Russia's Putin calls for interfaith dialogue to oppose extremism
Russian President Vladimir Putin called Monday for a broad dialogue between religions to ward off extremist tendencies that he said led to outbreaks of violence.
"We know well what a powerful uniting force religion can be, but we also see well what the self-styled 'missionary activity' of some extremist leaders, ideologists, who cynically use the believers' feelings, can lead to," Putin said at a religious summit Moscow.
"We see how thin the line is beyond which war and violence can unfold, bloodshed can start, and we must ensure that the broadest possible interfaith dialogue opposes this," he said.
Religious leaders from around the globe gathered in Moscow Monday for the first World Summit of Religious Leaders.
During his speech, Putin also warned that people had to understand the potential consequences of a clash of civilizations being imposed on the world.
With fighting in Iraq continuing and violence in the Middle East on the rise, many political scientists and commentators in Russia have suggested that a conflict between the Muslim and Christian worlds is a possibility.
But the Russian leader said, "A conflict of civilizations is being virtually imposed on the world, and it is necessary to understand what the consequences this confrontation might be."
He said attempts to split the Christian and Muslim world communities represented a new global threat.
A Russian Orthodox Church official said that the summit, convened on the initiative of the Interreligious Council of Russia (ICR), would give the leaders an opportunity to discuss their positions on the most important issues and later submit the results to a summit of leaders from Group of Eight industrialized nations in mid-July.
"The goal of the summit is to give religious leaders the opportunity to discuss their views on the most important problems of modern reality and present them to the Group of Eight," said Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, the head of the Moscow Patriarchate's External Church Relations Department.
The forum will focus on the fight against terrorism and extremism, xenophobia and racial intolerance, which will also be major issues when the G8 leaders meet in St. Petersburg.
"We have to find common ground on the issue of not accepting terrorism as a political means, reach a common conclusion and convey the message to our brethren," said Kharis Saubyanov, of the Council of Russia's Muftis.
Putin also said terrorist ideologues capitalized on religious ignorance, separatist and nationalist sentiment, and acute social problems.
"Ignorance of the fundamentals of religious history makes a man, particularly a young one, vulnerable to dangerous extremist movements," he said.
The president said that moral degradation in society was the root of xenophobia and race hate, and highlighted the role of spiritual leaders in helping people to distinguish between genuine faith and manipulation.
In opening the summit, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church called on all religious leaders to fight terrorism, xenophobia and moral degradation together.
"A single voice of all religious leaders, calling people to peace, truth and what is good, is so important for resolving the problems of modern times," Alexy II said.
He said violence, terror and other threats could be countered only where there is a spiritual basis, and when nations know their religious traditions well.
"The commonness of different religions' positions lies not in the sphere of dogmas, but in the sphere of morality," the Russian patriarch said.
He added that Russia had a long experience of followers of diverse faiths peacefully coexisting.
The ICR was founded in 1998 as an affiliated member of the World Conference of Religions for Peace and unites representatives of four major religions in Russia: Orthodox, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism.
The leaders of Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, France, Canada and Japan will gather in Russia's second city for the country's debut G8 summit on July 15-17.