Religious Diplomacy

Photo Anwar Gargash Diplomatic Academy

From time immemorial, religion has shaped the world’s culture and civilization; this fact cannot be ignored in our globalized, multicultural, and multi-confessional world. However, human beings have always nurtured ambivalent relations with religion. As religion defines the relationship they cultivate with the sacred and is understood as a way of seeking – and sometimes finding – an answer to existential questions, it unleashes all kinds of passions. While they are considered a sign of tolerance and peaceful coexistence, religions are also sometimes invoked to justify the unacceptable. Since man is man, acts of violence committed in the name of, or because of, religion, are countless. Did not Cain shed the blood of his brother Abel because God preferred his offering?

Even if the religious fact constitutes above all a private affair, the State is not indifferent to it. For a long time, its relationship to religion was seen quantitatively. The degree of integration of the religious fact that States were aiming at did not prevent them to continue to maintain different sensitivities vis-à-vis the sacred. While some States have opted for secularization or neutrality, notably through the concept of laicity, others have made religion a structural component of their identity and of their institutional structure. Thus, States fluctuate between separation and fusion of politics and religion. Whichever model is chosen, one can only note the permanence of religion on the international scene and its profound impact on the State’s political, social, and cultural systems.

When religion is at stake, it is often a potential – or real – source of conflicts and instability, particularly through forms of radicalization that challenge social harmony. If religion can indeed be exploited by extremist groups and become a challenge for States which very often have to mobilize all available means to face threats from fanatics, it is first and foremost a remarkable instrument for reducing tensions and promoting of human dignity and fraternity.

By going beyond the framework of what is called classical diplomacy, by favoring moral rather than legal principles, religion can facilitate dialogue, even when it seems impossible. When political relations break down and diplomatic exchanges dwindle, religion constitutes this medium that mobilizes the common good in favor of a greater acceptance of others, thus contributing to the prevention and resolution of conflicts. Religions do not lack resources and instruments that can be put at the service of peace interventions. If religious diplomacy can be readily invoked when a State uses the religious fact in its foreign policy, faith-based diplomacy is appropriate when the action is carried out by religious representatives, private religious organizations, or congregations.

A few years back, Laurent Fabius, the then-French Minister of Foreign Affairs, observed that “the religious fact is today increasingly imposing itself on international life. Under these conditions, no foreign policy can do without the expertise of religions and of adequate diplomatic tools”. It follows that if religion can no longer be ignored, it has also to become part of the diplomat’s toolbox.

The diplomat will invoke the ethical foundations and moral precepts to convince his interlocutors of the merits and legitimacy of his approach. In the resolution of conflicts, he will thus be able to explore alternative ways than legal or other procedures which very often create oppositions. Recourse to religion, therefore, makes it possible to modify the traditional paradigms of dispute resolution by appealing to what religion is in its very essence, namely temperance, dialogue, equity, justice, and respect. These qualifications, which make religion first and foremost a virtue itself, will bring useful, and often necessary, encouragement to any peace process.

Almost naturally, religion positions itself at other levels. As a strategy at the service of public policies and a tool of influence, it is a component of soft power. The 2020 Abraham Accords, which are well known here in Abu Dhabi, are a perfect illustration of a remarkable undertaking to normalize relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel in the more global context of a hoped-for pacification of the Middle East by promoting interreligious and intercultural dialogue.

Without opposing it head-on to religious diplomacy, faith-based diplomacy, which depends on the credibility of those who practice it, also plays a commanding role in the development of a private para-diplomacy impacting civil and local societies.

Various actors sit at the wheel. First among them are religious dignitaries, as evidenced by the space opened up by the pontifical mediation between the FARC and the Colombian government in 2016. Then non-governmental organizations working towards international peace, such as the Community of Sant’Egidio, notably participated in the peace agreements in Mozambique in 1992. In the United Arab Emirates, The Muslim Council of Elders, an independent body issued from the Forum for the Promotion of Peace in Muslim Societies is well known, as well as the 2019 High Committee for Human Fraternity whose essential, if not existential, task is to promote the values of human brotherhood in communities around the world. International organizations such as the Alliance of Civilizations created under the Secretary General of the United Nations in 2005 are also active in the fight against religious fundamentalism through intercultural and interreligious cooperation and dialogue. Given the fundamental role of religion, it is to be hoped that its already prominent place in both the pacification of human relations and the development of a peaceful and tolerant global society can be further developed.



Citer ce billet
Maia Hamrouni (2022, 29 octobre). Religious Diplomacy. Regards intérieurs. Consulté le 27 mai 2024, à l’adresse https://doi.org/10.58079/tk2a

Maia Hamrouni

Professeure Assistante de Droit à la Sorbonne Université Abu Dhabi

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