Militant ideologies are driving intolerance and instability, faith leaders at an Abu Dhabi summit warn

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Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, the UAE's Minister of Tolerance, opens the Human Fraternity Conference in Abu Dhabi on Sunday. (Twitter/Emirates Press Agency WAM)
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Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, the UAE's Minister of Tolerance, and representatives of different religious groups pose for a picture on the sidelines of the Human Fraternity Conference in Abu Dhabi on Sunday. (Twitter/Emirates Press Agency WAM)
Updated 04 February 2019

Militant ideologies are driving intolerance and instability, faith leaders at an Abu Dhabi summit warn

  • Religious leaders aired their concerns during the Human Fraternity Conference in Abu Dhabi before Pope Francis arrived
  • The conference was attended by members of Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic faiths

ABU DHABI: Religious leaders have a duty to help fight rising populism and intolerance, faith leaders said on Sunday. 

Rev. Andy Thompson, Anglican chaplain in Abu Dhabi, said it is time that the Abrahamic religions speak out against rising intolerance that sees extremists justify their actions in the name of religion.

“Like it or not, bad religion is creating intolerance,” he said.

Thompson was speaking on the sidelines of the Human Fraternity Conference in Abu Dhabi just hours before Pope Francis was due to arrive in the UAE on his historic visit, which coincides with the start of the country’s “Year of Tolerance.”

Religions must accept a level of responsibility for the acts of extremists, Thompson said. “I think there should be an ownership of responsibility on religious leaders,” he added.

“At the moment in the world of religion, there is a market of voices and the loudest ones are the negative ones,” he said.

“The vast majority of decent, ordinary, faithful people don’t buy into extremist ideology, but we’re silent and we can’t afford to be silent.”

“We’ve got to be able to speak up as a global community and say, ‘this doesn’t define our faith’,” he said.

Populist politics is on the rise worldwide, driven by fears over immigration, job losses and a slump in the global housing market.

There are fears of a return to the Cold War era, and the various conflicts across the Middle East show no sign of ending anytime soon.



UAE Minister of Tolerance Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al-Nahyan said it is “time to build bridges.”


He told Arab News: “We need to demolish all the walls between us, and we need to have dialogue. Of course, everyone has their differences, but our differences should be our strength.”

He said: “We should understand each other. We should deal with each other with human dignity and respect.”

The Human Fraternity Conference is being attended by members of Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic faiths, including Hindu and Buddhist representatives.

Asked what could be achieved at the conference, several religious leaders told Arab News that they accepted to a degree that they were preaching to the converted on the subject of tolerance.

But there was also a view that in sharing opinions and experiences, there could be a trickle-down effect.

Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, said children and young people are at risk of being influenced by populist messages.

“Even if we’re preaching to the converted, then a multitude of converted are ready to go to the world and not only preach, but work against extremism, against hatred of each other, against xenophobia, against anti-Semitism, against Islamophobia,” he said. 

Swami Brahmavirabas, of the Hindu faith, said the dialogue at the conference could be continued in other discussions between friends and colleagues, as well as world leaders.

The more they promote peace, the greater the chance that more people will carry the message, then “the people who are bad will by default become fewer and fewer,” he added.

Buddhist Nipurvhasim from Mexico agreed that while those who are the root cause of instability in the world are not at the conference, there is nonetheless a responsibility on people of
all faiths.

“We always have the obligation to work toward mutual understanding of all religions, beliefs and cultures,” he said.


Tel Aviv beaches fall foul in Israel’s passion for plastic

Updated 32 min 21 sec ago

Tel Aviv beaches fall foul in Israel’s passion for plastic

  • Despite the activities of environmental groups, Israel remains hooked on plastic

TEL AVIV: In the early morning, when the only sound on Tel Aviv beach is the waves, Yosef Salman and his team pick up plastic debris left by bathers or cast up by the sea.
Working in heat and humidity with large rakes, they scoop plastic cups, cigarette ends, empty sunscreen tubes and soiled babies’ nappies.
Also present, but impossible to separate from the sand, are microplastics, tiny particles of plastic debris that have been broken down by sun and salt.
“When it rains... you can see tons of plastic in the sand,” says Ariel Shay, of the Plastic Free Israel movement, which organizes volunteer beach cleanups.
Despite the activities of environmental groups, Israel remains hooked on plastic.
A June report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) ranked Tel Aviv’s coastline as the third most polluted by plastic waste in the Mediterranean, behind Barcelona and southern Turkey.
Valencia, Alexandria, Algiers and Marseille were listed in fourth to seventh places.
With around four million inhabitants, Tel Aviv is Israel’s most populous metropolitan area.
“Every time I go to the beach now, I spend my time cleaning — it’s horrible!” complains Shani Zylbersztejn, with an eye on her nine-month-old daughter, who plays with a plastic fork freshly dug from the sand.
In the upper-crust town of Herzliya, just north of Tel Aviv, Limor Gorelik, of the environmental protection NGO Zalul, patrols the sands, offering beachgoers bamboo cups and reusable bags in a bid to wean them from single-use plastics.
Gorelik blames Israel’s passion for plastic on a lack of education and on deeply ingrained habits, such as using disposable tableware for family picnics.
Observant Jews who want a beachfront lunch on Saturdays are forbidden from washing the dishes afterwards, because their faith bans them from working on the Sabbath.
“They’re not permitted to wash dishes so they use disposable plastic,” Gorelik says.
Even plastic waste dumped in the bins that dot the beaches can end up in the sea, carried by the wind or by birds which rip open garbage bags in search of food.
Independent researcher Galia Pasternak has analyzed coastal plastic pollution in Israel.
According to her data, 60 percent of the waste on the beach comes from the bathers themselves.
Some is also borne by currents from Gaza and Egypt in the south or from Lebanon further north.
In 2005, Israel’s environmental protection ministry launched a program offering local councils incentives for proven results in cleaning their beaches.
Subject to regular inspection, councils that meet requirements get funding, while failing authorities face cuts or even court, says Ran Amir, head of the environment ministry’s marine division.

Amir cites the case of the popular Palmahim beach, south of Tel Aviv.
Palmahim municipal council was taken to court and fined over the state of the beach — which has since become “one of the cleanest beaches in Israel today,” he says.
The ministry’s strategy in recent years has also included public service messages on radio and online, along with fines, recycling facilities and education, according to Amir.
“It think it has partially worked,” says Pasternak, who helped set up some of those programs.
Zalul’s Gorelik, however, says Israel is still trailing behind other countries.
She says charges introduced in supermarkets in 2017 for plastic bags — previously given away free — are too low, at just 0.10 Israeli shekels (0.02 euros/ $0.03) each.
“It’s not enough,” Gorelik says, adding that even this modest measure does not apply to small grocery stores.
She points to new European Union restrictions on single-use plastics.
“Europeans are the leaders on the subject,” she says.
“Here, we are very far away.”