Sunday 23 June 2019

International Conference on Cohesive Societies, 19 - 21 June 2019

Need to nurture, expand our common spaces: DPM Heng Swee Keat
Fault lines are growing but global community must work together to combat them, he says
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 22 Jun 2019

Building an inclusive, cohesive society is always a work in progress, both in Singapore and the wider world, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

This is why leaders and others must come together to learn from one another, share best practices and tackle common challenges, he added at the close of the three-day inaugural International Conference on Cohesive Societies.

Pointing to today's global challenges, he said unprecedented levels of trade, technological advancement and migration have combined in a way that has not worked for some, fuelling tension and conflict.

Fault lines have deepened, made worse by the ease with which falsehoods and extremist ideas proliferate online and are exploited.

"Increasingly, nationalism and intolerance are displacing openness and harmony," he added.

He cited supremacist hate groups and rising hostility to minorities generating a vicious circle of conflict, a factor which led President Halimah Yacob to suggest the event to discuss ways to deepen harmony in and across societies grappling with diversity.

Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, said common challenges can be tackled well only if the global community works together, stressing that mutual trust and respect, as well as deeper understanding and harmony, are the foundations on which such efforts must be based.

"To combat extremist and intolerant views, we must work together to create an ever widening ripple of understanding, trust and respect," he said. "Just as each society achieves more together than as disparate individuals, the global community achieves more together when all societies can pursue common goals and tackle common challenges."

Mr Heng added that every society will need to find its own path to cohesion, shaped by its history, context, culture and demands.

He pointed out that throughout human history, many societies that embraced their diversity thrived - like the Malacca Sultanate in the 15th century, whose inhabitants came from all over, bringing with them their unique religious beliefs, intermarrying and exchanging cultures.

As for Singapore, he said, it is becoming more diverse, and this means its common spaces will "be harder to maintain, and must be deliberately nurtured and expanded".

"As our racial and religious demographics shift, so too must our approach to building bridges and encouraging discourse," he added.

Mr Heng noted there are now more interfaith families in Singapore - an opportunity to deepen mutual understanding.

Also, 22 per cent of marriages are between people of different ethnic groups, and nearly 20 per cent of Singaporeans do not identify with a religion. He said: "We must learn to include their perspectives in our discourses."

He also outlined Singapore's approach to deepen cohesion.

First, it expands common spaces and shared experiences, while preserving racial and religious diversity. Next, it is vigilant to guard against forces that can tear society apart, including establishing institutional structures that prevent groups or individuals from exploiting racial and religious fault lines.

Lastly, the Government works to provide Singaporeans with better lives and to ensure all share in the fruits of progress.

"In growing our economy, we put a special focus on creating good jobs for all Singaporeans, regardless of which community they belong to," he said.

"Some workers have benefited more from this growth than others. This is why we continue to work hard to address social inequality, to better distribute the fruits of growth."

Heng Swee Keat recounts own experience to illustrate nation's precious harmony
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 22 Jun 2019

After Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat recovered from a stroke three years ago, various religious leaders came up to him at an inter-faith event to tell him that they had prayed for him to get well.

That they had done so, "regardless of race, language or religion", illustrates the state of religious harmony in Singapore, Mr Heng said as he recounted his experience at the inaugural International Conference on Cohesive Societies yesterday.

"I was so touched. This is something so precious in Singapore that we should really cherish, uphold and strengthen," he added on the last day of the three-day event at the Raffles City Convention Centre.

"I am very glad that our religious leaders have been so committed all these years to promoting inter-racial, inter-faith harmony."

Mr Heng was speaking at a dialogue moderated by Ambassador Ong Keng Yong, who is also executive deputy chairman of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

Harmony, said Mr Heng, depends upon people of different faiths, races and languages believing in diversity being a good thing, and recognising their shared humanity.

He added that the Government and religious and community leaders all have an important role to play in protecting Singapore's racial and religious harmony, as do all Singaporeans.

Elaborating on the Government's role, he said it had taken to task foreign religious leaders who had come to Singapore to preach without understanding the religious context here, and made remarks about starting a crusade or undertaking armed jihad.

He added that the Government had also plugged a gap in the law with the passage of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act to prevent the spread of fake news which has been used around the world to stir tensions between different religious groups.

