The spirit vs. the bomb

More than politicians or any other public figures, religious leaders bear the onus of responsibility for tolerance in this world.

As a parliamentarian who represents a nation that has seen generations of internal divisions and persecution, combating hatred is something I firmly believe must be at the center of global concern.
Too much blood has been spilled to see this as anything less than an issue that demands attention at the highest levels and the greatest intensity.
Hatred of the other is nearly as old as humanity. In fact, it only took one generation of humankind before man took the life of fellow man. Since that time, countless millions have fallen by sword, bullet and untold other forms of extermination driven by bias, discrimination and hatred.
No one would be so naïve as to suggest a world without hate. The very nature of man is competitive and jealous of others to the extent that a certain degree of rivalry and anger will always exist. To combat human nature is an exercise in futility.
Yet alongside this natural-born hatred which will always exist, is a baseless hatred which, through common effort and understanding, can be significantly minimized, if not altogether eradicated. Baseless hatred is motivated not by reason or logic, nor by a sincere desire to succeed, but by an inexplicable will to remove another by force, often to the point of murder or genocide.
The classic examples in modern history of such baseless hatred were those practiced by Nazi Germany, by the Hutus in Rwanda, by the Serbs in Yugoslavia, among all too many other examples where lives were taken for no real reason other than the perverse desire to eradicate one’s fellow man.
The question, therefore, remains what can truly be done? Would any call to reason have swayed the Nazi racists to the point where the Holocaust could have been avoided? Could the Rwandan genocide have been prevented by a better-educated public? Simply put, can love and respect for one’s fellow man be taught on any significant scale?
I BELIEVE the answer is yes. To address this issue on the basic level, we know many examples of reformed haters – people who at one point were willing to enact the most virulent displays of evil, including murder, but eventually “saw the light” and became ambassadors for tolerance. While such behavioral transformations are not the norm, they do exist, proving hatred is a character trait that can be manipulated like any other; one is by no means genetically predisposed to racist tendencies.
With this understanding in mind, it behooves all of us who understand the dangers of hate to embrace proactive and innovative initiatives to educate the world that eliminating phenomena like anti- Semitism and xenophobia is indeed possible. Not everyone will agree, but I am convinced that the best place to begin is with religion.
There is no denying that more people have been inspired to hate others in the name of religion than by any other motivation. From the historic canards claiming that Jews murdered Jesus to the modern calls for jihad against the West in the name of Islam, countless lives have been lost by religiously inspired hatred.
Because it is rooted not in fact but in demagoguery, this is entirely baseless hatred. Religious leaders, therefore, need to reject all hatespeak and use their respective pulpits to denounce the actions and speech of those who hide their hatred behind faith. More than politicians or any other public figures, clerics bear the onus of responsibility to ensure that the world becomes a more tolerant place.
I call upon my fellow parliamentarians the world over to embrace this quest and to rally the support of religious leaders to speak out against hatred in the strongest terms possible. As powerful a role as our clerics have in spreading goodwill and spirituality, they similarly have the influence to stop the spread of evil. This is a goal which deserves the participation of all peoples of all backgrounds, wherever they might be found.
The writer, a member of Parliament and president of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, is chairing a major global gathering of 400 religious leaders in Kiev on Monday.