The five-day Asia-Pacific interfaith dialogue forum held in Semarang, Central Java, was officially closed on Thursday, having produced an agreement dubbed the Semarang Plan of Action, which underlines the urgent need for participating countries to take concrete action to solve issues of tolerance and pluralism.
The plan of action basically highlights the common views shared by the 13 participating countries within the Asia-Pacific region on five aspects, namely the involvement of leaders of religious communities, civil society, youth, education and media and communication in the dialogue process.
“We do not specifically give recommendations for government policies, but as a result of the shared common views we came up with, the plan of action’s implementation will differ from one country to another,” Indonesian delegate Elga Joan Sarapung said on the sidelines of the closing ceremony, Thursday.
The forum, according to Elga, shared the common view that a greater involvement of religious leaders would significantly help promote tolerance among their respective communities.
“They [the religious leaders] are considered to have the potential to create mutual understanding within their respective communities but as well are seen as capable of provoking their own groups to commit acts of destruction and intolerance,” said Elga, who is also the director of the Institute for Interfaith Dialogue in Indonesia (Interfidei).
Academician Todd Nachowitz of the University of Waikato in New Zealand concurred, saying that involving religious leaders in the dialogue process would make them leave their comfort zone and go out to interact with their fellows from other religions.
“Dialogues facilitate us to interact and to learn from one another. These are important experiences that will help us develop mutual understanding among our communities,” Nachowitz said.
Separately, Filipino activist Fatmawati Salafuddin highlighted the role of civil society, saying that they were the ones that directly felt the friction between different religious societies. As such, it is important to give civil society a bigger role to create and maintain religious tolerance.
“We look forward to having wider participation from the civil society in the implementation of the result of the dialogue,” she said.
The Semarang Plan of Action is also expected to be able to help youths contribute a great deal in the creation of peace among different religious communities. The same bigger role was also expected of the media, especially with regards to its capability of either provoking a conflict or participating in a conflict resolution process.
Education similarly is also seen by the plan of action as equally important in the creation of a more peaceful generation.
Australian Dilip G. Chirmuley, who is also an academic, called on teachers in the region to teach their students about the positive side of tolerance and plant in them the importance of upholding peace in all aspects of life.