22 April 2015 – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today urged faith leaders gathered in the General Assembly to stand up for the collective good and amplify their voices in support of moderation and mutual understanding, warning that he fears an “empathy gap” is causing people to turn their eyes from injustice and numbing them to atrocities.
“At a time when we are seeing so much division and hatred, I wanted to bring people together under the banner of the United Nations to explore how best to respond,” the Secretary-General said on the second day of a gathering at Headquarters in New York of leaders representing diverse faiths, including Islam, Judaism, Christianity, as well as ministers, academics, and spiritual teachers.
Mr. Ban said that he was deeply concerned as today communities rushed to point out an affront against themselves, but ignored or dismissed the legitimate grievances of others. “I am worried that a certain numbness and helplessness may be setting in as people witness atrocity after atrocity,” he said.
“Religion does not cause violence, people do,” the Secretary-General continued. “Today we turn to what you as men and women can and must do in this vital endeavour,” he told the High-Level Assembly meeting on Promoting Tolerance and Reconciliation, Fostering Peaceful, Inclusive Societies and Countering Violent Extremism, which opened yesterday and concludes today.
“The dignity and worth of the human person, the equal rights of men and women, tolerance and living together in harmony…these principles are our bedrock and they are what this organization defends,” he emphasized.
But those values are held in contempt by violent extremists and “bankrupt ideologies.” Such violent extremism transcends borders. Brutal acts are vividly committed by D’aesh, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram and other sectarian groups.
Migrants are among the most vulnerable targets, Mr. Ban said, adding that there is a “direct line” between prejudice and extremism, racism and genocide. After the Holocaust, and with the establishment of the UN, “the world vowed never again…but we have seen injustices over and over again.”
The human contradiction is that “we are capable of utmost brutality but also compassion, tolerance and reconciliation,” the Secretary-General pointed out, adding that “today, I ask for your wisdom and leadership.”
“We need you to promote dialogue as an antidote to intolerance. Your voices will be critical in countering hate speech and finding common ground,” Mr. Ban told the meeting. “Faith leaders are on the frontlines of your community and many of you see the forces of radicalization. Use your influence to stand up for moderation and mutual understanding.”
Equally important is addressing the root causes of extremism. Abuses and indignities make individuals ripe for recruitment for sectarian and violent groups, the UN chief said, calling on leaders to ensure another way, a better way, which includes equality, and promoting opportunity and upholding human rights.
He also announced that later this year, he would present a UN Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism. Meanwhile, faith leaders must raise their voices to counter the narrative of extremists.
“Missiles may kill terrorists, but I am convinced that good governance is what kills terrorism,” Mr. Ban said, urging the gathering to speak out against human rights breaches and social injustice wherever they were encountered. “I ask you, too, to do more to amplify the voice of the moderate majority so we may drown out those who preach violence and hatred.”
The international community must protect the rights of people to think, speak and worship freely. Faith leaders gathered today have a vast audience, great influence and an immense responsibility.
“Together, we can rise to the call of the UN Charter to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, reaffirm human rights, and promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,” Mr. Ban concluded.