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On the Sidelines of the G20 Summit, IRLA Secretary General Talks Peace-Building

At an international gathering in Beijing, China, Dr. Ganoune Diop addressed challenges to human rights and peace.

As the world’s political leaders gathered earlier this month for the G20 Economic Summit in Hangzhou, China, an international group of religious scholars met in Beijing to consider how religion can help foster international dialogue and problem-solving.

Dr. Ganoune Diop, IRLA Secretary General, was invited to address the group of some 40 scholars and religious leaders. He told the group that before talking about about our differences, we must first recognize shared human values. His paper, entitled “Exploring Intersections of Values: A Pathway to Peace and Solidarity Among Nations and Civilizations,” highlighted a number of universal human values that bind people together no matter what their culture or religion. He said principles such as unity, dignity, justice or righteousness, and honor are interdependent values that help model what it means to be both human and humane.

In his paper, delivered on the second day of the summit, Dr. Diop also traced the fundamental concept of “human dignity” within Islam, Christianity, Judaism, as well as many Asian religions, and major world philosophies.

“The principle of human dignity is a plinth upon which human rights, and human responsibilities are based,” said Dr. Diop. “This principle along with the values of unity in diversity, justice, righteousness and honor are core to all major world religions and moral philosophies. In international treaties and covenants, and in nearly every national constitution, human dignity is foundational.”

For the past eleven years, these G20 Interfaith Summits have taken place on the sidelines of every G7, G8, and G20 Summit. Their purpose is to consider the role of religion and faith in current global issues, and to highlight concrete contributions made by religion. This is the second time Dr. Diop has been invited to give a plenary address at this event—the first was at the 2015 G20 Interfaith Summit in Istanbul, Turkey.

This year’s gathering was hosted by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and was jointly sponsored by the the Institute of World Religions and the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University. Longtime religious liberty advocate and scholar Dr. Cole Durham was a key organizer of the event.

In-depth Report on the Paper Presented by Dr. Ganoune Diop

On the eve of the geological and economic summit of the G20, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the Institute of World Religions in partnership with Brigham Young University, convened a forum on “Dialogue Among Civilizations and Community of Common Destiny for All Humankind.”

Dr. Ganoune Diop, IRLA Secretary General and director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the Seventh-day Adventist world headquarters was invited to make a presentation on the topic “Exploring Intersections of Values: A Pathway to Peace and Solidarity Among Nations and Civilizations.” The forum overall expressed an aspiration for building a favorable common destiny. Dr. Diop’s presentation was built upon the following premise: The existence of universal values found in every civilization and people group. There is more that seems to unite the human family than meets the eye. When considered at their core, religions and philosophies have much in common. Different approaches to human relationships based on different beliefs do not translate or mean absence of common values at a deeper level.

Dr. Diop highlighted a number of key values that bind the human family together: unity, dignity, justice/righteousness and honor. He showed how these principles and values are interdependent and how they contribute to model what it means to be human and humane.

The unity of the entire human family is a precondition to any meaningful dialogue among people. Islam is distinctly characterized by the unity of human existence based on the oneness of God. Christianity as well as its parent religion, Judaism, whether interpreted literally or allegorically, is based on the belief that the whole human family comes from a primordial couple, Adam and Eve. The diversity of ethnic groups is traced back to three brothers: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

The principle of human dignity is a plinth upon which human rights, and human responsibilities are based. This principle along with the values unity in diversity, justice, righteousness and honor are core to all major world religions and moral philosophies. In international treaties and covenants, and in nearly every national constitution, human dignity is foundational.

However, several contemporary Asian thinkers have questioned the validity of a unidimensional approach to human rights based entirely on individualism to the detriment of and neglect of duties, responsibilities to kin and community. These duties and responsibilities are key components to unity and harmony, bedrocks of Asian worldviews. From a Confucian perspective, the individual is in fact the totality of roles he or she lives in specific relation to others.

In this global conversation, and engagements, one has to take into consideration that in the Western World and in societies influenced by the Western metaphysical and ontological considerations, self is a person, an autonomous individual whose freedoms and rights are paramount.

In Asian societies influenced by Confucianism, Taoism, and or Buddhism, and other traditional schools of thought, beliefs, and practices, the majority opinion is that self is overrated or misconstrued. It is communal or inexistent. It is according to Buddhist thought a conglomerate of aggregates, a slippery, fluid and unstable entity; moreover, an illusion seat of suffering. Community seems to have primacy. Nevertheless, another key concept demonstrates that there is a subtle interplay between a person and community. In this perspective it is significant that some of the essential virtues of Buddhism are wisdom, compassion and harmlessness. Each of these is a relational virtue.

The whole edifice of Confucianism is based on the principle of human dignity which is not just a value to be ranked among other values but a principle which in fact undergirds them all. In the Judeo Christian narratives, human beings are created in the image of God. This is the very foundation of human dignity. Islam affirms in its own way the dignity which was bestowed to humanity.

Universality is not antithetical to particularity. The articulation of common values enhances the possibility of a constructive common human destiny. What is means to be human is a priory to discussion about human destiny.

Dr. Diop emphasized that the dialogue of civilizations, religions and cultures is predicated upon the courtesy to give space to adherents of each religion and/or moral philosophy to share their own vision of humanity on their own terms.

He explored various worldviews and their impact on social organizations. This, he argued, can be a promising platform to listen to others and to understand where they are coming from, what motivates their approach to reality, what are their societal goals and how they endeavor to achieve them.

The forum has also addressed the dark sides of religions, namely the various murderous fundamentalisms which violate the dignity of minorities and majorities where a minority religion or ideology rules. Religions and secular ideologies have been politicized in such a way as to bring harm to millions. The future of common human destiny will benefit from a partnership to ban violence against the integrity of the human person. A partnership to debunk the philosophical foundations of violent extremism, to dismantle societal and individual structures of oppression is needed as the human family work to build a sustainable path to peace and solidarity among individuals, people groups, and civilizations.

BETTINA KRAUSE | Communication Director
International Religious Liberty Association
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