidarity for the promotion of interfaith dialogue as a powerful aid to ensure durable peace worldwide."

President Asif Ali Zardari of Muslim-majority Pakistan said there was "nothing more un-Islamic" than discrimination, violence against women and terrorism, but he also denounced hate speech against Islam in countries he did not identify. "The imaginary fear of Islam has been rising," said Zardari, the widower of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto who was assassinated in 2007. "This is exactly what the terrorists had hoped to provoke. Those in the West who accept this are falling into the trap of the terrorists."

U.S. President George W. Bush during the U.N. conference on 13 November stated that every individual has the right to choose religious faith.

The meeting, attended by leaders from more than 75 countries, was initiated by Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah. He told his audience in his opening remarks that terrorism is the enemy of all religions on the globe. Abdullah, whose own country has faced accusations of religious intolerance, said he brought leaders together to create bridges between religions with an emphasis on Islam and Christianity and Middle Eastern and Western cultures.

Bush praised King Abdullah for his wisdom in instigating the event but challenged Saudi Arabia's strict Islamic policy of outlawing apostasy, or changing one's religion.

Bush noted that the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, adopted 60 years ago, includes "the right to choose or change religions and the right to worship in private or public". Then he added, "Freedom includes the right of all people to worship as they see fit."

At the same time, Bush defended his decision to launch military action in Iraq and Afghanistan as "protecting" Muslims. Many Islamic leaders see the United States as an aggressor in both countries. Bush told his audience, "Through the generations, our nation has helped defend the religious liberty of others - from liberating the concentration camps of Europe, to protecting Muslims in places like Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq."

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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