Reiterating his call for people to join the Government in building a democracy of deeds, he said that when it comes to religious harmony, there are many things Singaporeans can do on their own.

He cited the example of a Muslim resident from his Tampines GRC constituency who cooks for her neighbours every Hari Raya.

The woman, who used to run a restaurant but is now retired, would hold an open house for all the people in the neighbourhood.

Likewise, said Mr Heng, young people can do their part to promote religious harmony by taking a stand against intolerant and extremist views and speaking out online against derogatory remarks about other races and religions.

People can also promote dialogue and understanding by interacting with those of another faith and coming together to do volunteer work, he added.

"So, we are not just waiting for a religious leader or government leader or the CEO of our company to tell us that we should promote racial and religious harmony.

"It is for each and every one of us to do our part," he said.

Mr Heng said major forces that are shaping societies all over the world will also have an impact on Singapore.

He said that there are two things Singapore can do, given this global context.

First, it is important for Singaporeans to "stay cohesive and stay together as one community" by emphasising what they have in common, instead of accentuating their differences.

Second, Singapore, though a small country, can do its part in the world.

"By our own success, we hope that we can offer useful platforms for discussions with other leaders from around the world," he added.

"And I hope that through this conference, you all continue to build a community that believes deeply in harmony, that believes deeply in treating all people, regardless of race, language, religions or beliefs, as equals, and that we build trust and understanding within Singapore and across the world."

Inter-faith studies can boost cohesion, say experts
By Adrian Lim, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 22 Jun 2019

Having a religious studies curriculum in schools can bolster social cohesion by helping young people develop a positive outlook of those from other faiths, experts said at an inter-faith conference in Singapore yesterday.

Such programmes - which teach students about the major world religions and their worldviews - can also cultivate the ability to have meaningful conversations and relationships with those from other faiths, they added.

Education was a central theme at the third and final plenary session - titled How We Come Together (Cohesion) - of the International Conference on Cohesive Societies, which wrapped up yesterday.

The three-day inaugural event brought together around 1,000 academics, officials and members of religious and civil society groups from close to 40 countries to discuss issues surrounding faith, identity and cohesion.

While the experts at yesterday's plenary session agreed on the importance of education in strengthening social cohesion, they were mindful of the views that national or state governments may have towards implementing a religious study curriculum into the secular school system.

Dr Anna Halafoff, a United Nations Alliance of Civilisations' global expert in religion and peace-building, cited the Australian state of Victoria as an example.

She said that it was only in 2015 that learning about religions and worldviews was included in the state curriculum.

"So, I think many secular states are coming to terms with the fact that you can have unbiased and critical social-scientific education about diverse worldviews within secular education systems in order to increase religious literacy," said Dr Halafoff, who is from Deakin University in Victoria.

She said that a recent national study in Australia of young people and their attitudes towards religion found that those who underwent programmes about religions and worldviews had more positive attitudes towards religious minorities.

Professor Lai Pan Chiu of the Chinese University of Hong Kong's faculty of arts said that governments need to be convinced that inter-faith education is good for the students' moral and spiritual development, and ultimately for society.

"Ignorance is the hotbed of hostility (and) distrust... and it is not good for the cultivation of racial and inter-religious harmony," Prof Lai said.

He said that in Hong Kong, students in religious schools focus on studying their own faiths from Form 1 to 3 (12 to 15 years old), but can take on an inter-religious course called Ethics and Religion Studies from Form 4 to 6 (16 to 18 years old).

Among various aims, the course helps them acquire knowledge of the religion they study and other major faiths, and also on how to make rational and informed judgment about religious and moral issues, said Prof Lai.

Inter-religious studies help raise students' cultural awareness, making them realise that they have always been seeing things from a particular tradition or position.

This contributes to a humble and open-minded attitude towards others, he added.

Bishop Emeritus Dr Wee Boon Hup, a member of Singapore's Presidential Council for Religious Harmony, said education goes beyond the information communicated in the classroom.

"Eventually, in the long run, you need to have that face-to-face encounter, develop that relationship with someone from the other religion, or other faith, or other race," said Dr Wee.

