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Humanitarians weigh in on challenges threatening world peace, coexistence

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The challenges facing humanity are “immense,” but solvable, with powerful political will, and the right moral compass, which is outlined in the document on human fraternity, Irina Bokova, the former and first female Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), told Al Arabiya English.

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On the International Day of Human Fraternity, members of the Abu Dhabi-based Higher Committee for Human Fraternity discussed the historic signing of the document which bore the day and how its contents can inform what governments, communities and people in positions of power can do to deal with recent issues threatening world peace.

Challenges facing human fraternity, threatening world peace

The world is currently facing numerous challenges; some that were brought on or even worsened by the pandemic, and others that came about due to more human factors.

According to Bokova, who is also a former Bulgarian parliamentarian, humanity as a collective is forced to deal with many challenges, including urbanization, climate change, the loss of biodiversity, stereotyping and extremism.

“Our human fraternity hinges on everything that we're facing,” 2011 Nobel Peace prize winner Leymah Gbowee told Al Arabiya English, echoing Bokova’s sentiment.

Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, poses with her award at the award ceremony in Oslo, December 10, 2011. (File photo: Reuters)
Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, poses with her award at the award ceremony in Oslo, December 10, 2011. (File photo: Reuters)

“If you're concerned about me, there's absolutely no way you will do things that will destroy our climate. If you're concerned about me or concerned about human fraternity, you will not treat women badly because they are… 51 percent of our world population. If you're concerned about me, there is absolutely no way you will give young people drugs and guns to go and fight,” added Gbowee.

Bokova said that the COVID-19 pandemic widened the gap of inequality and taught the world that “no nation is beyond reproach.”

The pressure on education systems during the pandemic only worsened the digital gap, she said, adding that an unfortunate consequence of this pressure on educational systems will drive more people into poverty, especially since less children are attending school.

“It’s immense! I think the challenges facing humanity are immense. Of course, they can be solved, with the political will of governments and others, but you need to have the right moral compass in order to do this. I think the document on human fraternity does exactly that,” declared Bokova, adding that the role of the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity is to strengthen this message.

Former United Nations cultural organization UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova of Bulgaria speaks during a debate in the United Nations General Assembly between candidates vying to be the next UN Secretary General at UN headquarters in Manhattan, New York, US, July 12, 2016. (File photo: Reuters)
Former United Nations cultural organization UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova of Bulgaria speaks during a debate in the United Nations General Assembly between candidates vying to be the next UN Secretary General at UN headquarters in Manhattan, New York, US, July 12, 2016. (File photo: Reuters)

“In some communities, there are many conditions that people are in that are suffering from poverty, hunger, women living with domestic abuse, lack of education, lack of safe drinking water. Just think about basic human needs and think about how many people in our world do not have no access to these things,” urged Gbowee.

Peaceful co-existence and interfaith harmony

The Document on Human Fraternity states that the two monotheistic religions share values of respect, human fraternity, equality and most of all, peaceful coexistence between different religions and cultures.

Achieving such a state in the world is no easy feat, and Gbowee told Al Arabiya English that she believes that “peace is not just the absence of war,” but the “presence of conditions that attribute importance to everyone.”

“Our role as religious people is to show that religion is not to cause war or violence. Religion is meant to bring peace and understanding. All religions have common values that we can build on. Despite our differences, we can be united on common human values by accepting that all of us come from one creator and one family,” Dr. Ioan Sauca, member of the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity, told Al Arabiya English.

“If you look at it from the perspective of the Abrahamic faith, it becomes clear that we are all sisters and brothers,” he added.

“Human fraternity for me is an answer to the signs of our time,” he stated, adding that he was very impressed with what the Document was promoting.

“It is promoting the values of what I just shared with you. We, as humans, acknowledge that we have different understandings of our religious faiths, but it is time [to set aside] our particularities in forming or restraining our beliefs. We have common values which bring us together… the values of human fraternity,” said Sauca.

“If you strip down and try to unpack what is our human fraternity, it is not just a religious document, it is a document about the state of the world that we find ourselves in,” said Gbowee.

“The Bible says ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Who's your neighbor? Not just those living next door to us. By virtue of the fact that we're breathing the air from the Divine, we should be able to interact in that way,” she added.

Religious leaders need to go back to the root of their guidance, said Gbowee, so they can begin to de-politicize what people have done to their teachings.

“Religion or religious leaders cannot achieve peace alone. Governments or political leaders cannot achieve peace alone. We have to cooperate by affirming our common values to create a society of cooperation and understanding,” Sauca told Al Arabiya English.

Dr Ioan Sauca, of the World Council of Chirces (WCC) and the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity. (Twitter)
Dr Ioan Sauca, of the World Council of Chirces (WCC) and the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity. (Twitter)

“If you analyze all of the wars that are happening in the world around us, it always starts from one group being upset that their needs are not being met,” affirmed Gbowee.

The importance of cultural heritage

Aside from giving people a sense of unity and belonging, cultural heritage allows people to better understand the world around them, to appreciate the evolution of society as a whole.

Bokova told Al Arabiya English that “there is no pure culture in the world,” because over the course of time, cultures have mingled and influenced each other, creating this “incredible diversity in the world today.”

One of the biggest threats facing the preservation of cultural heritage is conflict.

In times of conflict, extremist groups have tended to target several archaeological sites, places of worship, libraries and museums, in order to push their distorted vision through “cultural cleansing.” This has been the case in Iraq, Mali and Syria over the past decade.

“We have seen unfortunately how extremists can destroy heritage, heritage of humanity like in Syria, Iraq and Mali because they do not appreciate this type of diversity. On the contrary, they want to impose one vision, a vision of the world that is drastically different from what the document on human fraternity mentions or the convention on the protection of cultural heritage,” said Bokova.

“I’m very privileged to be a member of the advisory board of another fascinating project: AlUla. One of the extremely important projects which lies at the heart of the Vision 2030 of Saudi Arabia,” she said.

“I think AlUla expresses exactly what I’m talking about because it signifies a very long history about layers of different cultures, languages and inscriptions that required people to have crossed the Arab Peninsula, not just the Nabateans.”

What people can do to make the world a better place

“We call on young people to be ambassadors of human fraternity and to also provide the model and example in applying the principles of human fraternity,”Judge Mohamed AbdelSalam, Secretary-General of the Higher Committee, said.

Drawing from her experience throughout Liberia’s Second Civil War in 2003 and how she brought Christian and Muslim women together, Gbowee advised today’s youth who are looking to advocate for peace in their communities to find their passion and go for it.

“What I would say to young girls, in a nutshell, is find to that thing that makes you angry. If it gives you a lot of ideas in your anger, it means that's what you're supposed to work on,” Gbowee advised, adding that the number of likes on social media does not mean that an impact is being made.

“Sometimes the most impactful work that we do and share on social media gets the least likes.”

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