Council President Bawa, honorable religious leaders, heads of prestigious international organizations, ladies and gentlemen,
We find ourselves living in an era of great cultural integration and communication unlike any our forefathers have experienced previously. The dramatic development of technology at break-neck speeds has resulted in bringing cultures and traditions from seemingly faraway lands daily into our homes through the nightly news and into the classrooms of children worldwide. The ease of global transportation is increasingly blurring the lines of culture and nationality.
In the last century we saw the clash of cultures and nations in two horrendous world level wars, and yet out of this dark period came new calls for cooperation and mutual prosperity as embodied most clearly in the founding of this great institution we are sitting in today. International organizations are on the rise and the creation of intergovernmental organizations defies rationalist political thought. It seems to be the destiny of humanity to come together as one.
However, with every stage of expansion and growth comes a period of growing pains and struggle. Fear of losing ones identity and resistance to change are common reactions we can observe worldwide. This fear has become manifest in the troubling forms of racial and religious profiling, discrimination, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance. The senseless violence we have recently seen in Norway and Birmingham are only but a few examples of where this fear can lead to.
The question then becomes this: will we manage to push through this transition period and produce a world of inter-cultural and inter-religious understanding and cooperation, or will we find ourselves rebuilding the same temporary walls of tolerance and polite distance to maintain the status quo?
For real, sustainable peace and stability to be established, we need to move beyond mere acceptance and tolerance of cultures and religions and instead truly develop a profound respect and appreciation for the strengths that each can bring to our societies. The mixing of cultures contributes to a thriving society through the exchange of best practices and skills that bring benefits beyond the economic sector. Furthermore, every culture is laden with meaningful traditions and values from which to learn. I can attest to the feeling of safety and embrace among the Masaai tribes in Kenya, the deep respect for ancestors and elders in South Korea, the zest for life and energy in Latin America and the depth of intellectual pursuits in Europe, all of which, I as an American can learn from.
Respected delegates, out of fear, we focus on the differences among ourselves, but every culture and race has the same goal: to live in a peaceful environment in which to live freely and fully. The strength of this council is in acknowledging an even greater commonality: our Creator. When focused on our common origin we can move beyond humanistic feelings of sympathy to rooting our desire for mutual prosperity in respect for the divine value of each individual. If we can truly see our neighbor as a family member, could we possibly deny them the same rights and opportunities?
Therefore, I have great hope in the inter-religious council to be the spearhead in this development. Rooted in each religion we find the deep and profound messages of peace, unity, forgiveness and humility; all qualities necessary for helping our society in this time of transition. The so called Golden rule of reciprocity can be agreed upon by all peoples, whether religious or lay.
We must have the courage to face and eliminate the historical baggage of exploitation and resentment that weighs us down. We must extend not only our hands, but our hearts to other peoples and cultures to build new bonds of trust. Respected delegates, no child is born disliking another race or fearing another culture. These are emotions constructed and conveyed through the ignorance found in our societies. This should serve as a warning, for peace is impossible to achieve when rooted in ignorance.
Therefore, I call on this council to encourage members states to move beyond political statements and policies towards implementing programs on community and local levels to combat ignorance and fear, and establish forums where all voices can be heard. Bringing together antagonizing groups through exchange programs and working together on social projects is a way to focus on strengthening our communities rather than dwelling on our differences.
I once again encourage this inter-religious council to look beyond the personal interests of your represented communities, and through your unity serve as an example and source of encouragement in these challenging times ahead.
Rachel Herbers Brady (Austria)