The 2nd Athens International Conference overviewed main features and developments of religious pluralism in the Middle East in the last two years. It also focused on the future challenges religious pluralism faces in the region and proposed possible fields where religious co- existence and pluralism could be further developed.
The participants maintained that the 2nd Athens International Conference on “Religious and Cultural Pluralism and Peaceful Coexistence in the Middle East” has a lasting impact by further examining the situation, in terms of freedom of religion, tolerance and pluralism, codifying the various problems and elaborating viable solutions.
The sectarianisation of the civil strife has pitted the main contenders for power against each other, rendering future coexistence a very difficult, yet still worthy goal. At the same time, sectarianism has also brought the smaller communities in a harrowing situation.
The participants underlined the role of religious communities and leaders in shaping the development of policies related to refugees and migrants. We believe that religious communities and leaders should be encouraged to play a pro-active role in the re-integration process and to provide assistance to returnees – with particular focus on vulnerable groups, such as those who have experienced prosecution on religious, ethnic or political grounds. The absence of authority – including religious authority – may contribute to dangerous power vacuums, in which negative tendencies, such as radicalization, could take root. Offering guidance and purpose to all those who return to their countries or regions of origin, which they will find much changed, are challenges that should be tackled by various stakeholders, including religious leaders.
The participants stressed the important role media and education can play in both conflict prevention and in the course of a conflict. At the same time, they believe that it is necessary to increase the media’s religious awareness and literacy. Cooperative working relationships, continued dialogue and shared understandings of the mindful exercise of universal rights can help both media and religious leaders pro-actively counteract hate speech, discrimination and intolerance by fostering empathy for people of different faiths and cultural backgrounds.
We shared the view that there is a need for thorough study of a protective framework for small religious communities in the region, who are facing the threat of extinction.
We are glad that this 2nd Conference has been supported by the Republic of Austria and the United Arab Emirates and we will exert all our efforts in order to expand this co-operation including more countries in Europe and in the region.
We envisage to submit in 2018 a special resolution to the UN Human Rights Council concerning Religious and Cultural Pluralism in the Region and to include in the EU agenda and documents the topics we discussed during this Conference.
The Participants highly appreciated the work of the Centre for Religious Pluralism in the Middle East and highlighted the need of further dissemination of relevant information through a special network, which will connect religious leaders, institutions and civil society./IBNA