Dr Ali Al Nuaimi, chairman of the World Council of Muslim Communities, said: "We need to invest in education, where we will show the common values that bring us together, that we share as humanity, to our kids."

President Halimah Yacob hopes pledge on religious harmony will have multiplier effect
By Rahimah Rashith, The Straits Times, 21 Jun 2019

This week's commitment by more than 250 religious organisations in Singapore to safeguard religious harmony is an important document to reinforce social cohesion here, President Halimah Yacob has said.

And she hopes it will reinforce peace and harmony beyond religious settings, including in schools and workplaces.

"It is not just a general statement, but it is quite specific as to what they want to achieve with their own religious communities," she said.

"But it is not confined to just the religious communities. This is a commitment that can be used in different settings, such as community settings. It can be used to reinforce the values of cohesion, the need to preserve peace and harmony, used in schools, workplaces," she added. "There is a multiplier effect, and that is something that we want to see."

President Halimah was speaking to reporters at the start of the second day of the inaugural International Conference on Cohesive Societies, which she had mooted as a platform for faith and community leaders to exchange ideas on deepening bonds across communities.

At the opening dinner on Wednesday night, senior religious leaders in Singapore presented her with a copy of the commitment which pledges to continue building strong bonds across members of their different faiths.

It also includes an affirmation to uphold the freedom of religion, foster a culture of consideration and mutual understanding, and maintain solidarity in times of crisis.

Madam Halimah also shared her thoughts from speaking to participants of the conference, including those who attended the Young Leaders' Programme earlier this week.

She noted that race and religion are not easy topics to discuss "in an open and frank manner", but said such discussions are needed.

"Globally, it is even more challenging (to discuss). Yet, we need to have that conversation," she added.

Around 1,000 academics, government officials and members of religious and civil society groups from about 40 countries are attending the conference, which ends today.

President Halimah noted that delegates had stressed the need for cohesion as, at the end of the day, harmony and stability are key to ensuring sustainable development in their societies. They also called for strong rejection of all forms of hate, intolerance and misinformation, whether on religion or race.

Building cohesion and rejecting hatred is not just the job of government leaders or countries, but has to be done at the global level, she added.

"That includes individuals as well in ensuring that we contribute towards having cohesion, and therefore harmony and peace," she said.

Madam Halimah hoped the sharing of experiences would lead to participants embarking on initiatives in their own countries.

"The context may be different, but the values that we want to propagate and the principles are universal," she said.

Jordan's King Abdullah II calls for united effort against extremism
The Straits Times, 21 Jun 2019

Terror attacks on places of worship in New Zealand and Sri Lanka this year show what extremists will do to drive people and societies apart, but a united global effort has tremendous power to defeat these evils, King Abdullah II of Jordan said yesterday.

Speaking to 1,000 participants at the inaugural International Conference on Cohesive Societies at Raffles City, the King suggested that people who seek peace and harmony gather their forces, seize modern technology to address hatred, and commit to combating divisive ideology for the long term.

The King, who was on a two-day state visit, also met Singaporean and Jordanian business leaders at a roundtable, and visited Nanyang Technological University. In the evening, he received a ceremonial welcome at the Istana, where he paid a courtesy call on President Halimah Yacob, met Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and was hosted to a state banquet before he left Singapore.

The leaders agreed on the importance of inter-faith dialogue, and discussed regional developments and counter-radicalisation.

Two agreements on a bilateral consultation mechanism and on water resources management were also signed between Singapore and Jordan.

Issues affecting inter-religious ties can no longer be dealt with in isolation
By Adrian Lim, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 21 Jun 2019

They hail from different religions, academic disciplines and social circumstances, but the speakers and panellists at an inaugural inter-faith conference in Singapore were bound by a common goal: How to break down barriers to religious harmony, tackle radicalism and foster social cohesion.

Three key topics emerged on the second day of the International Conference on Cohesive Societies (ICCS) yesterday: How technology can be used to fight extremism, the root causes of radicalism and the need to engage young people.

The experts dug deeply in a series of discussions and presentations lasting more than five hours at the Raffles City Convention Centre, spearheaded by a keynote address from Jordan's King Abdullah II, a global leader in championing inter-faith understanding.

