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Faith-based universities have role to play in countering extremism

30 January 2017

“Violence can be defeated,” said Secretary-General Patricia Scotland today, as she backed university-led initiatives to build a more tolerant and peaceful Commonwealth of Nations.

The Secretary-General was addressing a new initiative by the Association of Commonwealth Universities to support higher education institutions with a strong faith mission to promote respect and understanding for all.

In her keynote speech at the seminar organised by the ACU at Liverpool Hope University in the UK, Secretary-General Scotland said there is “a special role” for faith-based universities and other institutions of learning in rejecting intolerance.

“Universities have such an important part to play,” she said. “In many parts of the world there have been great institutions of learning that have been shining examples of dialogue and inclusion.”

In her speech, the Secretary-General outlined how the Commonwealth Secretariat has sought to support public bodies, communities and governments in the global effort to build respect and understanding and eliminate violence.

She stressed the Commonwealth’s role in building “partnerships” – one of five ‘P’s which guide the Secretariat’s work, including “people, planet, prosperity and peace”.

“We need the widest and most inclusive alliances of government, international agencies, civil society organisations, private sector actors, legal bodies, educators, youth workers and healthcare professionals,” she said.

“Acting early to prevent violent extremism has to be one of our top priorities. There can be no greater responsibility than ensuring the safety and security of our citizens,” she said.

A new unit established at the Commonwealth Secretariat will strengthen national, regional and global action on countering violent extremism, she added.

“The new Commonwealth Countering Violent Extremism Unit will support our member states with devising and implementing their own national strategies for preventing radicalisation, and for strengthening their national human rights institutions and the rule of law.”

The Secretary-General also called for early interventions outside of education institutions aimed at preventing domestic violence. She said,“if there is not peace in the home, there cannot be peace in our world,  and to that end March will be dedicated to this theme as part of the 'A Peace building Commonwealth", which will be new Commonwealth theme starting in March 2017."

The Commonwealth of Nations is a community of more than 50 countries which encompasses all faiths. It is bound by a commitment to the Commonwealth Charter, which sets out core values such as a commitment to tolerance, respect and understanding.

The Commonwealth Secretariat, which the Secretary-General said aims to be “a fulcrum for action and beneficial change”, has for decades supported youth-led organisations to help young people address social exclusion, ethnic or religious prejudice.

In her speech, the Secretary-General noted that “the extreme edges of most religions too are really similar, and that is where anger, violence, intolerance and belief in superiority tend to grow and choke the good.

“But the centre of all of the great faiths are similar too, with a yearning for peace, a hunger for justice, with kindness, humility, selfless acts of charity, compassion, and love.”

She congratulated representatives of faith-based universities who are embracing diversity and challenging extremism, noting that they are being true to Mahatma Gandhi’s call “to be the change we wish to see in the world.”

Continuing to quote the Indian independence movement leader and rights advocate, she added, “There will be no lasting peace on earth unless we learn, not merely to tolerate, but even to respect other faiths as our own.”

A decade ago, in 2007, the Commonwealth Commission on Respect and Understanding, led by Nobel laureate Professor Amartya Sen, issued a landmark report calling for non-sectarian non-parochial education that expands rather than reduces the reach of understanding, and greater support to young people.

The theme chosen for Commonwealth Day 2017, which takes place on Monday 13 March, is ‘A Peace-building Commonwealth’. 

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