ASTANA -- Extremism's hijacking of religion was the subject of a May 31 conference in Astana, "Religions against terrorism".
The Kazakhstani senate organised the event.
"For the first time ever, members of parliament, religious figures, leaders of international organisations and experts convened to discuss fighting terrorism," according to a statement from the senate.
The conference was part of a counter-terrorism strategy announced by Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev in his address to the UN General Assembly last September, the senate said in its statement.
"The threat of terrorism and ... extremism has become global in its scale," Nazarbayev said in his UN speech. "I propose establishing under the auspices of the UN a unified global network to counter international terrorism and extremism."
The challenges and consequences posed by the war in Iraq and Syria are no less relevant to Kazakhstan than they are to those war-torn countries' immediate neighbours, Yerzhan Ashikbayev, deputy Kazakhstani foreign minister, said in an article published in Kazakhstanskaya Pravada on the eve of the conference.
"The threats from the export of militants and of extremist ideology are universal," he wrote.
"True religion rejects extremism and terrorism," Kazakhstani senator Georgiy Kim said at an Astana news conference May 30. "It condemns the death of innocents and preaches tolerance ... Leaders of religious and political movements ... should communicate that truth to everyone, especially the younger generation."
High-level debates should produce results
The conference, unusually, took place in debate form. Participants voiced differing opinions on extremism and terrorism and ways to fight them.
"Terrorism knows no borders," Kazakhstani Senate Chairman Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said, reading Nursultan Nazarbayev's address to forum participants. "We need to increase joint efforts to find a suitable answer to this global threat."
No religion preaches terrorism, Amal Abdullah Juma Al Qubaisi, speaker of the UAE Federal National Council, said in her speech.
"Religions call on everyone to love one another and show mercy," she said. "Poverty, social inequality, a lack of education and wars are the primary causes of terrorism ... We need to fight them."
Kazakhstan finds itself in a dangerous neighbourhood, Sultan Akimbekov, director of the Almaty-based Institute of World Economy and Politics, said in his speech.
"Afghanistan is right by us," he said. "We can't ever let our guard down ... There were [terrorist acts in 1999 and 2004] in Uzbekistan. The [civil war] in Tajikistan in the 1990s had many forms."
OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Vice-President Christine Muttonen volunteered her own opinion on the matter.
"In many cases, diversity promotes economic growth and creativity," she said. "But it's possible only with mutual respect for cultures and opinions."
Defying terrorism and extremism
A joint statement at the conclusion by conferees expressed their findings on the need to fight terrorism.
"We strongly condemn terrorism and violent extremism in all their forms and manifestations," the conferees said in their statement.
The conferees denounced terrorism for "violat[ing] human rights and freedoms" and urged "states to redouble their efforts to engage with ... the younger generation".
Humanity can defeat terrorism by "strengthening dialogue and deepening mutual understanding ... as well as through building joint associations", the participants said.
They called for "good religious education" and "specialised training of religious leaders ... to confront the spread of terrorist and extremist ideologies".