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. Use Religion To Fight Terrorism Says Kazakhstan President

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev with Russian counterpart Vladmir Putin.
by Harbaksh Singh NANDA
UPI Correspondent
Astana (UPI) Kazakhstan, Sep 14, 2006
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who as a communist helped Soviet-era Moscow maintain control over his country, is now working toward eradicating the last vestiges of communism: by encouraging his countrymen to turn toward religion.

The state in the former USSR went out of its way to curb religious thoughts' in contrast the independent Kazakhstan is witnessing a mushroom growth of religious sites across the nation.

"Thousands of mosques have been built and many more will follow," Nazarbayev told reporters in Astana at the conclusion of the second Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions -- the first was held in September 2003.

Nazarbayev, one of the top leaders of the former communist USSR, is personally making efforts to introduce Kazakhs to world religions. But despite the growth of religious sites, not many people attend the congregations.

Driving from the airport to the downtown area of Kazakhstan's young capital Astana, the taxi driver pointed at the shining gold dome of a picturesque mosque and said not many people visit the shrine. "I hardly noticed any cars ever parked in the parking lot of the mosque," Zhaken Toulebayev said. "It's a pity."

A growing economy and abundant natural resources are not the only reasons Kazakhstan claims to be the best of the "Stans" among the former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Religious tolerance is one of the hallmarks of the nation that gained independence in 1991 following the collapse of Soviet Union.

Kazakhstan, world's ninth-largest country and home to just 15 million people, is almost evely split between Christian and Muslims. The country boasts of religious tolerance that has led to the peaceful coexistence of over 40 religions in the country. In a country where religious tendencies were suppressed for more than half a century, today Kazakhstan boasts more than 40 different faiths, and the number of people with peaceable religious convictions is steadily mounting. As testament to this, Kazakhstan welcomed Pope John Paul II in 2001.

Nazarbayev prides in himself in the multi-religious fabric of the country.

"We often say that representatives of more than 40 religions coexist peacefully in Kazakhstan. This is more than empty words. In the last 15 years there has not been a single case of a newspaper or television station harassing the followers of any particular faith. This is banned by our constitution. No one has been punished on the basis of religion over these years, and the explanation is simple: there is an overall atmosphere of tolerance and understanding of all faiths in our society," the president said at the inauguration of the religious conference.

The nation witnessed a state-sponsored two-day blitz which saw the leaders of 41 delegations representing Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Shinto, Taoism and Hinduism, as well as non-governmental organizations and politicians representing several governments assembled in Astana calling for an end to the misuse of religion to fight wars and conflicts.

As the world observed the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11, the Astana Congress debated a common Declaration on Religion, Society and International Security.

A declaration was adopted Wednesday that called for working "together to tackle and ultimately eliminate prejudice, ignorance and misrepresentation of other religions" as a contribution in the global fight against terrorism.

"These common views include the condemnation of terrorism on the basis "that justice can never be established through fear and bloodshed and that the use of such means is a violation and betrayal of any faith that appeals to human goodness and dialogue."

President Nazarbayev said the declaration capped five years of work following the terrorist attacks on New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. on Sept. 11.

In the face of global threats, the world has united in the goal of eradicating terrorism and confirming the values of humanism.

"An ideology of tolerance and dialogue must confront the ideology of terrorism," Nazarbayev told delegates at the conference. "The global nature of interfaith contradictions and religious dialogue allows us to think that (the) U.N. will declare one of the following years (the) International Year of Religious and Cultural Tolerance," he suggested.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization commended Nazarbayev for establishing a model of peaceful coexistence in the country, an outstanding example of peace and accord for other nations.

"I would like to complement his efforts, directed at consolidation of dialogue between religious communities in Kazakhstan," Koichiro Matsuura, UNESCO director general said at the conference.

The Chief Rabbi of Israel called for a greater role for religious leaders in resolving political crises.

"We -- as the leaders of religions -- should find a bridge of mutual understanding, a bridge to dialogue, in order to solve all conflicts by means of religious efforts, but not through diplomacy or politics," Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel Yona Metzger said at the Religious Congress.

Secretary-General of the World Muslim League, Abdallah Bin Abdul Muhsin At-Turki, said it was wrong to link terrorism with specific peoples or religions.

Kazakhstan is definitely opening up to the world religions and it has state's blessings.

Nazarbayev said: "We should endeavor best efforts in order to root out ideology of terrorism and maintain material values of humanism."

"It is very important that we contribute in countering terrorism with the ideology of tolerance. There hardly exists something in the world comparable to potential of religion," the former communist leader said.

Source: United Press International

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