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“Peace and the future of the Middle East”

9 April 2014
“Peace and the future of the Middle East”

Opening remarks by Mr. Michael Møller
United Nations Office at Geneva
Acting Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva

“Peace and the future of the Middle East”
Palais des Nations, Room XII
Wednesday, 9 April 2014 at 10:00 a.m.

Your Beatitude, Cardinal Raï
Archbishop Tomasi
Ladies and Gentlemen:

A warm welcome to all of you. First of all, let me thank the Permanent Observer of the Holy See for the kind invitation to be part of this conference, and a special welcome to Cardinal Raï, the Patriarch of Antioch and All the East.

Geneva has a strong tradition for religious tolerance and inter-faith dialogue, which I think can serve as inspiration for today’s exchange on peace and the future of the Middle East. Religion and faith play a key part in so many people’s lives – as a moral compass, as a guide for action and a source of comfort. But we do not often have the opportunity to come together, as policy-makers and religious leaders, to discuss how we can partner to achieve our shared aim – a world at peace where all can live in dignity and prosperity.
There is no doubt that religious leaders and all members of religious communities can – and do – engage in support of peace. It is a role – and responsibility – that can be strengthened without being politicized. This is obviously a difficult and a careful balance to strike.

We live in a world where religion is too often seen as a fault line in conflict, or even as a cause of insecurity and instability. Instances of extremism fuel friction and strain relations among confessions – and, eventually, among States. In this reality, religious leaders can use their influence to set an example of inter-faith tolerance. They can be voices of moderation that reject stereotypes and prejudice, lead a discourse of understanding and respect, ensure that elements of their faith are not taken out of context to be used an instrument of hatred, address feelings of frustration that could be exploited by extremists, and reach out to the most vulnerable.

The United Nations is, at its core, the institutional embodiment of an ongoing dialogue among cultures. But such a dialogue does not necessarily sustain itself; it must be nurtured. The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, for example, provides an important framework for this nurturing, with a focus on education and confronting misconceptions that can lead to misunderstandings and mistrust. The engagement of many religious communities and leaders in the initiatives of the Alliance of Civilizations is encouraging and most welcome. I certainly hope it is a trend that will continue.

Ladies and Gentlemen:
As the main speaker today is the Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, based in Lebanon, this conference is also an opportunity to highlight – once again – the devastating situation in Syria and its impact on the neighbouring countries. They all bear the brunt of the worsening humanitarian, security, political and socio-economic consequences of the conflict. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Lebanon where the number of refugees has now topped 1 million and could reach 1.5 million before the end of this year, according to our colleagues in UNHCR. Yet, while the need for emergency relief deepens, only a fraction of the humanitarian appeal for the country has been funded. And still, Lebanon keeps its borders open as demonstration of the enduring solidarity and compassion of the people of Lebanon, which must be constantly recognized.

The crisis in Syria is now in its fourth year, and thousands of lives have been lost or destroyed. But, with time, other crises fill the headlines and the collective shock at the horrors of what is happening seems to wane. We simply cannot allow that to happen. All those who have influence must bring it to bear – religious and political leaders – to forge a political solution and to end the suffering of the people of Syria. It is my hope that the discussions today will help to maintain the focus on the crisis and empower voices of reason.

The entire Middle East region craves and deserves peace and this can only be achieved with the right combination of leadership, flexibility and vision. Religious and all other communities can play a part in enabling those qualities to prevail. And we have a collective responsibility to ensure that they do so.

Let me conclude by wishing you very productive discussions on what is really a most topical issue.
Thank you very much.