There is consensus amongst many regional peace builders in the Middle East that the increase in incidents of violence and destruction are directly linked to the advocacy of religious hatred. Indeed, the growth of religious hatred has reached what many civil society organizations in the Middle East perceive to constitute unprecedented levels. There is particular concern that the growth of “terrorism”, mass atrocities, violence and hate crimes may be linked to incitement speech. There is anecdotal evidence directly linking incidents of mass violence and violence (including harming, killings, attacks against places of worship) with religious speeches inciting hatred, including religious messages disseminated through the Media and Social Media, in places of education and worship by religious leaders. While national authorities and governments carry the primary responsibility to sustain peace and to respond to and prevent violence and violations of the right to life, and to respect and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms , there is a strong argument that religious leaders and religious messages are essential to encourage peace, constructive dialogue and non-violence. The Middle East region has also been witnessing systematic restrictions on freedom of religion and freedom of expression which have negatively impacted the potential of empowering religious leaders and faith based organizations in promoting peace and countering violence and religious base discrimination.
This essay will attempts to indentify some of challenges facing non-state religious leaders in peacebuilding and highlight areas of improvement in the work of religious peacemakers.
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