Different nations, a shared destiny (Part 3)

(Part 3 of 3)

*Remarks of Hon. Jose de Venecia – Former Speaker, Philippine House of Representatives; Founding Chairman and Chairman of Standing Committee, International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP); Co-Founder, Asian Parliamentary Assembly (APA); Chairman, International Association of Parliamentarians for Peace (IAPP); Special Envoy of the President to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and for Intercultural Dialogue at the ICAPP Special Conference on the Silk Road last February 1-4, 2018; Tehran, Iran.

Averting the ‘clash of civilizations’

As other pundits have spoken of the dangers of the “clash of civilizations” in our modern period, Iran’s then President Mohammad Khatami and other scholars introduced the more strategic, more pragmatic idea of a “dialogue among civilizations.”

One of the great fruits of dialogue was the nuclear accord of 2015 which provided Iran relief from the U.S., U.N., and multilateral sanctions on energy, financial, shipping and other sectors, for indeed no less than the International Atomic Energy Agency certified that Iran had complied with the Agreement.

While sanctions hurt Iran’s economy with the fall of crude oil exports from 2.5-million barrels per day to 1.1-million barrels by mid-2013, further compounded by the drastic fall in oil prices since early 2014, today Iran’s oil exports have returned to nearly pre-sanctions levels, and economic growth has grown to 7 percent in 2016, even spreading to the non-oil sectors, while Iran had regained access to some $115-billion in new hard currency. Major international aircraft manufacturers have sold new passenger aircraft to Iran’s commercial airlines.

We in ICAPP note that as Iran plays a critical role in the One Belt One Road (OBOR) Initiative, the theme of the Conference, even with the 2010-2016 sanctions, major Asian countries continued working with the Iran economy, and growth has began to broaden even to the non-oil sector.

Moreover, foreign direct investments in Iran under Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Rouhani have soared, growing five-fold to $12.2-billion in 2016. And major foreign investments of some $12.6-billion in petro-chemicals, methanol and LNG plants, are today programmed in Iran’s PARS Region for 2018-2020.

Sunni-Shiite Dialogue

Excellencies, friends: On the raging Sunni-Shiite issues and the extremist violence in the Arab world, and the emergence of ISIS-ISIL in the battlegrounds of Syria and Iraq and even Libya, one cannot discount the magnitude of the barriers that intense doctrinal separation has raised between the two great schools of Islam and the emergence today of the radical, violent Islamic extremists, ISIS-ISIL.

As we in ICAPP earlier advocated before in our letters to Saudi Arabia’s then King Abdullah and Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, it would be of great relief to our region and indeed the world, if the two leaders of Islam, Saudi Arabia, representing the Sunnis, and Iran, representing the Shiites, respectively, could perhaps meet in Mecca and Medina and bring about the beginnings of reconciliation and the end of violence in the lands of Islam, and head off decisively the expansion and internationalization of the extremist groups, ISIS-ISIL. We believe the initiative is most difficult but not impossible.

The bloody Catholic-Protestant conflicts in Europe that ran for centuries have long since ended, the latest achievement being the relatively recent “Good Friday” peace agreement that ended the brutal politico-religious Catholic-Protestant wars in Northern Ireland.

Revival of 6-Party Talks and Korean Unification

Today in Asia, we believe that the lingering conflict and potentially dangerous flashpoint in the Korean Peninsula with North Korea, now nuclear-armed and continuously testing improved nuclear weaponry, and perhaps possibly even missiles launched from submarines, could be resolved peacefully through diplomacy, cooperation and sustained bilateral and/or multilateral dialogue.

We urge the revival of the long-postponed Six-Party talks among the U.S., Russia, China, Japan, South Korea, and North Korea which would contribute to enhancing political stability and security not only in the Korean Peninsula but in the Asia Pacific region, and most importantly, hopefully lead to unite the two Koreas, forswear war, and together build a strong, united prosperous nation for the Korean peoples in the first decades of the 21st Century. Most difficult indeed but not impossible.

It had been done before in the case of the two Germanys and the two Vietnams. At some point, with God’s blessing, with strong, enlightened mutual will in sustained, sincere and patient even long-drawn-out negotiations, the inter-Korean family might perhaps emerge someday united in a unique, Federation under common inclusive leadership, and which could lead to a modern prosperous country in Northeast Asia.

