The Russian poet Boris Pasternak once said: “We have learned that we are guests of existence, travelers between two stations. We must discover security within ourselves.” The search for security remains the overarching aim for many societies worldwide in today’s volatile era. Who wants to live in an Orwellian society guided by insecurity and social disorder or in a world order as described in Thomas Hobbes’ book Leviathan? The dawn of security defined by military force, security dilemmas or neo-realist gains do not offer a long-term solution to human security. A people-centred approach to security is required. An approach expressed through equal citizenship rights that serves the majority of people’s needs rather than those of the powerful few.

We live in troubled times. An era defined by an environment of tension and division, amplified by the manipulation and hijacking of religion, creeds and value systems for political purposes. Community differences are being manipulated, amplified and instrumentalized rather than being celebrated. A political vacuum has emerged in major world regions, which has given rise to movements that anchor their ideologies on marginalization, bigotry and discrimination. Sufficient progress is not being achieved to come to terms with its deadly sting. Far-right political chauvinism and extremist violence - expressed through different manifestations - set the tone and increasingly dictate the global agenda. It undermines the foundations of contemporary society and threatens communities globally owing to the outbreak of endogenous and exogenous forms of violence. A pincer movement of two extremes expressed through violent extremism and xenophobic populism has come to fruition.

In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, the cultural and religious heritage of societies is under threat. Military adventurism, geopolitical power games and the unscrupulous rise of violent and extremist groups have brought bereavement to Arab societies. The instability and turmoil in the MENA region have paved the way for the destruction of multicultural and multi-religious societies. It was once admired for the high level of inter-religious, inter-cultural tolerance and even empathy that prevailed. Today, the social fabric of multi-cultural communities has been shredded with the escalation of violence and the destruction of the foundations of societies. The result has been a leadership and political vacuum that has provided fertile ground for the rise of violent groups seeking power through concocting self-serving interpretations of ideologies.

The spread of xenophobia and racism is gaining strength as well in the developed parts of the world. It appears that the excesses of neo-liberalism and globalization have put forward the notion of freedom at the expense of equality, and competition ahead of solidarity and justice. This has resulted in a series of divisions between the elites and those who have been left behind. The latter has been targeted by populist groups that increasingly rely on politics of fear instead of politics of hope. Fearmongering is always easier to spread if it is focused on external exogenous groups like migrants and refugees, rather than on the loss of income and employment of unqualified labour as a result of, inter alia, the digital revolution and the automatization of the labour force. The electoral upswings of radical rights movements in Europe, North America and South America illustrate that populist parties are ready to “rule the roost”.

More than ever, in order to overcome these pressing challenges, societies and communities need to resort to social dialogue and break down the stereotypes and barriers, which have led to distrust, suspicion, bigotry and ignorance through interfaith dialogue.

Building peace and social security require resorting to effective peace-building measures to address issues related to transitional justice, rule of law, and redressing human rights abuses. Social engineering is needed to address past injustices which have led to the current situation. This requires a greater emphasis on fostering dialogue, strengthening empowerment, scaling-up faith engagement involving religious leaders and resorting to mediation and peace-building.

The protection of human rights of minorities needs to be strengthened to eliminate all forms of abuses, discrimination and injustices witnessed in numerous countries. Defeating extremist groups on military terms will only offer the world a short-term solution. Healing the social wounds within and between communities will take much longer but is the only sustainable way out.

Indeed, no one can remain indifferent to the rising trends of populism, violent extremism and religious intolerance that seek to threaten peaceful co-existence and societal plurality. International decision should convert words into action and take concrete measures to address the global crisis of racism and intolerance that is unfolding in different regions of the world.