Religion, Peace and Conflict in the 21st Century

by Dr Shaykh Mustafa Ceric (Grand Mufti Emeritus of Bosnia)

On the subject of “Religion, Peace and Conflict in the 21st Century” nothing speaks louder at the beginning of the 21st century than the failure of the European and World community, including the United Nations Security Council to uphold the promise of “NEVER AGAIN”; never again in Europe and never again in the Middle East.

Now is the time for the great responsibility of remembering the greatest failures of humankind and then educating and emboldening a new generation of leaders to never repeat them.

Indeed, at this time of rising intercultural and inter religious tensions in different parts of the world, it is of the utmost importance that we share positive political and religious messages about the significance of peace and dialogue based on a constructive rapprochement of religions, cultures and politics in the world.

This promise is important not only for “enlightened” Europe, but also for the whole world as we are faced today with a violence of genocidal proportions in many parts of the world. While no human can be exempted from the responsibility of today’s bleeding humanity, I would stress that the greatest responsibility of all lies with religious and political leaders.

The former are responsible for the quality of ideas in the human mind and the latter are responsible for the quality of action in preventing evil and spreading good in the world.

From my Bosnian experience, I sense that law and order does not rest in books… the law is in the heart of every individual; the heart that receives the first blessings of innocent faith.

This faith is complemented by the mercy of instructed religious beliefs, delivered by the hands of learned religious leaders. It only becomes action when individuals manifest good or bad moral behavior.

However, it is only when faith becomes religion, in the form of instructed theology, that people begin to differ from each other.

Indeed, it is the power of the organized religious mind that is relevant in conducting the world affairs concerning peace and conflict in 21st century. A pure religious mind lies between an innocent faith and a good morality. It is the thirst of political power that empties the religious mind of genuine faith and true morality. And as it has been shown many times a religious man is not necessarily moral.

Therefore, the religions must go back to their basics; and that is to faith, free from hypocrisy and free from corruption. Only then is its moral integrity secured.

The way to get away from the sins of hypocrisy and corruption is through proper education based on a humanistic moral code that respects the right of every individual:

“Rights” as a moral concept, Rand postulates, is “the concept that provides a logical transition from the principles guiding an individual’s actions to the principles guiding his relationship with others.

–the concept that preserves and protects individual morality in a social context–the link between the moral code of a man and the legal code of a society, between ethics and politics. Individual rights are the means of subordinating society to moral law.” ……… (Ayn Rand).

In this context THE FIRST of the two fundamental ingredients for righteous social context in a democratic society is the capacity for every individual to think for him or herself.

This is the bulwark of civilization. The problem is less the extremists than the silent majority that sit by and watch things happen. Most people are peaceful. But too few speak up when necessary.

To remember Balzac “It is easy to sit up and take notice, what is difficult is getting up and taking action.” ….. (Honore de Balzac).

THE SECOND fundamental ingredient for democracy is the ability to build just and inclusive structures of democratic governance that are respectful of your traditions.

A finally THIRD ingredient is the notion that democracy without pluralism is worthless. There is no better validation of the power of pluralism but the belief of many faiths in one God.

When we are unable to achieve this trifecta it is not God that is failing us. It is humankind that is failing to rise to the true design of the sacred scripture.

And here lies the responsibility of political leaders together with religious leaders; to make good things happen instead of letting evil things prevail.

A simple glance at daily newspapers reveals that even the project of European security is not complete, not by far. Challenges are all around us: Europe, Middle East, Africa, Asia.

However, I have in mind one moral and ethical question that is being swept under the carpet.

As a survivor of the Genocide in Bosnia I cannot cease asking why the cry of “NEVER AGAIN” has failed in Srebrenica and Gaza. But more than that, my people are asking now where is the leadership after Srebrenica? Where is the human conscience after Gaza?

