1) I am delighted and privileged to address such a distinguished international gathering of religious scholars, community leaders, policy-makers, and experts in law, environment and international relations.
2) I am especially gratified to participate in an initiative which has its formal inauguration today in Malaysia, one which seeks to bring together the wisdom of the world’s religious and ethical traditions to bear upon two of the great challenges presently confronting humanity: peace and the environment.
3) Here we are dealing with enormously complex problems which go to the heart of the human future. How we handle them will help shape the destiny of each of our countries, indeed of our Planet Earth. These are global challenges in need of global responses. To equip ourselves for the task we need to summon every ounce of human insight. Where better to begin our search than in the reservoir of wisdom that the world’s religious and ethical traditions have accumulated over the centuries. It is here that we are likely to find a vast pool of insights and resources which can provide not only inspiration but also specific guidance for action.
4) The world’s faiths and cultural traditions, engaged in respectful dialogue with each other, can help us diagnose the profound ailments that currently afflict human society, and develop the necessary remedies. This is an undertaking that resonates deeply with the people and government of Malaysia. As a multicultural, multiethnic, multifaith society, Malaysia is especially mindful of the need to maintain peace and harmony in our social and political arrangements.
5) It is for this reason that upon assuming office as Prime Minister, I introduced the 1Malaysia concept, in line with the efforts of my predecessors to construct a cohesive and harmonious society. The concept has at its core a commitment for a paradigm shift in the state of community relations in Malaysia from passive tolerance of our differences to active celebration of our religious, ethnic and cultural diversity.
6) My Government is committed to upholding the moral values shared by Islam, Malaysia’s official religion, and all other religions. The truly religious ethic is one which calls us to be tolerant of difference, respectful of the diversity of cultures and religious beliefs and practices, sensitive to the needs of others, mindful of the necessity to resolve disputes by peaceful means, and attentive to the increasing vulnerability of our natural environment. There is no option but to rely on these values as we seek to build within Malaysia and in our external relations a common response to the complex stresses of modern life.
7) Malaysia is, of course, aware that cultural and religious difference has often been seen, especially in the post-September 11 scenario, as a source of tension in international relations.
8) We can but acknowledge that polarisation and violence continue to bring devastation to many nations and communities around the world. We equally acknowledge that at times, extremism, acting in the name of religion is implicated in such conflicts. From our perspective, however, the discourse of extremism, fanaticism and intolerance is not the authentic voice of religion. It is but a perversion of true religious values. Religion lives up to its noblest ideals when it brings to conflict and human suffering a deep sense of compassion, a profound commitment to justice, and sincere respect for the dignity of the human person.
9) There are a number of substantial international problems which urgently need to be addressed, and for the solution of which we can derive much strength and inspiration from religious teachings. You have no doubt addressed the ways and means by which the relevant religious and ethical wisdom can be harnessed to the service of humanity through its incorporation into international law.
10) Let me simply highlight a few principles to which the international community should over the coming years accord a higher normative, legal and organisational status than is currently the case:
a) Protection of the rights of future generations – all religions have a very strong perspective to offer on this question. International law and the UN system, including its many organs and agencies, are meant to embody universal principles. The wisdom of the world’s major religious and ethical traditions could substantially contribute to the strengthening of international law and international decision-making processes in this regard.
b) Trusteeship of our environmental inheritance. Most of the world’s religious traditions view humanity as being in a position of trusteeship towards the natural environment and not in a position of dominance. Humans are said to be accountable for their trusteeship and likely to suffer adverse consequences should they default on their obligations as trustees of the planet’s riches.
c) The ‘good neighbour principle’, as taught by all religions, is violated by the way in which, for example, nuclear weapons cause damage which cannot be contained within the boundaries of the states by or against whom they are used. This is clearly a violation of all religious teachings, and our international legal and political institutions must somehow embody the principle that whatever our quarrels, we cannot resolve them in a manner that threatens to destroy all that is valuable, including humanity itself.
d) Ecologically sustainable development – here again religion teaches us that while it is important for us to use our environment and its resources to advance the basics needs of human beings, we must not do so at the risk of causing irreparable damage to the biosphere. Economic development is important, not least for the developing world where many still live in abject poverty. But such development needs to proceed within a sustainable framework. All human communities have a role to play in this, and none more so that those who have already achieved high levels of industrialization, energy consumption and material affluence.
e) The peaceful settlement of disputes – for all religions peace and peace making are central to their ethical systems. Yet our international relations still continue on the basis that force rather than negotiation and peaceful settlement of disputes is the appropriate form of conflict resolution. This trend needs to be reversed. The time has come to consider important next steps that need to be taken if we are to see the progressive elimination of war as an instrument of policy, and an end to mass atrocities. Religious wisdom offers a rich reservoir of principles and rules of conduct that can be productively applied for this purpose.
11) One could go on at length on various principles, which have already gained widespread acceptance: in particular ‘the dignity of every person’, the unity of the human family, the equitable sharing of resources and the interconnectedness of all living things in nature. Religious wisdom, religious education, religious practice, and religious institutions more generally could bring a crucial source of support and legitimation.
12. International law needs to be strengthened in highly specific and concrete ways. But so do international organisations. A new life and sense of urgency needs to be instilled into their everyday operation. They need to be invested with the necessary authority to give voice and effect to these principles. Religious wisdom can help us not only with the necessary concepts and priorities, but also with the means for their practical implementation through the creation of appropriate educational processes and initiatives bearing upon all spheres of society.
13. People of religious faith have one other important responsibility: they cannot allow differences in religious beliefs or practices to serve as justification, as they have often done in the past, for reciprocal mistrust, antagonism and discrimination. Religions in their dealings with one another must approach the task with mutual respect and in a spirit of cooperation.
14. Let me conclude by saying that this is a pioneering initiative that will, I hope, bring these various threads together, and in so doing open up previously unimagined possibilities. Your deliberations are therefore of the greatest importance to our common future.
15. Clearly, in devising responses that are equal to the task we need to think ‘big’ and think anew. In calling upon the shared wisdom of the world’s religions and cultures, we will be better able to move beyond the present conventional wisdom. Your imaginative project and this International consultation can make an important contribution along the journey. My Government and I propose to study closely the proposals and recommendations arising from your deliberations which will conclude tomorrow. Malaysia will be particularly interested to explore what ideas and practical initiatives may be brought to the attention of appropriate regional and global forums.
16. Malaysia has for many years played an active and constructive role in promoting dialogue and action through such institutions as ASEAN, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organisation of Islamic Conference and more importantly the United Nations. We are prepared to explore in consultation with others the positive steps which these and other multilateral organisations can take to advance the priorities that you have set yourselves.
17. I greatly look forward to receiving the results of your consultation and to exploring through appropriate government channels ways in which we can facilitate the programme of work that you have deliberated upon and formulated.
18. I hope and trust that your noble endeavours will in the coming years bear fruit and gain the support which they richly deserve.