In a call to tackle what he termed the world's "single most" important threat - the attack on inter-faith harmony, mutual respect and trust - King Abdullah drew attention to how technology is exploited by extremists to plot, recruit for, arm and publicise their atrocities.

"We must do better," he told the audience of 1,000, comprising academics, government officials and members of religious and civil society groups.

Besides initiatives by governments to strengthen collaboration against extremism, and working with technology firms to commit to reducing the spread of hateful content online, the King said moderate and positive users need to reclaim the online space.

"Young men and women have a vital role in speaking up on social media and social networking sites, and using their talent for innovation to promote mutual understanding and hope," he added.

But what kinds of online content or dialogue can be effective in tackling intolerance and radicalism?

One expert said it had to go beyond citing religious facts from the Bible, Quran or other scriptures to providing people with convincing narratives, such as personal testimonies of inter-faith leaders, and their personal struggles and frustrations.

Dr Paul Hedges, an associate professor of inter-religious studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, said: "You need to give people a narrative and a story they can buy into."

Experts also explored the social causes of people turning to radicalism and extremism, listing growing economic inequality, disenchantment with the future, and therefore alienation as issues that must be addressed.

At one plenary session, the audience heard the personal account of former white supremacist Christian Picciolini, who said it was not the radical ideology which drew him to the movement, but alienation and marginalisation and his search for identity and purpose.

Mr Picciolini is the founder of the Free Radicals Project, a United States non-profit group that works with individuals and their families to disengage from hateful and violent ideologies.

He said social services and support systems must be in place to stop people from being derailed to the fringes of life by what he called "potholes", which can span abuse, poverty, joblessness and, paradoxically, even privilege.

"We have to build human resilience. And if we want to stop this massive trend of radicalisation that we are seeing, we have to repair our human infrastructure," he said.

Another central thread which ran throughout yesterday's discussions was that young people must be engaged in inter-faith dialogue and the important role they can play in fighting the war of ideas to combat divisive ideology.

British author and historian of world religion Karen Armstrong noted that young people are speaking up for causes, citing as an example the Youth for Climate movement that originated in Belgium and galvanised students to shun classes on Thursdays to agitate for action on climate change.

She said young people should be invited to the ICCS to give their views on inter-faith matters.

Educational institutions can also equip students with basic religious literacy, something that Dr Veena Howard, an associate professor of Asian religious traditions at California State University, Fresno, said she was pushing for, so they can engage in meaningful dialogue with one another.

More such dialogue is needed. As RSIS executive deputy chairman Ong Keng Yong noted, issues affecting inter-religious relations can no longer be dealt with in isolation.

"In order for many communities to share one future, openness and acceptance are of utmost necessity," he said. "We need to have more dialogue. We need to communicate more effectively among people of all levels."

President Halimah stresses individuals' role in social harmony
The Straits Times, 20 Jun 2019

Everyone has a role to play in strengthening social cohesion, President Halimah Yacob told a group of young leaders at a fireside chat yesterday.

It was a message she reiterated at the opening dinner of the inaugural International Conference on Cohesive Societies, where she outlined the roles individuals can play in building bonds and bridging differences.

In a speech, she highlighted three fundamentals of social harmony - accommodation, dialogue and social cohesion.

More than 1,000 delegates from nearly 40 countries are attending the three-day conference, which seeks to discuss and exchange experiences to deepen social harmony.

Last night, a commitment to safeguard religious harmony in Singapore was also unveiled. Senior faith leaders presented a framed copy of the pledge, signed by more than 250 religious groups, to President Halimah.

President Halimah stresses key ingredients for social harmony
Individuals must play part in nurturing dialogue, cohesion and accommodation
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 20 Jun 2019

Diversity is a source of strength for societies, and engaging meaningfully amid differences is not easy, but it is necessary, President Halimah Yacob said last night in a speech where she outlined three key ingredients for social harmony.

These are accommodation, dialogue and a shared conception of the common good, which must be nurtured by individuals rather than just governments.

"Friendships and connections will have to be built, face to face," she said. "Social trust has to be forged, one positive encounter at a time. Strength from diversity can grow only from dialogue, give and take, speaking and listening."