A Ten-century-old European nation whose people are being subjected to an imposed discriminatory social context. A nation in the heart of Europe has been harassed and a nation in the heart of the Holy Land is denied basic human rights.

Bosnia, with its European peace accord, must be among European ethical question of the highest order and Palestine as the core of the human soul and mind must be in the heart of every human being.

These two nations, in all of their political and religious diversity, are a proof that Bosnian and Palestinian conditions of political discrimination and segregation is a punishment and not a solution.

How is it possible that a powerful and determined Europe is not being able to direct change and complete the European project? How is it possible that the heart of Abrahamic traditions has no powerful mind to find peace in the Holy Land?

This is a notion I fail to accept lightly. Nor should you.

It is out common responsibility to complete the journey and arrive to an inclusive and just society based on common Abrahamic and European values; the Holy Land and Europe which are complete and in peace with security, freedom, and equality for all.

Let this message be a call for all leaders, intellectuals, religious and political alike, to recognize such injustices and invest themselves to change, wherever they may be, in Europe, Middle East, Africa and North America.…

Who will have the conviction to carry out the necessary push, structural and political, to define world social context as Rand would say; to complete the project of world security and harmonization of all inclusive core values?

There must be a way to common responsibility, to remove the structural impediments to a just and secure world. Even with the centennial of World War I, which was ignited in the city of Sarajevo, the challenge remains; building social structures that are just and inclusive, pluralistic and secure.

Every time we create anything, we fail. And we will continue failing. As imperfect as the Treaty of Versailles was, so are the Dayton Peace Accords. Both were/are a necessary temporary fix. And our failure to find the formula for a just and sustainable peace in the Holy Land is the biggest failure of all. There must be a solution over there because the human soul cannot bear the pain anymore and the human mind cannot stay indifferent.

It is not a fault of a man or of a nation that is not living to its fullest productive potential; it is the society that defines their behavior. It is an acquired value set that such structures produce.

Take for example European society. It has failed many times. But after the lessons of Versailles and the colossal human and material cost of the Second World War, Europe was able to design a process to achieve inclusiveness, plurality, justice.

Most importantly, Europe has proven its readiness to bear the cost of success. Small but important nations such as Greece were provided every support required to continue to remain part of the European security project and we applaud this conviction by this leadership.

Now is the need more than ever before that we prove that we are better in peace then we are at war. This challenge is not only in Europe, but around the world, especially in the Holy Land. No person is too small or too big to make an impact. As long as there is at least one of you with me, we are many! Let’s not settle until we uncover the common code of global ethics; security, peace, freedom and justice for all.

Dream big my friends. What for some is entitlement, for others is a distant dream. Dream big and big things will happen. Never give up, never be satisfied, and always strive to achieve a better world than the one we had yesterday.

Always remember that knowledge is certain; that Divine design is just; it is human imperfection that is slow to adopt. European Union is a proof that humans are capable of designing secure, just and inclusive social contexts. Let’s keep expanding. Let’s complete the European security project.

If you look around, someone is always defending civilization as an act of individual courage, or state leadership. We played our part in Bosnia in the 90’s – our hands were tied, we accepted the Dayton Peace Accord to move towards peace, we paid the price in lives, treasures, and dignity, and served the sentence of an unjust peace. We are ready to be part of Europe again. You all need to find courage and conviction to lead and get us there.

You will be called to lead and lead you shall.

So, lead justly, lead with integrity, and lead with humility. And hope that one day we will achieve the Divine design:

Societies do not prohibit pluralism but thrive on it;

Societies are where security is not a privilege of a few but a right of all;

Society that is just and inclusive so that our belief in one common humanity becomes as strong as our belief in one God.

Let us overcome our human imperfections by starting to fix all that is wrong, starting with ourselves first.

And let us help those that are lost, helpless or simply imprisoned in a society that is unworthy of human dignity and God’s justice.

– Dr Shaykh Mustafa Ceric

Grand Mufti Emeritus of Bosnia