In pursuit of lasting peace

Excellencies, friends: Today, we sadly note the most discouraging ongoing multiple crises in our region: the extremist violence and the wars in Iraq, Syria, although we have seen recent improvement, and new hostilities in Libya, the continuing violence in Afghanistan, the unresolved Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the unending Azerbaijan and Armenia conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, the continuing dangers and fear of explosion in the Korean Peninsula, the Buddhist and Muslim Rohingya difficulties in Myanmar, similar problems in Southern Thailand, the maritime tensions in the South China Sea and East China Sea, the Muslim and Communist insurgencies in the Philippines, and the other conflict areas in our region.

While we are deeply aware of the historical and cultural roots of many of those conflicts—and the enmity and bitter divisions that have grown between rivals—we cannot turn away from the pursuit of peace because the alternative, which is conflict and war, would be immeasurably costly and make all of us losers.

A dialogue for peace

In the pursuit of the campaign for peace is the latest heart-warming proposal of Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif for a dialogue for peace in the Middle East, by itself a facet of Iran’s great proposal in the recent past for a “Dialogue among Civilizations.”

Earlier, we spoke of a distant hope that someday, somehow in God’s own chosen time, the most difficult but not impossible Shiite-Sunni dialogue, with God’s benediction, may yet come to pass in our time.

There was also an episode in recent years when our and ICAPP’s esteemed friend, the late President Rafsanjani visited Saudi Arabia in 2010 and enjoyed positive relations with then Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz.

The late President Rafsanjani had expressed hopes that Iran and Saudi Arabia would have a close political and religious relationship. He said that “if the two countries are harmonized on regional issues and the Islamic world, seditionists will not be able to induce differences between Muslims.”

We are reminded of these moments in recent history as Iran’s Foreign Minister Zarif invokes the possibility of a revival of a dialogue for peace in the lands of Islam.

Understanding among the great civilizations

Excellencies, friends: On our part, we must say that we must strive relentlessly then to achieve the multicultural understanding which is the only basis for the long-term security of our Asian region and the global community.

For understanding among the great civilizations is the only basis for global peace that will endure.

Indeed, to this purpose we must mobilize mosques, churches, temples, synagogues—Buddhists, Hindus, Confucians, and Jews, no less than Christians and Muslims—as well as political parties and the whole of global civil society.

And if there are historical grudges that remain, let us bring them out into the open, indeed, into the blazing searchlight of public scrutiny, if you will—so that they may be threshed out by dialogue, reason and compromise.

We must create space for alternative faiths

A great Western president once said memorably that the 21st Century will be defined by a simple choice that the nations must make—whether to emphasize their ethnic, ideological, and religious differences or their common humanity.

But nations can never make the right choice, for as long as their peoples insist that “our faith must reign supreme”—since this claim can be affirmed only by the negation of all other faiths.

So we, the political parties in Asia, whether those of the left, the center, or the right must reinterpret our traditions to embrace pluralism in culture and in society.

We in ICAPP and in the international organizations represented in our conference must learn to create space for other systems and alternative faiths.

After all, every great religion arose from the same wellspring of faith—accepting, for its central belief, God’s direct and decisive intervention in human history—by revealing Himself to humankind.

Lastly, we must all accept that peace is much more than the absence of conflict.

And, Excellencies, friends, today here in Tehran, we must take to heart the simple truth that peace indeed is a community of sharing; that we all belong to “one great human family under God.”

Hon. Former Speaker of the House Jose de Venecia Jr.
Hon. Former Speaker of the House Jose de Venecia Jr.

Hon. Jose de Venecia, Jr. served as Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Philippines from 1992 to 1998 and from 2001 to 2008, and is Founding Chairman, International Conference of Asian Political Parties. During his distinguished career, Hon. De Venecia was instrumental in successfully securing a peace agreement with the secessionist Moro National Liberation Front in southern Philippines and in forging a ceasefire and a peace pact with the rebellious Armed Forces group, RAM-YOU. He also revived the imperiled and long-stalled peace process with the communist National Democratic Front-New People’s Army, and progressed peace talks with the residual fundamentalist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Mindanao. Hon. DeVenecia is a member of GPF’s Global Leadership Council.

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