The words were delivered in a matter of fact manner. The speakers were calm, rational, authentic and authoritative.
The information the two men shared was spine-chilling. Both were from the Central African Republic. One Christian, one Muslim, each committed to their faith and to the well-being of their faith communities.
Talking about violence, destruction of religious institutions, mass murder and lawlessness. But talking together.
The venue was the 5th World Peace Forum in Jakarta, an impressive event assembled by the huge Indonesian Muslim group Muhammadiyah, the Malaysian Cheng Ho Multicultural Trust and the Centre for Dialogue and Cooperation among Civilisations (CDCC).
Under the broad topic “Quest for Peace: Lessons of Conflict Resolutions”, delegates from 40 countries heard firsthand reports from Nigeria, Burma, Thailand, Philippines, Kosovo and Indonesia, as well as the Central African Republic, on experiences of inter-ethnic, inter-religious and other inter-communal conflicts.
Scholars based in the USA, Australia, UK, Japan and New Zealand sought to discern where results of contemporary research could help assist those who seek to resolve what could seem insolvable differences.
Journalists, religious leaders, diplomats and dedicated civil servants outlined challenges and what they felt was within the realms of possibility, given a far from ideal global situation regarding resources and international cooperation.
The presentations from Indonesia’s newly appointed Religious Affairs Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs were careful, considered and reflected the due seriousness they were giving to the gathering of Indonesian opinion leaders and their overseas interlocutors.
Indonesia’s Vice-President Jusuf Kalla was authoritative and passionate, managing to be informative, entertaining and inspiring in his presentation on inter-religious cooperation.
He urged Muslims to understand the benefits of understanding Judaism and working with Jewish people for the common good. As the only Jewish person present at an event in the world’s most populous Muslim majority country, I particularly appreciated the importance of this part of his speech, and his support for the Annual Jewish-Muslim “Twinning” Weekend.
The new Governor of Jakarta, who is both the first Christian and first ethnic Chinese person to occupy this crucial post, was another to emphasise the value of seeing beyond stereotypes and addressing challenges with creativity, energy and integrity.
To hear a discussion of the plight of Rohingya given by a Rohingya academic and Buddhist and Muslim Burmese intellectuals, with input from a Chinese Muslim leader, a Japanese academic and concerned individuals from around the globe, was an amazing, if depressing experience. So were the presentations by Christians and Muslims trying to bring communities together in African and Asian contexts.
Religious leaders reflected, honestly and frankly, on the way religion has been used to fuel conflict and as part of the cultural identity of people committing horrendous crimes (such as those associated with Islamic State), but also how religion motivates others to acts of bravery, kindness and compassion.
As well as having input in seminars dealing with the changes (good and bad) to inter-cultural understanding facilitated by on-line media, and on challenges to injustice using a religious template, I was the beneficiary of one of the underlying themes of the conference – talk with the other, don’t just talk about the other.
In addition to many conversations on Jewish perspectives on Israel, I was invited to discuss matters such as Kashrut, Sabbath observance, Jewish understanding of religious texts, how Judaism relates to Islam, Chistianity and Sikhism respectively, and the significance of my kippah.
There was a great deal of genuine interest – and a total absence of antagonism.
Australians are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of the relationship between this country and Indonesia.
The 5th World Peace Forum was an example of just how important that country already is in promoting an Islam engaged in the world and as a bridge between many cultures and civilisations, within Asia and beyond.