(WCC) As the “city of peace” observed Geneva Peace Week from 6-10 November, a special panel discussion held on 8 November explored the role of religion in preventing violence.
The annual Geneva Peace Week features about 50 events organised by more than 80 organisations that will focus on a gamut of topics related to peace and security.
Events are taking place this week at the Palais des Nations, the Maison de la Paix, the Ecumenical Centre and several other venues in the city.
The panel discussion entitled “Role of Religion in Preventing Violence” took place the main hall at Ecumenical Centre on 8 November.
The Cordoba Foundation of Geneva, in partnership with the World Council of Churches (WCC), Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, Peace Research Institute Oslo, Inclusive Peace & Transition Initiative, hosted the event, which was moderated by Dr Thania Paffenholz of the Graduate Institute of Geneva.
The panellists were Dr Mohamed Elsanousi, director of the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers’ Washington, DC office; Peter Prove, director of the WCC Churches Commission on International Affairs; Catherine Germond of the Cordoba Foundation of Geneva, and Rev. Dr Trond Bakkevig, dean of Vestre Aker, Church of Norway, and of the Peace Research Institute Oslo.
Bakkevig said: “There is no pure religion. It is always interpreted by people. He underlined the strength of religious networks (“Religion is the best organized network in the world. We have to keep this in mind.”), and emphasized the importance of education. “In school books in Israel and Palestine, they don’t tell the narrative of the other religion. In Palestinian books for example, you have Islam and Christianity but nothing about Judaism. That is a factor of conflict.”
Catherine Germond addressed the manipulation of religion for political gain that has been increasing for years, stating: “Religion is manipulated to create tensions, but also to get legitimacy.”
“Every major religious tradition has authentic threads of violence”, said Prove. “It is counterproductive to try to deny that. We should rather interrogate those aspects of our own traditions to counter the extremist groups that are very adept at using these violent threads.”
Prove underlined the need “to focus on the positive impact of religion, the greater potential for peace in our traditions. Drawing on these resources, and mobilizing the churches to work for justice and peace, has been the work of the WCC since 1948.”
Elsanousi highlighted the Marrakesh Declaration as an important effort by Muslim religious leaders to lift up peace-affirming Islamic traditions. “It is good to look at our resources to come up with solutions,” he said, adding: “Islam and Muslims are labeled by this violent extremism and terrorism, which is unfortunate.”
Studies on conflict data show a sharp increase in conflicts with which involve religious tensions, agreed the organizers of the discussion.
According to studies conducted by the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), in 1975 only 2 percent of conflicts involved a religious tensions. In 2013 the percentage had grown to more than 50 percent.
Achim Wennmann, executive coordinator of the Geneva Peacebuilding Platform told journalists that Geneva Peace Week this year will for the first time focus on a dedicated theme, “Prevention Across Sectors and Institutions: What Pathways for Effective Implementation?”.
Michael Møller, director-general of the United Nations Office at Geneva, said: “Geneva Peace Week maximizes synergies between sectors and organizations in Geneva and beyond, focused on the cross-cutting nature of prevention.”
“It underlines that each and every person, actor and institution has a role to play in building peace, resolving conflict and strengthening prevention,” he said.