In an era in which places of worship have become, too often, targets for violence, United Nations officials and religious leaders gathered in New York City on 19 September to talk over plans for preventing attacks against people of faith.
The event, titled “Uniting to Prevent Violence in Places of Worship," was held at the Church Center of the United Nations. The gathering was co-sponsored by the World Council of Churches (WCC), US Council of Muslim Organizations, National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, and Religions for Peace USA.
H. E. Miguel Moratinos, high representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, spoke about how the UN has been developing and trying to implement concrete actions to curb the increase of hate crimes motivated by religious reasons and violence against places of worship.
He introduced the UN “Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites: In Unity and Solidarity for Safe and Peaceful Worship”, which was informed by outreach with a wide variety of governments, religious leaders, faith-based organizations, civil society, young women and men, local communities, traditional and social media, and the private sector.
“This is a result-oriented plan,” explained Moratinos. “We want to give the religious actors some tools to enable them to respond to possible attacks.”
The plan calls for engagement of religious leaders. “It needs to be permanent,” added Moratinos. “We need to stand together, but also stay together. Your active engagement as religious leaders is crucial, especially because we witness a clear sense of urgency on this issue worldwide.”
Rev. Douglas Leonard, WCC representative to the UN in New York, stressed the need to understand the root causes of the attacks against people of faith and places of worship.
“What all of these attacks against religious groups, and houses of worship have in common, is that the attackers misdirected their anger onto innocent victims who symbolized the object of their aggression,” he said. “How do we prevent people from attacking a substitution of the object of their aggression? How do we aid people in discovering the root of their anger and how do we help them to engage in dialogue with the actual target of their frustration, which is often the emergence of a global market economy and international political systems that have supplanted local traditional networks of power?”
Dr Azza Karam, senior advisor, United Nations Population Fund and chair of the UN Inter-Agency Task Force on Religion and Development said it is extremely timely for faith communities to come together around this issue.
"It is not sufficient to consider that this is the job of either governments or religious leaders and institutions to do this,” said Karam. "This is quintessentially about reorienting the relationships we have with one another as human beings in society, because a space of worship is like a home. So, attacking each other’s home would be considered deeply problematic. Equally, deeply problematic is attacking each other’s places of worship.”
Clearly, Karam added, there is an added segment of this equation of mobilization that we need to take into account, which is, how are we living with each other on a daily level? “How are our children in schools learning to relate to one another’s homes? That aspect is more the education space, and that space which means the teachers have to be an integral part of reorienting our children’s hearts and minds about one another’s spaces,” said Karam. “So it is very good as an opportunity to get the religious leaders to mobilize, but it is very insufficient to talk about institutional approaches. It now has to go into how do we get our children to relate to one another.”