Across the world, religious leaders and policymakers are wrestling with their responsibility to provide protection and build bridges between communities, following the violent attacks we’ve seen recently in Europe.

On Tuesday 1st of December, religious leaders, interfaith actors and policymakers from national and international organisations joined together in an online webinar, to discuss how religious leaders can combat violent extremism in Europe, with a particular focus on the recent terror events which took place in Austria and France. 

The European Council of Religious Leaders (ECRL)/Religions for Peace Europe, in partnership with KAICIID hosted the webinar “Prevention and Response: The Contribution of Religious Leaders to Counteracting Violent Extremism and Promoting Social Solidarity in Europe.” In the aftermath of a terror attack, religious leaders carry heavy responsibilities; not only as leaders of communities which need reassurance and protection, but also as intermediaries between groups and institutions among which relations may have been severely strained.

The webinar saw the European representatives, address how to respond in the immediate aftermath of an attack and the steps needed to prevent acts of violent extremism long-term. KAICIID Secretary General Faisal bin Muaammar said, “the webinar offered “a space for reflection, trust and sharing as we try to process these experiences, and our response to them.” And voiced his concern that, “The misuse of religion on the one hand, and the targeting of religious minorities on the other, have become a regrettable feature of our societies.” ECRL-RfP President, Reverend Dr. Thomas Wipf, stated that “Interreligious peace work begins with the religious communities”. He also spoke frankly about the responsibility of religious leaders to take action in such circumstances, “as religious communities we have a duty to do everything we can to avoid being abused and misused to justify any form of violence.” This requires an honest reflection on the part of religious leaders, he added, we need to “deal with our own mistakes and errors” and find ways to “support one another” to address common challenges.

Rabbi Schlomo Hofmeister, Community Rabbi of Vienna since 2008 and ECRL-RfP member, commended the solidarity shown by the people of Vienna, across religious boundaries in the days that followed the recent attack. “The challenge for society at large will be preserving that sentiment in the months and years to come.” He also condoned the abuse of Religion, “Any form of violence and terrorism committed in the name of religion, is not the repute of religion. This is the abuse of a religion by a political agenda. Sometimes it is socio-political, that manages to hijack prominent issues in society.” He went on to state that when these crimes take place, “We have a responsibility to react after the atrocities and be a partner to help these things from happening in the future.” Turning to prevention, Rabbi Hofmeister urged Religious Leaders to “Show courage and distance ourselves from polarising language and condemn it as a means of prevention,” he said.

ECRL-RfP member Imam Yahya Pallavicini spoke about the need for training, as a method of prevention, stating that, “We need to link between the diversity of religious communities and secular organisations. The training that KAICIID is doing for the new generations, is one method of preventing this happening in the future.”. The need for religious education in schools was also vehemently expressed by all speakers at the event, as this could be a crucial preventative method to stop these violent attacks from happening again.  The participants also spoke of how the language used when discussing these violent attacks are crucial. Prof Dr. Markus Ladstatter commented that: “Religious and secular leaders should avoid the trap of populist interpretations of attacks. They should be aware of the language used to deplore the attacks”.

British MP Rehman Chiishti echoed the words of Dr. Markus Ladstatter, urging that “we have to be careful with the wording as policymakers, to not perpetuate more hate.” Imam Pallavicini  considered the responsibility of religious leaders, to develop new dialogue skills and language to “bridge between believers, citizens, institutions, and politicians.”   The webinar featured many interesting contributions from: H.E. Faisal bin Muaammar, the founder and Secretary General of the International Dialogue Centre (KAICIID) in Vienna, as well as Mohammed Abu-Nimer (Senior Advisor, KAICIID). 

Speakers included Reverend. Dr. Thomas Wipf (ECRL-RfP), Imam Yahya Pallavicini (ECRL-RfP), Professor Dr. Regina Polak, a Practical Theology at the Catholic-Theological Faculty at the University of Vienna, His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel Adamakis of France (ECRL-RfP Member and Board Member of Kaiciid), Rehman Chishti, British Member of Parliament and former Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Rabbi Schlomo Hofmeister, the community Rabbi of Vienna (ECRL-RfP Member) and Professor Dr. Markus Ladstätter Professor at the Graz University of Education.  

The European Council of Religious Leaders- RfP was very pleased to partner with Kaiciid in this important dialogue.