President Martti Ahtisaari believes that religions play a major role not only in the creation of conflicts, but also in their resolution.
Ahtisaari, who is well known for his role in leading difficult peace processes, gave a lecture at the University of Helsinki on 18 February on the European Union’s members states and Churches as peacemakers.
In Ahtisaari’s opinion, the fear of Islam has its roots in poor integration policy.
At one time, Germany’s Turkish immigrants were considered to be a visiting labour force and no attempt was made to integrate them into the country. Nowadays, the situation is completely different: immigrants are taught the language and the culture.
The acceptance of Turkey as a candidate country for EU membership in 1999 created opposition as a result of the country's human rights situation and the fear of Islam by Western countries.
Ahtisaari believes that aiming for EU membership will strengthen the country’s democratic development.
"Turkey today is not ready, but if it is not accepted as a member, we will communicate to the world that the EU does not want Muslims".
Furthermore, the position of women is an issue that Ahtisaari believes should be addressed. If the notion that women are inferior is maintained under the guise of religion, it will similarly create the impression that wives can be abused and women raped in wars.
"It is not my intention to attack religions but to highlight the things carried out under the cloak of religion," says Ahtisaari.
He points out that churches in Africa have played an important role in the emancipation of women.
Ahtisaari believes it is for the universities to create opportunities for multicultural dialogue. He refers to the concept of a global ethic put forth by the theologian Hans Küng; its purpose is not to create a single religion but to achieve peace between the different groups.
"Kofi Annan has said that the problem is not the Koran, the Torah or the Bible, but how people behave towards each other," says Ahtisaari.
Martti Ahtisaari’s lecture was part of the State and Religion in the European Union teaching event of the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Theology.