The Words of the Haider Family
Vienna, Austria -- Two young musicians greeted the audience with the language of music, which can be understood beyond culture and nationality, as they arrived for a December 8 conference on "Inter-religious Dialogue: The Role of the United Nations and Peace in the 21st Century."
The initial speaker of the first session was Dr. Walther Lichem, a former Austrian Ambassador to Canada and other countries. During all his life as a career diplomat he was involved with UN projects. He also was part of a small group of leaders who attended a conference in Vienna in the late 1990s which led to the formation of the UN Alliance of Civilizations as an answer by concerned world leaders such as the former president of Iran, Sayyid Mohammad Khatami, a Persian scholar, philosopher, Shiite theologian and Reformist politician, to what some scholars formulated as the "Clash of Civilizations."
In his speech he talked not only about how different cultures can cooperate but how every citizen should learn to deal with people who are different in general, even if they belong to the same culture. He introduced the term "otherness" in order to describe his thoughts. He explained the founding and basic principles of the Alliance of Civilizations. There have been already four International Forums of the Alliance of Civilizations, one was just starting in Doha, and the next is going to take place in 2014 in Vienna. The organization has been steadily growing during the ten years of its existence. Its achievements are overcoming prejudices between cultures and religions, especially between Muslims and Christians.
The second speaker was Dr. Ulrike Kraus, a Sinologist and lawyer who has done extensive cultural research in China. She gave an overview of China's religious epochs: Daoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. She explained also that today's China is supporting Confucianism again, because its leaders realized that they need a cultural identity which is acceptable to its own people and to the world, and Confucianism can fulfill this role.
Then Dr. Elsayed Elshahed, head of the Center for Intercultural Islamic Research in Vienna, spoke about the "The Role of Islam in the Egyptian Revolution." His main argument was that we have to redefine the relationship between state and religion: "We have to come to a synthesis, because secularism has become like a religion. What happened in the Egyptian revolution was the beginning of a synthesis," he stated. Politics have to be guided by religion again, but without creating an authoritarian system like the one in Iran or in Saudi Arabia.
He was followed by Mr. Paul Ettl, founder of the Peace Academy in Linz, Upper Austria. In preparation for the conference he put on the side wall of the conference venue 12 posters explaining the world religions and their basic ethical rules. Mr. Ettl reported about a conference on "World Religions – World Peace – World Ethic" which he had attended.
The coffee break gave the audience also a chance to have a closer look at the posters, which were created by the organization "Project World Ethic" founded by the Swiss Theologian Hans Kueng in the early 1990s in preparation for the 100th anniversary of the Parliament of the World's Religions.
During the second session of the conference, Mr. Peter Jurkowitsch reflected on his journey to Burma/Myanmar last summer which for him was a pilgrimage. Mr. Jurkowitsch has been the president of the Austrian-Indian Society for 20 years, and since his retirement he is organizing a Kyudo practice, a Zen Buddhist meditational archery. In Myanmar, the "Land of the 10,000 pagodas," he observed that people's daily life seems to be in accord with their religion, Buddhism. Especially during full moon nights, people stream to the pagodas and pray, recite their holy texts, sing, dance, eat, and celebrate there. He said he also experienced friendliness and acceptance wherever he went.
Then Mrs. Claudia Henzler, a photo artist and journalist, reported about the World Day of Prayer for Peace 2011 in Assisi, Italy. This meeting took place just a few weeks earlier, following a tradition started 25 years ago by Pope John Paul VI.
Dr. Leo Gabriel, a social anthropologist and journalist as well as peace activist, had participated in an international conference in New York in 2010 where Rev. Moon reiterated his suggestion for an inter-religious council at the UN. Dr. Gabriel raised the question of how to find a new synthesis between state and religion. He sees the solution in a movement where religions help to overcome national and cultural boundaries.
Finally, Mr. Peter Haider introduced the "Interfaith Harmony Week" which was established as an official UN project in 2010 to be commemorated by organizing prayer meeting, conferences, and other projects during the first week of February each year.
A buffet with food from different nations concluded the conference.