Astana forum speakers call for ‘dialogue centers’ to promote peace

October 22. Central Asia Newswire

By Hal Foster

Astana forum speakers call for ‘dialogue centers’ to promote peaceTension between ethnic and religious groups is so pervasive that the world needs dialogue centers to help prevent differences from exploding into conflict, two speakers at the World Forum of Spiritual Culture said this week.

And Kazakhstan’s record of tolerance and harmony makes it a good choice to help lead the effort, according to Bawa Jain, secretary general of the World Council of Religious Leaders, and Jonathan Granoff, president of the Global Security Institute. Both organizations are based in New York.

Jain called for countries to establish dialogue centers at the national level.

Granoff proposed that the United Nations establish a center and spearhead an effort to set up centers at “the world’s great universities.”

Dialogue centers were one of several intriguing notions that surfaced during the forum’s three days of discussions on the importance of creating a more harmonious world.

Another was the assertion that democracy was crucial to promoting social justice.

Jain said he would like to see Kazakhstan, which convinced the United Nations to establish an international anti-nuclear-testing day, go before the world body with a call for national dialogue centers to defuse tension that could lead to conflict.

“I’m not calling (only) for religious dialogue” at the centers, he said – but dialogue on all issues that create tension, including political and economic.

One reason Kazakhstan would be an effective proponent of dialogue centers is that President Nursultan Nazarbayev has been “a great example of religious diplomacy,” Jain said.

What he meant by that, he said, is Nazarbayev has tried to bring people of faith together to make the world better.

Granoff said he believes the United Nations would be the best organization to lead a university-dialogue-centers initiative.

Such centers are necessary because lack of communication plays a role in so many conflicts, he said.

“At each center, interfaith and intercultural dialogue could take place on a regular basis,” Granoff said.

“The truth is that people can get along when they know each other.”

The centers would require few resources, he added, and would enhance the universities’ reputations.

A key to the creation of the centers, Granoff said, is for UN members with a tolerance-promoting pedigree to champion it.

That’s why Granoff said he floated the idea to Tolegen Mukhamedzhanov, the chair of the World Forum of Spiritual Culture. Mukhamedzhanov is a member of Kazakhstan’s Senate and a famed composer.

Kazakhstan would be a good choice to help lead a dialogue-centers campaign, Granoff said, because it has “something to offer – knowledge and successful experience and leadership” in multiculturalism.

The idea of establishing dialogue centers “is consistent with what they (Kazakhs) actually do,” he said.

Another thought-provoking notion besides dialogue centers that popped up at the forum was whether democracy is necessary for social justice.

Rupwate Premanand Damodar, president of India’s social justice movement Bahujan Sanskritik Kendra, contended it is a prerequisite. His country, the world’s largest democracy, has had 62 years’ experience with that political system.

A socially just order, Rupwate said, is one in which everyone feels he or she can pursue his dreams, earn a livelihood of his choice and “exercise all fundamental rights” with respect.

“Democracy is the strongest medium to bring about a social, political, economic and cultural revolution without shedding a single drop of blood,” Rupwate quoted an architect of India’s constitution, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, as saying.

A political system that is unable to provide this assurance fosters disarray, Rupwate said.

a “Violently assertive groups, political insurgencies, fundamentalism, vandalism, terrorism” are all products of a political system’s failure to ensure social justice, he contended.