The Spiritual Dimension in the Era of Globalisation

Speech delivered by President Franco Frattini

The Spiritual Dimension in the Era of Globalisation
Speech delivered by President Franco Frattini

Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honour and a pleasure for me to be speaking here today on a subject that is particularly close to my heart. A subject on which I believe it is worth opening a lively inter-cultural dialogue: the spiritual dimension in the era of globalisation.

• I speak to you today in the same spirit that has always inspired Italian foreign policy on these questions: the awareness that it is only through open debate and the dissemination of different points of view that we will be able first, to understand each other. Second, to appreciate the progress promoted by so many governments in this respect. And third, to abandon certain all too deeply-rooted stereotypes. This is not a question of delivering lessons, but of discussing questions that, for all those who truly care about global progress and stability, are of central importance in today’s world.

• We are living through a period of history marked by deep change and growing uncertainties. The end of the cold war increased our perception of insecurity, added to the range of actors on the multilateral stage and redefined the hierarchy of international power.

• A world as interconnected as ours is a world that calls upon each of us – states, citizens and organised groups in civil society – to become more engaged, to take on more responsibility to safeguard peace and harmonious co-existence. Each of us must necessarily have a direct interest in the well-being of the others, which in turn will have repercussions for the stability of each and every one of us. The contagion of crises now spreads very quickly, and these crises project their effects over a very broad range and with repercussions that can set off chain reactions.

• The recent economic-financial crisis demonstrated this all too clearly. But the destinies of our humanity are at stake, if we think of growing poverty and desperation, climate change and environment degradation, or conflict and post conflict situations, where too often the largest number of victims is represented by the poorer and the weaker, first of all women and children.

Ladies and gentlemen,
• In the international scenario I mentioned earlier, the peoples of the world are feeling a more intense need to reaffirm their cultural identities and to seek to become members of – and identify with – movements defined under rigid and exclusive criteria. The return, in many countries of the world, to traditional cultural customs, often in their most orthodox forms, seems to represent a shield against a modernisation that is wrongly perceived as being imposed by the West and stigmatised as being fraught with danger.

• Against this background, we are witnessing a new “protagonism” of the spiritual component, which has carved out a growing space for itself in today’s society but has in some cases taken on extremist forms. In the collective imagination the perception now prevails that the religious factor inspires conflicts, fundamentalist movements and tensions in so many regions of the world. On all sides, and for too long, people have been fanning the flame of hateful theories concerning the clash of religions and civilisations and between the West and Islam. Such theories offend both the truth and our fundamental values.

• How can it be possible that religious observance has grown to be the source of conflict par excellence? And what can we, together, do to once again build upon the enormous “positive” potential of the great religious traditions? These traditions are a key element in achieving a better knowledge and understanding of the world and its dynamics. They can and must once again play their part in the quest for peace. They can influence the way that leaders and peoples view these issues and encourage different forms of social organisation and cooperation. We are living at a time when it is urgent to mend the global fracture between, on the one hand, an open and tolerant conception of human co-existence and, on the other, totalitarian pressures that are reluctant to accept the diversity that is inherent to our world. That is why recourse to the spiritual dimension offers us an unrivalled instrument for dialogue and mutual understanding. At the international level, naturally, but also at the national level.

• All the Governments should battle on all fronts to defend freedom of religion, understood in its broadest sense as the right to profess a religion and manifest one’s faith in public. It is for us the heart of civil co-existence, the individual right par excellence. But it is also a guarantee of a society’s founding values since the religious dimension encompasses both the individual’s intimate relationship with God and the drive to create a community with others.

• Religious freedom is a cardinal principle of our civilisation, one that is sanctioned by the Italian Constitution. It is one of the founding principles of the European project and is reiterated by numerous international instruments that are the cornerstones of the international system for the protection of human rights. To mention just two: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 – which the Organisation of the Islamic Conference recently recognised as having the value of international customary law – and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966.

• It worries us to witness, so regularly, violent situations where this right is attacked. Cruel attacks on religious minorities, coercive practices against those not belonging to the faith of the majority, or more sophisticated forms of discrimination and marginalisation, on the cultural level and in participation in public, civil and political life. The Italian initiatives for religious freedom arose from the persecution and blood-stained events that have followed on one from the other. These episodes should be addressed and opposed, not least to foster a better understanding of the Islamic world and its presence in Europe.

• We are each of us called, therefore, to help prevent and avert all cases of intolerance through the only two tools that are truly effective: dialogue and multilateralism. It is the world of politics that is called upon first and foremost to do so. At the national level, it is the leaders who must provide solutions to the problems of multi-ethnic co-existence without losing sight of the sensibilities at stake. And at the international level, states have the task of working together with conviction in all those fora that have been created to foster dialogue, bring cultures closer together and ensure that the full weight of religion is brought to bear both in crisis prevention and in resolving conflicts. Conflicts and crises that today more than ever require a multi-dimensional response. But in the quest for a new social and inter-faith harmony we also place our trust in religious groups and leaders. Who more than they can lay the groundwork for a dialogue based on the deepest values of mankind and solidarity, values that are common to all religions? Who better than they can build on the potential of the spiritual dimension in the quest for international stability and sustainable development? Finally, co-existence is also a challenge for civil society, for students, for associations, for all of that closely-woven fabric that makes up society and has the power to influence policy and make its voice heard with true courage.

• I know I am speaking to men and women whose spiritual pathway is different from that of my own cultural tradition. But I do so in a spirit of great sincerity, in the hope that our views might coincide on certain fundamental principles. The first principle that I wish to underscore is that religion cannot be instrumentalised to justify violations or abuses of human rights, including the right of full religious freedom.

• We should all loudly proclaim that whoever kills or injuries a human being by naming God, commits the worst blasphemy!

• The second principle that I would like to leave with you to reflect upon is that co-existence – between peoples or between the citizens of any one country – must aim to develop a sense that we all belong to a society. And to humanity. No one, no matter where in the world, can kill or strike another human being in the name of God. Anyone who does so betrays the principles of their religion. Great religious traditions bear a message of peace and respect for others, not one of conflict and violence.

• I wish to entrust this message to you, being sure that you will continue to be inspired by those values of co-existence, dialogue and mutual understanding that are inherent to the religious dimension (of any religion). Only the triumph of these values will enable us to establish a truly democratic global society and guarantee and protect the peace and security of our world against all manifestations of extremism and fanaticism.