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Live from Skoll World Forum 2015

With so much going on at the 2015 Skoll World Forum, it's impossible to participate in everything. Our bloggers are sitting in on many of the exciting sessions at this year's event. Read their concise notes and observations to catch up on important discussions you may have missed.


FORUM2015: No Peace Without Empathy

FORUM2015: No Peace Without Empathy

April 16, 2015 | 3760 views

THU, APRIL 16, 2015; 13:15 – 14:30

A packed session on the interrelationship of religion, geopolitics, and power surfaced a range of views on the best or even first actions to take in addressing conflict, exploitation and other wrongs perpetuated under the guise of religious belief.

There was no consensus on the correct tactics for addressing these issues; does it look more like the work of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, which supports initiatives in inter-religious dialogue? Or does it require convincing the world that capitalism is its own religious ideology? However, panelists and delegates alike overwhelmingly agreed that, as moderator Gemma Mortensen (Crisis Action) described it, any solution requires “treating humans as whole beings” rather than as quantities reducible to a simple ideology.

The theme of treating humans as both individual and whole was firmly woven into the discussion. Carne Ross (Independent Diplomat) enumerated many conflicts that are popularly described as religiously motivated, then explained their very local and political origins, arguing that it is profoundly important to look at the sometimes complex or hidden local causes of conflict, and to seek human solutions negotiated by real people.

Gidon Bromberg (Ecopeace Middle East) added that a “head in the sand” approach of avoiding engagement with religion allows populations to fall victim to “cheap politics” couched in religious belief.

“We have to stop the political politeness of not talking about religion around the table. … Goddammit, engage!” Furthermore, he said, we need to talk about values — and extreme values — and “whether they reflect where we want to get as a world.”

Citing her experience in fighting to end torture as an investigative tool, Karen Tse (International Bridges to Justice) described tensions in bringing together groups from ostensibly incompatible religious or political backgrounds, only to find that even something as simple as a common activity, like attending Buddhist temple together, could allow them to see one another as humans rather than representatives of ideologies.

Finally, Matthew Lawrence (Tony Blair Faith Foundation) reminded the room that secularism is the exception, not the norm, and we need narratives to counter religious umbrella narratives that are used to exploit young people today.

Treating individuals and situations with nuance means there is no single path forward from here — no “one size fits all” approach to fighting exploitation excused as a manifestation of religious belief. However, as one delegate concluded, “At the core of human rights is empathy, and if we don’t get closer to empathy, we won’t get closer to peace.”


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