A two-day conference focused on religious respect and interfaith understanding kicked off in Phnom Penh on Thursday.
Prime Minister Hun Sen emphasized the need for religious tolerance at the opening of the fourth “Interfaith Dialogue for Peace and Harmony,” which was attended by some 200 participants from 15 countries in the Asia Pacific.
Though emphasizing that Cambodia is 95 percent Buddhist, Hun Sen said that Cambodians practice many other religions and the government must be “neutral.”
“True tolerance means the harmonization of all religions and cultures,” said Hun Sen, who also decried stereotyping entire religious groups because of a few extremists.
“You hear about terrorist attacks in Pakistan, Iraq,” Hun Sen said. “Who are these Muslims killing? They kill other Muslims…yet two people taint an entire billion-person population,” he said.
“Crime is crime,” Hun Sen added later. “It should not be labeled as religious.”
Australian officials organized the first interfaith conference in the wake of the Sept 11, 2001, attacks on the US.
Several speakers on Thursday noted that Cambodia’s role as host of the conference was significant because it is the first time the meeting has been held in a Buddhist country.
Much of the focus at the opening ceremony was on how preexisting friendship, camaraderie and understanding can diffuse potential problems between people of different faiths.
Indonesian diplomat Andri Hadi used his speech at the conference to blast last week’s release of the controversial film “Fitna,” made by a right-wing Dutch politician, which he considers disrespectful to Islam, and the 2005 publication by Danish newspapers of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
“In this context we have moral obligation to work harder to make sure more serious conflict doesn’t happen,” Hadi said.
Australia’s Bob McMullan, parliamentary secretary for international development assistance, noted at the conference his government’s recent apology to Australia’s indigenous people for decades of discrimination and ethnic cleansing.
“We believe there is a message of healing in that. The importance of understanding,” he said.