Ismail Serageldin


Rome Concluding Remarks


Concluding Remarks

Delivered by

Ismail Serageldin


Rome – 28 01 2016[1]




Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,


First and foremost a the co-Chair of the NGIC, I would like to express our thanks to, and appreciation of, the efforts of our Italian Hosts for their hospitality and their support, manifested by the personal participation of their Excellencies the Presidents of the Republic Messrs. Napolitano and Mattarella, as well as the president of the Senate and of course our beloved friend Franco Frattini and the SIOI who really made all this possible.  We were glad that the Holy see sent us Monsignor Tighe to attend our opening session.  And special votes of thanks are also due to our friends Presidents Rosen Plevniev and Georg Ivanov for having taken the time out of their busy schedules to join us in these deliberations.


Now let me try my hand at the impossible task of drawing the threads of the many and diverse discussions that we have engaged in, and to try to present some sort of coherent conclusions.


In retrospect, Six broad questions underlay this event:


  1. Are the conflicts and the terrorism that we see in and from the Middle East religious in nature or merely political?


  1. Should the leading religious establishments engage in an inter-religious dialogue to promote peace? 


  1. How is the state to be involved in this process?


  1. What should be done about the resulting waves of migrants that are coming to Europe’s shores?


  1. What is the role of the new ICT technology in expanding the possibilities of extremism and terrorism and/or in supporting the scope of this dialogue and in the


  1. What is the role of women and youth in this picture.


Some would be willing to throw up their hands at the sheer scale of the problems; but others would hope… as I do… I hope and reflect on the words of Sheamus Heaney:


 History says, Don't hope

 On this side of the grave,

 But then, once in a lifetime

 The longed-for tidal wave

 Of justice can rise up

 And hope and history rhyme.


So armed with the belief that we can make that longed-for “tidal wave of justice” happen, we can, armed with our determination get back to the six questions…


Are the conflicts and terrorism that we see in and from the Middle East religious in nature or merely political?


I think that it is clear to everyone that the protagonists of Da’ish and their ilk are political movements that use the terminology of religion to give credibility to their objectives and as a tool for recruitment.  These are political movements who have nothing to do with religion and everything to do with the totalitarian state.  Europe knows only too well the seductive power of these totalitarian visions and their consequences.


Should the leading religious establishments engage into an inter-religious dialogue to promote peace? 


Absolutely.  We all felt that it was a necessary part of the solution, but we recognized that it was not sufficient by itself as a solution to the current problems we are facing.


The world’s religions must emphasize the notions of peace and of acceptance of the other.  Most people are believers and are therefore interested in what such a dialogue will produce. The engagement should be both honest and continuous.  It should promote tolerant and open encounters between religions, but also very much within religions as well.


But it was also felt – at least by myself – that all the religious establishments must also reconsider their positions on the role of women, as the concept of equality before the law, is the foundation of the notion of citizenship and the modern democratic state.


How is the state to be involved in this process?


Recognizing that the vast majority of humanity are believers, you cannot completely ban religion from the public sphere.  The Former Soviet Union tried to actively build a totally atheistic state, but the world witnessed the resurgence of the Orthodox Church after the demise of the Soviet State.  We need to strike a balance between the role of religion and the role of the secular State so that their actions are mutually reinforcing.


The modern state must ensure the open public space where all opinions and beliefs can thrive in a constructive pluralism.   It must protect the fundamental human rights of all its citizens, despite their diversity, rather than promoting a uni-dimensional vision of identity.


Our political leaders also need to reach out to the disaffected and marginalized. Leaders need to be truly inclusive, as uncomfortable this may be. The role of the State is thus to facilitate contact between the people, to protect the variety of opinions and its manifestations, except when there is a transgression through calls for hatred and violence against a specific minority or society at large.


Leaders must also recognize that the siren songs of the extremist recruiters who pull the disaffected into the “vortex of lies” and put them in the “echo-chamber” of the extremists; these siren songs benefit from the anger that people feel towards the huge gap between the wealthy and the poor, and that governance, unemployment, mismanagement and corruption of the State, as well as the politics of double standards, unconstructive external interventionism and lack of a perceived future for the young all are part of the image of injustice that pervades the current perceptions of many societies.   Extremism often begins with perception of injustice, leading first to anger, and then violence.


Regretfully, in many places there is corruption in the highest offices, violence in the streets, despair among families, anxiety among the elders and aimlessness amongst youth.  That is a formula for the marginalization of those who are seeking an inner meaning of their lives.  They become perfect targets for the recruiters of the extremists.  Note that here I say all extremists, not religious extremists or just Da’ish.  Secular extremists, from the extreme right or the left also operate largely in the same way whether they use a nationalist narrative or a discourse intended to discredit the power structure in society.


What should be done about the resulting waves of migrants that are coming to Europe’s shores?


Migration is now a hot topic in Europe, even though statistically the numbers are not enormous.  They pose special problems for the receiving countries, and the problem, which has come time and again in our discussions, must be tackled in ways that go beyond the humanitarian and address both the root causes in the sending countries as well as the inclusionary policies of the receiving countries.   


What is the role of the new ICT technology in expanding the possibilities of extremism and terrorism and/or in supporting the scope of this dialogue and in defining the future?


The ICT revolution was at the heart of my presentation on “Echo-Chambers and the Vortex of Lies”, and it underlined the importance of reaching the young before they are drawn into the clutches of the extremists.   We just also heard about the enormous transformation that is just around the corner, as we move to the age of big Data and the Internet of things.


In this age of online videos and social media, cross-border extremism is deeply intertwined with the emergence of global channels of instant communication.

Thus, dialogue between faiths, peoples and civilizations needs to become an open, ongoing, natural practice of everyday life. Leaders of all cultures should endorse this.


Furthermore, our youth, the majority of the population, are going to interact with these technologies in different ways than what we can imagine.


But clearly, simple clear language must be used to communicate messages widely.  In the age of the Tweet, the message must be clear, and short…. It is a challenge that we must be able to respond to effectively…


What is the role of women and youth in this picture.


The age gap in our societies, with the majority of societies under age of 35, creates fundamental challenges for leaders who have yet to adapt to this reality. Many of these arrive as refugees in Europe. They are targets for radical preachers and fundamentalists, with violent interpretations of Holy teachings. Thus methods for outreach need to be adapted to their way of living, thinking and yearning.


Women are a particular, fast growing target group for violent religious groups. In addressing religiously motivated violence, leaders need to look beyond stereotypes. Peacemaking has to rely on the role of women, a point formally recognized by the UN Security council in its famous Resolution 1325, but that is seldom applied or implemented. Their role is far too frequently underestimated in both terrorism and counterterrorism. 


While activism, both social and political needs to be targeted at the problems of youth and the to overcome the discrimination against women, we must also lay the proper and solid foundation for the future of our societies: Education.  Adequate and well balanced, tolerant, education on religion and on the broad humanities, the foundations of civic responsibility and the human rights of all in a democratic structure, has a fundamental role to play in creating a tolerant and peace loving future next generation. 




So where are we going?


For me, I can hope that we continue our struggles against extremism and violence and move on to create the kind of society we want… I believe that we can indeed look to a future that is best captured by the words of a great poet Tagore in the Gitanjali:


Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;

Where knowledge is free;

Where the world has not been broken into fragments by narrow domestic walls;

Where words come from the depth of truth;

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the desert sand of dead habit;

Where the mind is led by thee into ever-widening thought and action ---

Into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake.


Thank you….








[1] Addressing/Challenging Radicalization and Extremism with Interfaith Dialogue for Peace: What works?

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