Global leaders warned and encouraged by religious leaders at WEF

February 5, 2002

Global leaders gathered at the 2002 World Economic Forum (WEF) in New York January 31-February 4 were warned that corporations and international organizations must become more accountable to the countries and peoples of the world.

Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey said the collapse of energy trading giant Enron raised fundamental questions about honesty and accountability within capitalism. 'There's a big question mark over capitalism today. It's one word, and it's Enron,' Carey said. 'And what is that challenge? Capitalism has to act within boundaries.'

But the leaders also heard good news. 'In the end goodness prevails over evil, right prevails over wrong,' Desmond M. Tutu, archbishop emeritus of Cape Town, told the gathering in an opening plenary entitled 'For Hope.' He added, 'I believe that this is something all of our major faiths are seeking to say to people. Fundamentally people are good.'

Mahathir Mohamad, prime minister of Malaysia, told a session on 'Sharing Values and Respecting Differences' on February 3 that violent Islamic groups were actually making it more difficult for Islamic nations to develop, as well as distorting religion for their own personal goals. 'If today Islam is perceived to be a religion of backward, violent and irrational people, it is not because of Islam itself as a faith and a way of life,' he said. 'It is because Muslims have deviated from the fundamentals of Islam and have abused the teachings in order to justify their personal greed and ambitions.'

Religious leaders said they were pleased to be invited to the annual event, but would like a bigger role in the discussions on business and politics as well as religious issues. 'You cannot separate faith from the world that we live in,' Carey said.

An Associated Press report quoted the Rev. John T. Pawlikowski, a professor of social ethics at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, who said that unless religious concerns 'can be truly integrated into the WEF, I think the potential for the contribution of religion will be muted.' Otherwise, ''we will become the chaplains to the WEF,' he added.

Klaus Schwab, president of the forum, promised that religious leaders would be better represented in other panel discussions 'if possible and if relevant.'

The official agenda for the session with religious leaders called for discussions addressing anti-Western sentiments and responding to the backlash against modernity; reducing sources of religious and ethnic conflict; broadening support for universal rights and civil liberties; highlighting shared transcultural values; and broadening citizen participation in civil society and government.

Religious leaders speaking at the WEF included Francis Cardinal Arinze, president of the Vatican's Pontificium Consilium pro Dialogo inter Religiones, Italy; George L. Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury; Margot Kaessmann, bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church, Germany; Israel Meir Lau, Chief Rabbi of Israel; Swamiji Chidanand Saraswati, president and spiritual head, Parmarth Niketan Ashram, India; H.H. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, emir of the state of Qatar and chairman, Islamic Conference Organization, Qatar; and Sheikh Fawzi El-Zafzaf, president, Permanent Committee for Dialogue among Monotheistic Religions, Al-Azhar al Sharif, Egypt.

The meeting was held just three miles north of the debris of the World Trade Center towers destroyed in the September 11 attacks, and protests by thousands of anti-globalization demonstrators were largely peaceful.

Compiled from press dispatches.

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