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promoting peace & reconciliation to counter violent extremism.

Madeleine Brecher, ICJW Representative to the United Nations in NY, reports on the February 4  UN Department of Public Information "Focus on Faith" Briefing on Promoting Peace & Reconciliation to Counter Violent Extremism.

Back in 2008, the Focus on Faith Series was created as part of the weekly briefings for the NGO community.   The primary focus of the series has been to explore the work of faith-based organizations and how their work ties in with the mission of the UN. ICJW representatives circulated their report of the Focus of Faith Series briefing back in 2010 entitled Unveiling Judaism and its Place in the Dialogue among Civilizations. Today’s briefing did an excellent job highlighting the role that faith has played in countering violent extremism by fostering dialogue, using spiritual authority to encourage individuals to act humanely, and promoting shared values.

Father Roger Landry, attache at the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See at the UN, is saddened that the thousands of people doing good work in the name of religion do not make the news; instead we read the headlines about those who have perverted faith to perform violence. He gave many examples of how faith-based communities have preached reconciliation, brotherhood, selflessness and morality.

Matthew Hodes, Director of the UN Alliance of Civilizations, said that today all types of violence are committed in the name of religion. However, religious leaders are taking an increased interest in playing a positive role although it often doesn’t get publicized; additionally, there is increased support for positive religious leaders. He pointed to the large turnout in the room which included so many faith-based NGOs and religious leaders and said “our work should be promoted.”

The senior Human Rights officer at the Security Council’s Counter-terrorism Committee, Edward J. Flynn, informed us of the revolution in the international approach to global terrorism. There are now platforms for governments to hold meetings and dialogues on the subject. All these fora must include youth and women and all in government must pay attention to what they have to say.

Azza Karam serves as a Senior Advisor on Culture and Social Development at the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). She wished to be heard today as a Muslim woman and she was an exceptional force on the panel. With DPI highlighting this religious issue more frequently, there is great potential for resolution and healing. She finds defending Islam all the time is a real drag and the subtle nuances in the conversations are hard to deal with. A “whole society” approach is required.  There is a UN Task Force made up of Human Rights, Peace and Security and Sustainable Human Development. But these groups cannot be approached in a vacuum. They are NOT separate things because you cannot separate religion and culture; distinctions divide. We must talk as ONE human family searching for solutions.

Reverend Chloe Breyer, director of the Interfaith Center of NY, gave three examples of religious peace making. This work must serve the needs of the wider society.

Reverend Victor Kazanjian Jr., Executive Director of the United Religious Initiative (URI), reiterated the point that thousands of people out there working for peace go unrecognized. People ARE collaborating and sustainable solutions are being created. These solutions serve as a model for interfaith respect and the initiatives connect grassroots’ voices. He gave several examples of best URI practices globally.

We were told that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon believes that religious leaders have a pivotal role to play in times of turmoil when they can provide a values-based glue to hold communities together and provide common ground for peace-making and problem solving. This Focus on Faith briefing proved that this is certainly the case and it’s critical that we all spread the word.