The President was at the opening dinner of the inaugural International Conference on Cohesive Societies, a platform she had mooted to discuss ways of forging interfaith understanding and social cohesion.

Around 1,000 academics, government officials and members of religious and civil society groups from close to 40 countries are attending the three-day conference.

Jordan's King Abdullah II will deliver the keynote address at the Raffles City Convention Centre today.

In her speech, Madam Halimah spoke of how each community within a diverse nation contributes to a more interesting and vibrant national life.

"The world would be all the poorer if it had no room for difference. If we were all the same, we would have nothing special to offer, nor anything to learn from others. The more diverse we are, the richer we become," she said.

But she also noted that people instinctively bond with those who are like them, meaning that skin colour, beliefs, customs and other markers of identity can become fault lines of mistrust and conflict.

This is seen in the spread of extremist ideologies or anti-immigrant rhetoric which can take on racial and religious overtones, she said.

"A nation cannot prosper if its people are divided. A society cannot be proud if its people distrust each other," Madam Halimah added. "Only a cohesive society built upon mutual trust can harness the strength of its diversity, so that its people can build a better future."

S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies executive deputy chairman Ong Keng Yong also spoke at the dinner on the importance of interfaith dialogue in the light of intensifying identity politics and conflicts between communities. This year, mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and churches in Sri Lanka were targeted in major terror attacks.

"We live in a time where conversations surrounding race and religion are often marred by negative emotions such as hatred and fear," he said.

"The place of worship has become the target of violence instead of a peaceful sanctuary for believers."

Madam Halimah, in her speech, elaborated on what she believes are the foundations of social harmony.

First, there must be accommodation where space is created for communities to celebrate their own distinctive cultures, even as they accept differences and refrain from imposing their own practices or requirements on others.

Next, dialogue and interaction help foster familiarity and friendships that "can go a long way to improve relations among diverse groups".

Lastly, social cohesion has to be "cemented by a shared conception of the common good, and a felt reality of collective belonging". Without this, different community groups can instead become pressure groups representing sectional interests, Madam Halimah said.

"Upholding the common good means holding our differences not in opposition to one another, but bringing our differences together to build a future that we all share."

The President said forging unity and drawing strength from diversity has always been - and will continue to be - part of the Singapore story.

Social cohesion is not something that can be "commanded or dictated by any government", she added. "It can only be nurtured and inspired by each of us, and what we do every day."

More than 250 religious organisations commit to safeguard religious harmony
By Melody Zaccheus, Heritage and Community Correspondent, The Straits Times, 20 Jun 2019

More than 250 religious organisations in Singapore have made a commitment to safeguard religious harmony at a time of growing divisions along faith lines around the world.

A framed copy of the pledge, that among other things highlights practical things Singaporeans can do on a daily basis to build inter-religious bridges, was presented by senior faith leaders to President Halimah Yacob last night at the opening dinner of the International Conference on Cohesive Societies at Raffles City Convention Centre.

It includes the promise to develop strong bonds across religions by, for instance, eating together despite different dietary requirements and extending greetings during others' festive celebrations.

The commitment, which comprises seven main points, is a ground-up initiative spearheaded by various religious groups. It builds on the 2003 Declaration of Religious Harmony which is briefer and more philosophical in nature.

In her speech at the dinner, President Halimah said she was glad that the religious leaders had "come together to affirm a commitment to safeguard religious harmony, in which they encourage day-to-day positive interactions so that people continue to talk with one another, work together and live together as one united people".

The Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth said terror attacks on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March and the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka in April "have further underscored the need for a clear and common agreement among citizens to uphold religious harmony".

The faith groups also pledged to uphold the freedom of religion and the right of every person to profess, practise and propagate beliefs different from their own, including not having any religious beliefs.

The commitment further covers the importance of propagating beliefs respectfully without denigrating other religions, as well as the unequivocal rejection of any form of violence against anyone. It ends with the promise to maintain solidarity in a crisis, and to support institutional efforts like the Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles.

Singapore Buddhist Federation president, the Venerable Kwang Phing, said it is the responsibility of religious leaders to build trust across different faith groups here. "Around the world, increasing division along religious lines reminds us that social harmony in Singapore is not to be taken for granted."

Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu said the leaders are sending a "very important message". "In Singapore, we put multi-racial and multi-religious harmony really right up there as a national value that we all treasure," she said.

Other faith leaders spoke about practical areas they will be working on to safeguard religious harmony. This includes tightening processes to ensure preachers, teachers and foreign speakers are aware of Singapore's unique multi-religious circumstances when they address their respective communities.

The Heart of God Church and Khalid Mosque, both of which also signed the commitment, are among the groups playing an active role in safeguarding religious harmony.

Three years ago, they rolled out a programme to work together and offer tuition for secondary school students from their congregations and neighbourhood. Every two weeks, the students alternate between the church in Eunos and the mosque in Joo Chiat to attend classes run by tutors from both congregations.

Tutor Amirul Muttaqin Aduka, 24, said the arrangement has helped reduce stereotypes. Church pastor Garrett Lee, 35, added that both tutors and students come away from the sessions "making new friends beyond their usual walls".

International Conference on Cohesive Societies: Making sure nobody is left out of the dialogue
By Rahimah Rashith, The Straits Times, 20 Jun 2019

It is heartening that leaders of different religions are building relationships, but how can these discussions involve other parties who have been left out?

What can be done to make sure that social media does not spread hateful content?

These were among the issues brought up at an informal discussion President Halimah Yacob had with young community and religious activists from around the world at the Raffles City Convention Centre yesterday.

She met some of the 100 delegates who were in Singapore for the Young Leaders' Programme of the International Conference on Cohesive Societies. Aged between 20 and 40 years, they came from faith and community groups as well as public sector and corporate organisations.

Participants stressed the importance of making sure that nobody is left out of religious dialogue. "Everyone has a role," President Halimah agreed. "Finding out who is not in the room or part of the conversation is really important because sometimes we talk to ourselves.

"We may be disseminating information to ourselves and like-minded people but we may not be communicating to others or find out who is not in the room and bring them into the room so that they may also find common goals, platforms," she said.

Participants also brought up concerns over technology being used to spread hatred. "We may live in one country but we are very much connected to the whole world. And what we see around the world is not very pleasant," said President Halimah. "We see rising instances of racism, of discrimination or hatred of all forms. Discriminatory sentiments affect everyone."

Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman, who attended the session, said: "Countries around the world today face different crises, social distrust, misunderstanding, disharmony.

"There is a proliferation of extreme views made possible by social media. This aggravates racial and religious misunderstanding, tension, intolerance and confrontation.

"It is critical that we actively resist hatred politics and strive for mutual tolerance, understanding, respect for all races and religions. We must be discerning of messages that propagate hate."

International Conference on Cohesive Societies
A platform for ideas to strengthen harmony
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 20 Jun 2019

In May last year, President Halimah Yacob put forward the idea of a unique interfaith forum with the status and prestige of the Shangri-La Dialogue and a mission to promote understanding between different communities.

She envisioned it as a high-level event drawing leaders of faith from all around the world, similar to how the Shangri-La Dialogue is attended by defence ministers and military chiefs from major world powers.

The result was the inaugural International Conference on Cohesive Societies, which started yesterday and ends tomorrow.

Organised by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University, with the support of the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, the event aims to be a platform for conversations on strengthening interfaith understanding and developing new ideas to foster greater harmony in societies.

The conference is attended by around 1,000 delegates from close to 40 countries. They include academics, government officials and members of religious and civil society groups, who will discuss broader issues surrounding faith, identity and cohesion.

Participants will also take part in workshops to discuss topics such as overcoming hate, faith and technology, and global peace-building efforts.

A separate Young Leaders' Programme - to harness the ideas of young people working to address challenges relating to social cohesion in their communities - was also held on Tuesday and yesterday.

In her opening speech last night, President Halimah spoke of the important role that leaders play in building unity within their communities.

"Strong leadership and deep social mobilisation are vital elements to achieving cultural change," she said. "Leaders play an important role in promoting peace and social cohesion at both the national and international levels."

But she noted that often, political leaders articulate division and conflict for their personal agenda.

"Hence, all societal actors must play a part in managing diversity - from government leaders to individuals, from the media to educational institutions," she added.

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