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The Millennium World Peace Summit convenes this week at the United Nations. More than 1,000 religious leaders representing over 75 faiths from around the world are attending, but there is one conspicuous absentee: the Dalai Lama. The interfaith coalition that organized the conference admitted that he was not invited for fear of offending China. It is a shameful concession, one that undermines the purpose of the conference and will encourage Chinese obstinacy.

The meeting is intended to bring world religious leaders together to talk about and pray for peace. For its first two days, it has met in the U.N. General Assembly chamber, but the U.N. is not an official sponsor.

Nevertheless, it is implicated. Conference organizers left the Dalai Lama off the invitation list because “this house is really a house for the members, and their sensitivities matter,” explained U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. He then rationalized the omission as best he could: “In any effort of this kind, you try to make progress, take progress as you get it, and not hold out for the absolute best.”

Including the Dalai Lama in a conference of world religious leaders talking about peace does not seem like “the absolute best.” It seems like the right thing to do. It seems like the natural thing to do. After all, he is the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. He is the spiritual leader of millions of people around the world, an inspiration for many more who do not share his faith, and a symbol of tolerance and hope.

Excluding the Dalai Lama from the conference is a concession to intolerance. Some might say it is ironic that a conference that hopes to encourage moderation and reconciliation should refuse admission to its most respected advocate. They are mistaken. It is not ironic; it is wrong.

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