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World Summit of (Some) Religious Leaders Discussed Terrorism, Morality

The “World Summit of Religious Leaders”, which concluded in Moscow yesterday, excluded one particular religious leader. Interfax reports:

Chinese State Administration for Religious Affairs Director Ye Xiaowen praised the organization of a World Summit of Religious Leaders taking place in Moscow and thanked the Russian government for its understanding on the issue of Dalai Lama XIV’s visit to Russia.

…The Chinese leadership was satisfied to learn that the Dalai Lama was denied entry to Russia to take part in the religious summit, Ye said. “The Dalai Lama is not only a religious figure but also a politician, who is engaged in dissident activities against his country,” he said.

The wretched Ye Xiaowen has featured on this blog previously, when I noted his part in the imprisonment of Cai Zhuohua, a Chinese house-church leader, for printing Bibles.

However, the Dalai Lama was not the only uninvited religious leader. Radio Liberty notes:

Pope Benedict XVI was not invited due to the ongoing conflict between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, which accuses the Catholics of proselytizing in Russia. This long-standing rivalry continues to block a papal visit to Russia.

The summit comes two weeks before a G8 meeting in Russia, and its purpose was to

tell the G8 that the “voice of religion” needs to be heeded in efforts to counter terrorism and end armed conflicts.

The event was organised by the Interreligious Council of Russia; Ecumenical News International provides further details:

Patriarch Alexei II of the Russian Orthodox Church, which initiated the summit, emphasised the role of morality in avoiding conflicts. Ayatollah Muhammad Ali Taskhiri of Iran praised Putin’s efforts for seeking common ground with Islam and stressed that Islam is a religion of peace.

Actually, this sets off alarm-bells; when Alexei pontificates on “morality” he has a tendency to mean “no homosexuals” and “no secularism”. In fact (as I noted back in January), these are pretty much the bases for Russian-Iranian interreligious dialogue. Suspicion is increased when we read a March interview with Russian Orthodox spokesman Vsevolod Chaplin about the summit. Chaplin said that a central concern would be discussion

…between people who are posing human rights as supreme value, and those who discern higher goals-morals, patriotism, faith and holy things.

In fact, in April the Orthodox Church held a council that criticised the mainstream European view of human rights on just these grounds:

During the Council, many of participants spoke negatively about many aspects of the Western concept of human rights, which includes protection for euthanasia, homosexuality and other alternative lifestyles. Their views were also included in the statement:

“We should not allow situations in which realizing human rights destroys faith and moral tradition, leads to insults against religious and national feelings, against respected sacred objects, puts the very existence of our country at risk. It is dangerous to “invent” the “rights” that legalize the lifestyles condemned by traditional morals and all historic religions.”

In addition to the criticism, the Council rolled out an ambitious plan for protecting “non-political” human rights – a plan obviously aimed at pushing the traditionally anti-government Russian human rights groups to the sidelines.

Other participants at the Moscow summit included

More than 200 religious leaders from several dozen countries…Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger…Cardinal Walter Kasper…World Council of Churches general secretary Samuel Kobia, Pope Shenouda of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church and the Grand Mufti of Syria, Baderddin Hassoun.

Despite the banning of the Dalai Lama, some leaders came with political concerns. Today.Az reported that Sheikulislam Allahshukur Pashazadeh will represent Azerbaijan in the event:

Pashazadeh will deliver a speech on Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan, separatism as well as renouncing aggression and inviolability of territorial integrity of states.

While there, he

will present Patriarch of All Russia Alexy II with the Sheikdom Order…in a private meeting with him.

That’s nice for Alexei, who is better known for handing out awards – to the likes of Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko, as I blogged here.

Returning to the interview with Chaplin, the spokesman explains why Russia is the best place for such a summit:

I hope the world is taking an interest in the Russian model of relations between religions. We have really achieved peaceful coexistence of the many religions, with the diverse lifestyles they demand, and with related judicial systems, which vary as widely. Thus, certain parts of the Russian Empire lived according to the Shari’a, and the adat was de facto governing Muslims even in the Soviet years. So, you see, Russia is able to incorporate many lifestyles and even different legal systems-a model that may prove useful worldwide.

Those on the sharp end of religious freedom issues in Russia – some of whom I’ve blogged about – may be inclined to disagree. But no doubt the summit will succeed in raising the global standing of Putin and Alexei; and if a side-effect is the marginalisation of Tibet’s most significant critic of the Chinese occupation, who’s to worry much about that?

UPDATE: More on the summit today.