November 18, 2013
Most bigotry is born out of ignorance. Therefore, it is good for our world when people get together to promote learning about one another. It is of additional significance when this involves hundreds from the world's major religions who are leading the field of dialogue and understanding around the globe. And if such learning can be advanced on a policy level for nations, then the positive impact can be enormous.
That is what is happening in Vienna, November 18-19, at an international conference on the theme The Image of the Other. Led by experts and involving policy makers from a spectrum of nations, the some five hundred participants will seek to advance interreligious and intercultural knowledge and respect.
The conference is the latest milestone on the journey of the KAICIID Dialogue Centre, established last year by King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia, together with Austria and Spain and supported by the Holy See. It follows four regional conferences on the theme and reflects one of the primary goals of the Centre -- namely, to combat prejudice and promote universal respect.
The Ministers of Education of the Centre's founding nations and from countries from other continents will participate in this conference, which highlights the uniqueness of KAICIID. Not only is it an initiative from the highest level of the conservative heartland of the Muslim world; but it involves states and international bodies as well as heads and representatives of the world's religions. This provides remarkable potential to impact on the lives of millions around the globe.
It also provides an important opportunity for participating countries to provide international updates on their own efforts to advance interreligious and intercultural education (in some cases in the face of local opposition); to receive constructive criticism; and to learn more about "best practices" that can be implemented more widely.
This has never been more urgent. Today, tensions between nations and religions have the capacity to become and to nurture global conflicts. Indeed, they are at the heart of crises threatening the integrity of several countries and the security of key regions with international ramifications.
Accordingly, the need to learn about and respect those different from ourselves is essential enlightened self-interest. It is also the principled demand of our different traditions. Members of the KAICIID Board of Directors were invited last year by King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz to meet in his summer palace where he thanked us for our support. On that occasion he said: "The Torah, the New Testament, and the Quran, all have the welfare of humanity as their goal. It is therefore our obligation as people of faith to work together for the wellbeing of humanity as a whole ".
The nine KAICIID Board members of Directors come from five of the world's great religions -- Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity, and the latter is represented by the delegates of the Vatican, the Orthodox Patriarchate and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
While legitimate skepticism exists regarding the KAICIID initiative, especially in as much as the Christian population in Saudi Arabia is not able to openly practice their faith; the very fact of such high level representation from the Christian world reflects the overwhelming desire of faiths and nations to give this opportunity the benefit of a generous response and to enable it to prove itself.
The Image of the Other conference taking place in Vienna already provides justification for such response and signifies an important milestone on the journey to promote a world of greater understanding and respect.
Rabbi David Rosen is International Director of Interreligious Affairs of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and is on the Board of Directors of the King Abdullah International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID)