In international politics, relations of trade and commerce among nations are known, but spiritual cooperation? This is in fact the central call of religious leaders at Astana in Kazakhstan. While speaking at the 4th conference of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, held on 30th and 31st of May 2012, the Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev spoke at length about the global crisis of moral values and the disorder and degeneration that have set in religions, , and urged the leaders of the world religions to form a joint front to fight the rot in the system. Kazakhstan of late has become a victim of religious extremism and terrorism. Hence, the organization of the conference in Kazakhstan too holds additional significance for the wider region of Eurasia, which has witnessed uglier scenes of religion based violence in recent years, particularly aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union. The participation of representatives from the religions of Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism in the Central Asian republic too has added wider significance to the conference. Furthermore, the participation of the Russian Patriarch Kirill and his call for religious tolerance and friendship is viewed as sign of increasing coming together of the two countries to fight the menace of extremism and terrorism in the Eurasian region.
The congregation reportedly is attended by 87 delegates from 40 countries. This is the fourth time that the congregation is organized in Kazakhstan, under the able stewardship of President Nazarbayev. Kazakhstan’s Supreme Mufti Absattar Haji Derbisali emphasized that the “The leaders of world and traditional religions bear enormous responsibility for our living in peace, tranquillity and accord. Only if there is peace, accord and tranquillity, can the state achieve major successes.” Highlighting the increasing crisis in global morality, Nazarbayev stated, “The global crisis of moral values is impending. It is obvious how many societies propagate and inoculate pseudo freedoms. They try to promote perverted views on the nature of human relations and imprint them as the standards of the modern society; and motivation towards honest labour is replaced with aspiration for fast gain through any means. Such anti-morality is frequently elevated to the absolute,” The Russian Patriarch while complementing Nazarbayev for his peace efforts, stated, “Kazakhstan now serves as a good example for many post-Soviet countries thanks to its very friendly relationships. We, as Orthodox Christians, feel the support of the Kazakh President personally, and this support helps the Russian Orthodox Church carry out many of its programmes. This is a very difficult job to organise such a summit and the fact that it is held on a regular basis in Kazakhstan is useful not only for Kazakhstan, but also useful for other countries and other religious organisations.”
The theme of the conference this year reflects the seriousness of the participants to dwell in great deal the crisis in global values and radicalization of religions. The theme titled ‘peace and harmony as choice of mankind’ marks a real departure from the usual focus of conferences in other parts of the world. It focused on peace and peaceful resolution of conflicts. The conference was really ambitious in its pronouncements and objectives, which can be called positive. But how far the aims will be achieved will depend on the resolve of the participants as well as the support they receive from state actors. The conference urged the religious leaders around the world to play an effective role to promote peace and religious harmony in conflict regions. Thinking broadly, it is not the act of terrorism per se, but the ideology behind the violence that needs to be tackled. This can be greatly achieved when the religious leaders play the role of reformers and address the issue of radicalization of religions and counter the hard line ideologues who preach methods of violence and hatred for conflict resolution.
Equally importantly, the conference mooted the role of religious leaders as peace makers and keepers in society. This no doubt is a novel thinking, which can be implemented when the religious leaders across world break the barriers of dogmatism and think in terms of eclecticism (as Gandhi says: all religions are equal and paths to God realization, and are like beautiful flowers in a garden). This is undoubtedly a difficult task particularly in a conflict situation where militants are brainwashed and filled with hatred, and where it requires immense tolerance to preach the methods of peace and harmony. When the radical leaders like Doku Umarov (in a recent conference in Turkey Umarov reiterated his demands of Chechen independence as well as North Caucasus Caliphate) and Masood Azhar, Syed Salahuddin and Hafiz Sayeed, the radical leaders who preach violence in Kashmir, and talk of its resolution through violence, it becomes difficult to convince these leaders to give up violence and adopt the path of peace. However, the conference’s insistence that religious leaders can play an effective role in peace is no insignificant achievement. Religious leaders like Imams, Bishops, Priests, etc. can play active roles to wean away the radicalized youth from the clutches of radical leaders.
As a natural corollary to this ambitious agenda, the conference this year devoted special panel discussions on the youth in violence, and possible mechanisms to bring them back to mainstream. From the case of Kashmir, it was clearly evident that the violence in the region could not be that devastating without the participation of the youth. Thousands of youth had crossed the border to train in arms and returned back to join militancy in the region. Besides radicalization of religion, poverty and unemployment too contributed to the scene of violence. As the conference rightly emphasized, the youth must be won over and convinced of the utility of peace and harmony over the values of violence and hatred.
During this conference, a Council of Religious Leaders was formed. The leaders, as the conference envisaged, will hold dialogue with international power structures so that a fair, better and harmonious world order can be established. As Nazabayev stated, “The main purpose of our council is to promote dialogue between religions. The foundation of its activities is the adherence of all faiths to the basic human values: kindness, love, justice, peace, and accord.” The conference not only provided the platform to religious leaders across the world, but also helps mitigate many of the confusions associated with religion. As the Buddhist leader from South Korea Synim Yang Ki Hun remarked, “Other religions such as Islam are now arriving in South Korea. A lot of people came to South Korea from Islamic countries. We do not know what Islam is and we do not know what the other nations are. This is why I came here to learn it.” As per Kazakh official reports only 25 per cent of Islamic scholars in the country know the religious scriptures. And this ignorance contributes to radicalization of religion and help rise of extremist organization like Jundullah Khalifat in the country, with having origins at Afghanistan and Waziristan in Pakistan. Last year Kazakhstan parliament adopted a religious law which adopted several measures to counter religious extremism in the country, despite facing opposition from some quarters.
Undoubtedly, the conference will add to the peace momentum in Eurasia and the world. More such conferences need to be organized around the world, particularly in conflict regions. While the pronouncements of the conference provide many vital inputs to the discipline of conflict and peace studies, its pragmatic value too are numerous. However, without active support of state actors such an ambitious agenda of global peace and harmony will remain unfulfilled. As the Russian Patriarch rightly observed, “This initiative will require significant administrative and diplomatic efforts and also a good will. … It is useful for other countries and religious organizations too.”