OP-ED: After COVID 19 we must be prepared to fight extremism in all forms.

 Taylor Walton

 In the aftermath of the global pandemic, we are likely to see the worst economic recession of our lifetimes. Inequality will rise, and people will grow desperate. It is in such an environment that faith leaders must be prepared to counteract the potential for a rise in violent extremism.

With a backdrop of a massive humanitarian crisis, the onslaught of Covid-19 brings unprecedented economic and social challenges in its wake. The disaster has already struck at the core pillars of global economies. World Trade Organization reports that the world merchandise trade is set to plummet by between 13 and 32% in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. WTO economists believe the decline will likely exceed the trade slump brought on by the global financial crisis of 2008-09. The overall economic impact of this crisis will not only decelerate the growth of the economy but also exacerbate poverty and social inequality, as reported by the World Economic Forum.

How this economic catastrophe could lead to a rise in violent extremism is often not considered.

In this context it was essential for me as a Christian faith leader, to join the recent Dhaka Forum on the 8th & 9th of August. The forum was organized by several institutions in Bangladesh including the Prime Minister’s office. The event brought together experts, leaders & policymakers from the distinctive areas of health, education, politics, technology, climate and also interfaith issues. The forum served an important space to share opinions on solutions for developing countries as well as developed countries in a post-pandemic world. 

I offered my remarks in a panel on titled “Renewing Governance & Peace” which I had the honor of opening with a Christian interfaith message of peace. Events like the Dhaka Forum are a crucially important phenomenon in response to the global crisis as they start important dialogues about the way forward. Preventing a wave of violent extremism, some of which will be tied to misinterpretations of faith, are just as important and linked to plotting an economic recovery.

 Amidst this catastrophic situation of COVID-19, the faith actors can play an important stabilizing role during the global crisis, which is arousing the ray of hope. However, peace & faith factors are not given much attention as other factors as a recovery tool. And I must concede faith actors have not always had a positive impact. History entrusts them with a crucial part in healing the world from the ravages of this kind of pandemic.

 The Covid-19 pandemic is endangering some of the astounding gains made in the past decades towards more significant economic development and social cohesion. Amid this crisis, religion & faith can play a vital mitigating role at all levels. On the micro-level religious actors from every religion need to offer individuals spiritual and material relief. On the macro-level, the contributions of religious & faith orientated organizations can help in ameliorating broader crisis-induced humanitarian and socio-economic challenges.

 Faith leaders from all religions should come together to fight against a wave of extremism we may well see after the wave of new infections from the virus begins to subside. We have already seen in the United States, for example, xenophobic attacks on Asian-Americans linked to misconceptions about COVID-19. At the same time, terrorist groups around the world have rejoiced in the chaos wrought by the virus. 

In this context, we must begin new interfaith dialogues between members of different religions. Across national borders and other barriers, we must lift the flag of peace.

 Many researchers and clinicians now see religion and faith as an essential way to cope with trauma and distress, thanks to research over the last three decades. Positive religious reframing can help people transcend stressful times by enabling them to see a cataclysm as an opportunity to grow closer to a higher power or to improve their lives, ensuring growth & progress.

 Methods of community mobilization and thought leadership relied on by religious leaders during past crises can be repurposed for the present times. Faith actors can work, both individually and institutionally, to tap into the extensive networks that grant them greater access to the remotest parts of the country than is often available to state and other non-state actors. 

Similarly, as faith leaders are highly revered within their communities, their efforts towards maintaining public health standards and fostering social cohesion are likely to be efficacious if they take the lead on interfaith dialogue. I look forward to future initiatives like the Dhaka Forum to bring people of different traditions together in these trying times.

Taylor Walton is a freelance writer in California. As an elder pastor in the Christian tradition of African Methodism, he offered an opening message of peace at the recently concluded Dhaka Forum.