At the 2023 Warsaw Human Dimension Conference, the Baha’i International Community (BIC) emphasized the importance of freedom of conscience, religion, or belief, interreligious collaboration, and education in fostering a flourishing society. The conference, organized by the 2023 OSCE Chairpersonship and supported by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), focused on human rights and fundamental freedoms within the OSCE region.
Sina Varaei, a representative from the Brussels Office of the BIC, delivered a compelling statement highlighting key elements and lines of action. The BIC EU Office represents the worldwide Baha’i community to the European Institutions.
“The first point relates to freedom of conscience, religion or belief, and its importance to the flourishing of a society. Human beings are not only economic and social creatures, they are endowed with free will and it is through ensuring freedom of religion or belief that they can express their innate capacity to search for meaning and truth,” Varaei said.
He underscored the significance of interreligious endeavors, stating that it is crucial to go beyond merely coexisting and engaging in occasional dialogue. He asked, “How can we nurture deep bonds of friendship and cordial collaboration between religious communities?” Varaei stressed that these aspirations for more peaceful surroundings cannot be realized unless they are pursued jointly by faith communities.
Varaei also highlighted the power of narratives and the need to avoid “othering” parts of the population or specific religious groups. This “othering” can subtly affect language, tone, and attitudes adopted in policy-making. He pointed out that religious leaders have a powerful role but merely making condemnations or appeals for mutual tolerance is not enough.
“We need to think: what narratives are helpful, and which ones do not foster true friendship among different religious group? How can we move from repeatedly highlighting differences in doctrines, rituals or legal codes to gaining a deeper understanding of what unites different religions and aspirations?” he asked.
Finally, Varaei emphasized the role of education in promoting freedom of conscience. He called for efforts at the educational level to appreciate religious diversity as a wealth, engage with members of other beliefs with humility, and eradicate conceptions that can give the impression of superiority over other believers.
“In brief, educational systems must foster recognition that different religious communities have valuable insights to gain from each other,” he concluded.
Varaei’s presentation at the conference underscores the Baha’i International Community’s commitment to promoting interreligious dialogue, collaboration, and education as vital steps towards fostering a more peaceful and inclusive society.