Dialogue - universal cure for extremism

Dialogue - universal cure for extremism

By President of Civilizations Interaction Foundation (CIF) Rakhamim Emanuilov especially for Trend.

In the present globalizing world of the early 21st century - where people of different confessions and cultures constantly interact with each other - the correlation of religion with politics and violence could be important as never before. Majority of the recent resounding terrorist attacks were characterized by direct or indirect religious emphasis. And this arouses the gravest concern ever.

In the last decades of previous century and early in this century, religious terrorism has become one of the most important challenges to global security. The state whereby political violence merges with religious beliefs, is utterly dangerous. "Religious" terrorists (exactly in quotation marks!) consider violence to be their duty, which is justified by the Holy Scriptures (be that the Bible, Qur'an or other holy writings). Legitimized by religion, violence becomes self-sustaining as violent acts, per se, are considered to be "licensed" by God. Moreover, religion-motivated terrorist groups exhibit enhanced viability, compared to terrorist structures that have something else as their underlying motivation (extreme left- and right-wing ideologies, nationalism, etc.).

The mass media and popular thinking hold onto a stereotype, that attributes "religious" terrorism almost entirely to radical Islam. Although there is quite a few extremist groups acting under the auspices of Islam, religious motivation is equally able to prompt followers of other religious confessions unto violence.

Can the extremists determine the face of either religion by spreading hate and death, regardless of the high and sacred ideals they are moved by? The answer is clearly no.

Nevertheless, we are faced with the following problem: to what extend this or that religion must be held responsible for the actions of people that are ready to commit violence in the name of their faith? Admittedly, almost all global religions essentially propagate the ideas of peace and love. Though this is definitely true, we are not to discard the fact that "religious extremists" use certain grounds to base their ideological inferences upon as they confidently appeal to religious traditions, sacred religious scriptures and writings by distinguished theologians.

Another question is to what extent the extremists distort the spirit and letter of religion, i.e. to what extent they represent the views of respective confessional environments. This line of thinking makes one disagree with the opinions of those, who tend to base extremism and terrorism upon the essence of religion. Whereas world religions have existed for many centuries, the history of "religious" terrorism emerged right in front of our eyes.

The concept of blaming the actions of terrorists and extremists upon ethnic or religious communities is both essentially erroneous, faulty and extremely dangerous. Moreover, should one discard extremists and terrorists' outward attributes and specific religious content, their theory and practice will hardly reveal the specific constituent resulting from religious definition. On the contrary, the spirit of intolerance and hate toward "others" is capable of uniting extremists of many various "colors," including both secular and strictly pious ones.

In order to resolve problems related to religious extremism and terrorism, governments should uncover terrorist groups in action, execute justice and discover the underlying cause of emerging terrorism within various communities. Paradoxical as it might be, in order to efficiently resist the danger of terrorism, emanated by religious extremism, efforts should be made to hear their truth amid antagonistic and hateful rhetoric. It is quite apparent that potential followers of extremist trends and propaganda are not attracted by groundless causes. Amongst conditions, contributing to the spread of terrorism, are conflicts, poverty, poor development, violation of fundamental human rights and lack of the rule of law. Short-term, simplistic, demagogic and repressive solutions provide the growth of extremism and terrorism with a nourishing environment, and as such are not only useless, but also dangerous.

The ideologists of extremism deftly take advantage of real problems faced by people; the problems are skillfully emphasized, at times, exaggerated and often distorted. We might be talking about corrupted regimes maintained in some countries, cruel political repressions executed against dissidents, the all-embracing concept of western policy implemented in the third world countries, madly imposed westernization including all of its advantages and defects. Manipulated, these subjects often result at least in an empathetic attention towards extremist rhetoric on the part of many believers.

In this case, it is extremely important to consider another fact: ideologies of religious extremism should be confronted by real ideals, morality and ideas which can serve as alternatives for people. Ideological and moral emptiness and/or attempts to replace it by artificially created and imposed ideological schemes fail to prevent extremists from hiring new "recruits" and, instead, urge the youth to join their ranks.

Radicalism, extremism and terrorism with religious motivation are complicated multifaceted phenomena which cannot be substantiated by simple explanations. Its origins are linked to a whole set of reasons and sources. Indeed, for this reason, the roots of contemporary terrorist movement cannot be cut by simple tools. It is not enough to make only military and social efforts. It is necessary to conduct a serious intellectual and religious soul-searching. The efforts must be made to subvert the intellectual foundation of extremist movement, regardless of auspices that they are active under and to do everything possible to hold the influx of new terrorists. In this respect, of course, representatives of those religious confessions on whose behalf extremists act by spreading death, hate and discrimination, must voice out their position.

The threat posed by religious terrorism for humankind is not confined to numerous fatalities it brings. The climate of mutual suspicion and death sown by terrorist activities between - and within - various confessions is no lesser threat and calamity. This violence entrenches ethnic and religious misunderstandings, and, most dangerous of all, it lays a time bomb for decades and centuries to come. 

We have to do everything in our powers to ensure rapprochement of different communities, to persuade people that diversity of social models and cultures is amongst the most valuable achievements of the civilization and thus enriches us all. Therefore, development of inter-confessional and intercultural dialogue is of utmost importance. And such dialogue shall go deeper than a thin layer of political, religious, economic and intellectual elites to become a truly mass global phenomenon. The youth must feature prominently in such dialogue. A dialogue of religions, cultures and peoples is powerful vaccine to developing strong immunity to terrorism and extremism. Of course, we must realize that the dialogue alone can not exterminate these malignant tumors, but fighting an ideology of hate and violence without a dialogue is simply impossible. Russia as a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional state can not and shall not remain outside of these processes.

Religious communities should develop common approaches to key challenges facing the humankind. We must seek ways for achieving peaceful and just world order, ways for defusing current threats and enlivening inter-confessional dialogue. It is important to understand: cultural identities must be preserved in the globalizing world. Evidently, all cultures and civilizations must have access to decision-making affecting their fate and the fate of the world. Often, colonial heritage leads to a disbalance of interests of various cultures in the modern world. But this existing disbalance should not be a source of frustration leading to extremism. There is a need to understand that some humility may be more beneficial in the long run. Variations in human development can be very unexpected, and as the Bible says, the last may become the first...

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