Ismail Serageldin


Towards an Inter-Faith Dialogue: To Confront Radicalism and Extremism


Towards an Inter-Faith Dialogue

To Confront Radicalism and Extremism


Opening Statement


Ismail Serageldin

Rome – 27 01 2016




Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen


After all the wisdom we have heard, and all the breadth of perspective we have witnessed, I will be quite brief.  


We are gathered here today to address a momentous challenge that all nations face and perhaps none more directly and vehemently than the countries of the Mediterranean.  It is from this part of the earth that the great monotheistic religions have spread out to the rest of the world, and it is here at this moment that we are facing a plethora of failed states, murderous conflicts, the most extreme forms of terrorism and tidal waves of refugees. 


In the face of such challenges as radicalization and extremism, can the great faiths, engaged in a form of inter-faith dialogue actually build a dialogue for peace?   Will such a dialogue be able open hearts and change minds? – and “make Justice and history rhyme”?   Is the apparent radicalization that is begetting the extremism and violence that we see in many parts of the Muslim world going to continue?  Or is it just a momentary phenomenon that will – like a bad storm – pass by and allow the sunshine of common understanding emerge once more?  More precisely, since many of the protagonists who are waging war on the civilized states of the world have taken up the banner of religion to give their actions some sort of legitimacy in the eyes of their followers, should not the leaders of these religions or the prominent intellectuals of these communities participate in launching an Interfaith Dialogue for Peace?  Will that work in disarming the terrorists? Or is that too optimistic?


These are definitely very timely questions that challenge us all today.  I will address that in detail tomorrow.  For now, for myself, I believe that the Interfaith Dialogue for Peace is a necessary but not sufficient element for combatting extremism and violence in our midst.  We must be able to demonstrate that despite the variety in content that been rightly hailed, still the reality of all religions is peace and compassion, not mayhem and murder.  We Muslims, must specifically show, time and again, that Islam is not spread by the sword and that it calls for peace and kindness and empathy to those of other faiths.  But that will not be enough.


A robust state machinery that calls for the promotion of pluralism and the protection of the rights of free expression is absolutely necessary.  So is a socio-economic reality that allows for inclusion, justice and opportunity for all.  Furthermore, security in a democratic state must operate from the support of the governed and only a state that derives its strength from a free people will be able to provide that kind of security with freedom.  But the nuances of how to provide “Democratic Security” are the topic for another discussion another day.


For today, I Just want to express our thanks to our Italian hosts for their hospitality, and to our guests for being here, and I personally look forward to the dialogue and discussions that will mark our sessions.  I hope to learn much from it, and I hope that through our deliberations in this distinguished forum, we will make a meaningful contribution to this important set of questions.


Thank you.




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