UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed invoked Indian emperor Ashoka's message of harmonious relations between people of all religions as she underscored the importance of diversity and inclusion amid growing intolerance across the world.
She underscored the importance of pluralism at a time of attacks on places of worship and violence targeting minorities, refugees and anyone perceived to be different or "other".
"The tension between unity and pluralism, between the whole and its constituent parts, has been debated by thinkers and philosophers for thousands of years. Two millennia ago, the Indian emperor 'Ashoka the Great' called for harmonious relations between people of all religions and respect for each other's scriptures," Mohammed said in her remarks at the Global Centre for Pluralism in Lisbon on June 11.
Ashoka, also known as 'Ashoka the Great', was an Indian emperor of the Maurya Dynasty which who ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent from 268 BC to 232 BC.
There is still a long way to go before the world fulfils the promise of pluralism, she said.
The UN Deputy Secretary-General voiced concern over the growing intolerance and discrimination across countries, saying there is urgent need to fundamentally reorder the priorities and reorganise economic, political and social systems.
"We have created a world in which there is growing ethno-nationalism, intolerance, discrimination and violence targeting women, minorities, migrants, refugees and anyone perceived to be different or other," she said, adding civic space is shrinking; basic rights are under attack; activists and journalists are targeted; misinformation campaigns and hate speech spread like wildfire on social media.
"Hate is moving into the mainstream in many countries and regions liberal democracies and authoritarian states alike. Constitutions founded on pluralism and respect for difference are undermined as different groups and minorities are attacked," she said.
Mohammed also termed the "rising" attacks on places of worship as the "most egregious" example of lack of respect for each other and for the common humanity, citing the "horrific attacks" on mosques in New Zealand, churches in Sri Lanka and synagogues in the United States.
"Record numbers of people are on the move around the world, fleeing conflict, drought, poverty and lack of opportunity. At the same time, refugees and migrants are attacked both physically and rhetorically with false narratives that link them with terrorism and scapegoat them for many of society's ills," she said.
Mohammed also lamented that millions of women and girls face insecurity and violations of their human rights every day as violence is used to enforce patriarchy and gender inequality and police women's role in society.
"Excluding half our population not only affects our mothers, daughters and sisters; it affects every one of us and distorts our societies and economic systems," she said.
Mohammed stressed that there is need for a "fundamental reordering of our priorities and a reorganisation of our economic, political and social systems, if we are to reap the benefits of inclusion and save ourselves and our planet from further inhumanity and degradation".
She said that while the world's citizens may be living in troubled times, the news is not all bad and there is plenty of evidence that global efforts work, and that further damage to societies and the planet can be prevented and reversed.
Calling for a collective global effort to defeat the winds of intolerance, she said that the need for regional and global institutions is now even more and the international community needed to make the radical shift needed to achieve the 2030 Development Agenda "a shift in mindsets away from accumulation by a few and exclusion of the many, to a paradigm based in interdependence with each other, and with our environment.
A shift in policy solutions that are based on mutual gains rather than zero-sum thinking, and from a definition of security that is based on an ever-increasing stock of weapons and stronger borders, to one based on resilient societies and mutual respect for each other and our planet".
She said that an emphasis in the 2030 agenda on inclusion and interdependence, as well as a moral obligation to the most vulnerable members of society through the principle of "leaving no one behind" offers a counterweight to the forces that are leading to increased polarisation, tribalism and social fragmentation.
"They are a conscious effort to build and replenish the world's democratic infrastructure, our relationship and obligation to each other and social capital," Mohammed added.
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