Eminences, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends.

I am privileged to join you here today as we strive to promote pluralism and interfaith cooperation, and to work together on solutions addressing the threats and challenges currently facing of our world.

We gather here to discuss how interfaith and inter-civilizational cooperation can promote peace in our communities. I can attest that this solidarity is needed, and that when we work together, we create a powerful, transformative impact which echoes throughout the world. 

Several weeks ago, during Ramadan, nationalists surrounded mosques in Myanmar. They demanded that the worshipers inside stop praying. The mobs threatened violence if mosques stayed open.

A senior Buddhist monk from our dialogue platform in Myanmar heard about the threats and decided to respond with a passionate demonstration of interreligious solidarity.

A day after the nationalist mob showed up with knives and sticks, this monk showed up with white roses, handing them out to each Muslim he met as a sign of peace and solidarity.

He also met with local officials in order to appeal for peace. Other monks soon joined him. His example spread to the furthest corners of Myanmar.

In response, the people of Myanmar launched a campaign to spread loving kindness and to show community resilience towards hatred and extremism.

White roses were handed to Muslim communities near Yangon, and people around the country posted messages calling for peace and religious freedom on social media.

It is this clear example of tolerance and respect that we so desperately need today. Furthermore, it is these acts of solidarity – when religious leaders, government agencies, members of civil society, join in and join hands – which have the greatest reach and the most powerful impact.

Over the course of today we will be discussing all of the factors which threaten to tear us apart – terrorism, extremism, racial intolerance, discrimination.

Hate speech and intolerance are fuelling violence around the world, even in mainstream political spectrums.

We face a growing threat that is normalizing the language and terminology of exclusion and marginalization. Consequently, the vulnerable segments of society – religious and ethnic minorities, refugees – will continue to be attacked if we do not stand together.

The solutions we discuss here today must be global and inclusive. Allow me to offer a few initial suggestions to this end.

We need to coordinate a collective strategy in order to move forward – one which engages religious leaders in the policymaking process in order to find joint solutions to the problems we all face.

KAICIID seeks to bring religious leaders and political decision-makers together to develop and implement multilateral social cohesion building and conflict resolution initiatives.

We recognize that religious communities are in need of greater understanding of how to properly approach and engage with policymakers. We need to empower these leaders to share their knowledge and experience, and actively support policymakers who are working to overcome extremism and strengthen communities.

We can do this by creating mechanisms and safe spaces for their involvement.

Religious leaders are often the best informed of the violence and discrimination which people on the ground are facing. They also understand many of the social and economic issues which threaten their communities.

Many of these communities are already actively engaged in issues of economic injustice, sustainable development, clean water initiatives, providing access to education, women and youth empowerment.

This knowledge is often vital for governments and international organizations in order to coordinate an effective response.

Furthermore, we need to train religious communities to combat hate speech and recognize indicators of violence. By sensitizing religious communities to hate speech, we train them to protect each other and advocate for one another.

One of the ways by which KAICIID has done this is through social media training, helping religious leaders to amplify their messages of peace and mutual understanding.

We also need to loudly share stories of successful interfaith cooperation, like the story of the Buddhist monk. This creates a counter-narrative to destructive stereotypes, extremism, and incitement to violence and discrimination.

And we need these counter-narratives to be widely shared by religious leaders and government authorities at the highest levels.

We know that we cannot change people’s minds unless there is moral authority behind such a change.

In conclusion, I would like to say that it is these meetings that give me hope for the future of interfaith and inter-civilizational cooperation and for the future of our world.

However, our work and our conversations here today cannot be only symbolic, rather they need to be strategic. We must leave here today committed to real partnerships, real collaboration, real solutions.

Thank you.