Vienna, 15 November 2005 - Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik delivered the opening address at the Islam conference "Islam in a Pluralistic World" today.
In her speech the Foreign Minister stressed that one of the aims of the conference was "to make a stand against simplification, prejudices and stereotyped enemies" and pointed out that Muslims throughout the world suffered from an unacceptable association of Islam with violence or even terrorism. "A handful of terrorists must not be allowed to distort the view of the reality of Muslim societies in the world," said the Foreign Minister.
Plassnik also warned against "representing terrorism as a product of a war between cultures and religions" and went on to caution against dangerous simplifications of this sensitive issue. The Foreign Minister called for a more considered use of words, stressing the unacceptability of questioning the right of others to exist.
Referring to the two main speakers of the day, the Presidents of Afghanistan and Iraq, Plassnik said that these two countries were both characterised by a strong Islamic tradition. The people there had suffered suppression and tyranny for many years. Today they were working with the active support of the entire international community to build up a democratic social order. They had conducted elections despite threats of violence and under the most difficult conditions and had developed constitutions that dealt with complex questions relevant to Islamic societies such as Islam as a source of law and the status of women.
Plassnik mentioned three central questions for the conference to consider today: how societies with Islamic traditions of differing degrees addressed the challenges of an increasingly pluralistic world; what could be done in Europe to promote the peaceful coexistence of Muslims and non-Muslims; and how universal values common to all people and cultures could be reconciled with specific national, regional and religious traditions.
Referring to the World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna in June 1993, the Foreign Minister said: "Our shared understanding of human rights is based on an idea of mankind recognised by all three major monotheistic religions. Christians, Jews and Muslims all believe in the uniqueness of the individual; they also share an awareness that dignity and the value of the individual cannot be determined by an external force, government or state authority but is derived directly from the individual’s very nature."
"The actual socio-cultural practice of religions is not always in line with their fundamental principles; this practice often exercises a much stronger influence on the general conception of religion than the underlying theological principles," said Plassnik. "Religious leaders therefore face a very concrete challenge of working against this schism between the spiritual basis and the way it is put into practice in society. By tackling this challenge they can thus contribute substantially to strengthening an integrative rather than an isolating identity," continued the Foreign Minister.
"The dialogue among cultures should therefore be more realistic, more ‘down to earth’ than it has been in the past. Theological debates do not always give us useful answers to the urgent and quite specific problems of coexistence on a daily basis. Suspicion and mistrust must not be allowed to eat their way deeper into our society and create invisible gaps or barriers between communities. We share responsibility for creating the framework for everyday life with the cultural diversity that exists in real life: in schools, in housing, in religious practice, through integration with the host country but also through communication of a community spirit and responsibility."
The closing statement of the Imam Conference in Graz in 2003 pointed the way in its rejection of all forms of fanaticism, extremism and fatalism, in its insistence on human rights as a central element of Islam, in its emphasis on loyalty to the constitution and the law, and in its upholding of the idea of pluralism as a principle ordained by God in the Islamic religion.
Quoting the great Austrian and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Bertha von Suttner, Plassnik stressed that only when the experience and insights of women were directly incorporated in the development and functioning of a society could this society respond to the needs of all its members.
"Peaceful coexistence in the pluralistic society of today’s global village requires new thinking, new sensitivity and a new active approach," said the Foreign Minister, calling for more open dialogue in daily life.
"We must set ambitious targets on our way towards this goal, with peaceful coexistence as the minimum standard, progressing to flourishing cohabitation and interaction, and finally in the long term to real cooperation in a common society and a common world," concluded Plassnik. "If I have one wish it is that our discussions give rise to as many stimuli as possible to enable us to go forward together and to help us to solve the very specific problems that we face."
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