The session addressed the ambivalent role of religious actors in peacebuilding. After 9/11, it was mainly violent religious extremism that received ample attention in policy practice and academic research. In recent years, the positive potential of religious actors in peacebuilding has been increasingly harnessed. However, approaches are not always coherent and new dilemmas arise. The parallel session addressed some pertinent questions with regard to examples such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Key Theses, Thoughts and Ideas
It was pointed out that two motivations matter for extremist armed groups to enter into peace negotiation: Firstly, the assessment that continuing armed fight will cause more losses than gains to them. Secondly, the vision that by diversifying tactics they might be better able to achieve their objectives than by using force. Furthermore, putting religious actors into baskets like “liberal” or “constructive” and “extremist” or “hard to reach” is not very helpful as these categories all depend on political and social dynamics, which change over time.
With regard to questions around legitimacy, it was stressed that religious actors enjoy a high level of trust and credibility in their societies. Their moral authority provides them with a remarkable convening power, which can help bring conflict parties to a table. Religious actors also profit from a type of “clerical immunity” in conflicts settings, which serves an important purpose in identifying and accessing hard-to-reach actors.