“Welcoming the Other” Gathers in Vienna, Nov. 19-22
This year the 9th World Assembly of Religions for Peace is addressing the topic of “Welcoming the Other.” Focused on building bridges and greater social cohesion amongst the world’s religions, this theme also imports a focus on religious repression among and within the world’s religions.
For example, after 9/11, to appease Western attacks on Al-Qaeda factions, the Ethiopian government began to reframe its repression of mostly Muslim religious minorities as an attempt to combat extremism and the East African wing of Al-Qaeda known as Al-Shabab. In 2012, the government of Ethiopia imported a Lebanese form of Islam called Al-Ahbash and began to force all mosques to practice this foreign form of Islam. The execution of this policy was excessive in the breadth of the crackdown and its violence. In July 2012, a cohort of imams were selected to represent the Muslim community in Ethiopia in negotiating an agreement with the government about allowing the Muslim population to continue to practice their traditional form of Islam. The negotiations failed. All 21 imams were subsequently arrested and charged with extremism.
This misuse of anti-extremism laws which repress minority groups exemplifies the rising hostility and intolerance toward the “other” that the 9th World Assembly of Religions for Peace will address when it convenes in Vienna, Austria, Nov. 19-22. This Assembly will bring together over 600 religious leaders from 90 national interreligious councils and groups to foster collaborative action for peace. Because the heightened hostilities and intolerance facing minority religious groups stands as a direct threat to peace, the World Assembly will address the urgent need to “Welcome the Other.”
The worldwide implications of this theme are patent to many: 75% of the world’s population (roughly 5.4 billion people) live in countries with high restrictions on religion or high social hostilities involving religion. What’s more, intolerance has been masked as security through attacks on these minority groups.
This World Assembly calls on all people of faith to “Welcome the Other” and to find solidarity with the “other.”
The significance of “Welcoming the Other” means greater emphasis on protecting human dignity and advancing human beings on all levels. It means working to overcome threats to our shared well-being, the relatedness to others and the natural world. It means ensuring that governments honor and protect the fundamental dignity of all people through impartiality and tolerance.
The task of “Welcoming the Other” is complex and involves a multitude of actors. The World Assembly will endeavor to manage this difficult issue by covering the topics of rising hostilities, the multi-religious consensus of tolerance, and the work that must be done by all groups in order to achieve the goal of “Welcoming the Other.”