Religion and war


Ahmadinejad Meets Clerics, and Decibels Drop a Notch
New York Times, 2007-09-27

[Paragraph numbers and emphasis are added.]

After two days of prickly confrontations
with critics at Columbia University and the United Nations,
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran
held a friendly, even warm, exchange yesterday
with Christian leaders from the United States and Canada
convinced that dialogue is the only way to prevent war.

The session,
held under tight security at a chapel across the street from the United Nations,
was a reminder that
Mr. Ahmadinejad is a religious president of a religious nation
who relishes speaking on a religious plane.
He spent his 20 allotted minutes at the start of the two-hour meeting
recounting the chain of prophets central to Judaism, Christianity and Islam,
and the commonality of their messages.

He took questions from a panel that included
a Quaker, a Catholic, an Anglican, a Baptist
and a representative of the interfaith World Council of Churches,
some of whom separately said
they had been criticized by other religious leaders
for sitting down with the Iranian president.

Given the furor over Mr. Ahmadinejad’s earlier appearances,
there was no advance publicity.

The gathering, which included an audience of about 140 other religious leaders,
was organized by the Mennonites and Quakers,
churches known for their commitment to pacifism.

The organizers said that they had pressed hard
to find a Jewish leader to join the panel of questioners,
but that those invited declined
they could not win support from Jewish organizations.

“My heart was broken that
there was so little support from other religions to be here,”

said Mary Ellen McNish,
general secretary of the American Friends Service Committee,
a Quaker group that helped sponsor the event.

“If we don’t walk down this path of dialogue,
we’re going to end up in conflagration.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s smile at times turned to a grimace
as the panelists prodded him, politely,
about his record on
the Holocaust, human rights abuses, Israel and nuclear weapons development.
Also politely, he conceded nothing, and often deflected the inquiries
by turning the spotlight on the policies of the United States and Israel.

“Who are the ones that are filling their arsenals with nuclear weapons?”
he said.
“In the United States they have tested
the fifth generation of atomic bunker bombs,
missiles that go as far as 12,000 kilometers.
Who is the real danger here?”

Though Mr. Ahmadinejad’s answers differed little,
the tone of the session was a marked contrast
to the verbal pummeling he received at Columbia University on Monday,
when the university’s president, Lee C. Bollinger,
called the Iranian president
either “brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated”
for his stance on the Holocaust.

At the clerics’ meeting, Albert Lobe,
executive director of the Mennonite Central Committee, said pointedly,
“We mean to extend to you the hospitality which a head of state deserves.”

The session was part of
a concerted push by these religious leaders
to increase political support in the United States for talks with Iran.

Some of these religious leaders also met with Mr. Ahmadinejad
last year in New York and in February on a trip to Iran.

One critic said that these religious leaders were well intentioned, but naïve.

Malcolm I. Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of
the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations,
said in a telephone interview:
“They’re not going to convince him.

Their very presence there gives him respectability.”

Ms. McNish, of the American Friends Service Committee,
said the reverse was true:
“The more we isolate him, the more support he gets at home.”

But even the Bahais,
a minority religious group that has suffered persecution in Iran,
said they supported these efforts at dialogue with the Iranian government.
They had been invited to the prior meetings,
but the Iranian side refused to come if Bahais were there,
said Kit Bigelow, director of external affairs,
National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahais of the United States.

The panelists on Wednesday included
the Rev. Drew Christiansen, a Roman Catholic who is
editor in chief of America, a Jesuit weekly;
Karen A. Hamilton, a Canadian Anglican who is
general secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches;
the Rev. Chris Ferguson, also a Canadian,
who represents the World Council of Churches at the United Nations; and
Glen Stassen, a professor of Christian ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary,
an evangelical institution.

Mr. Stassen,
who has helped to prod American evangelicals to take on issues
including global warming and torture,
said he and other evangelicals would soon circulate a document
intended to broaden support for dialogue with Iran,
based on the model of dialogue with North Korea.

Mr. Stassen asked President Ahmadinejad,
if the United States could guarantee no aggression against Iran,
“could there be an Iranian guarantee of no violence against Israel?”

Mr. Ahmadinejad responded
by asking for a three-minute break “for the interpreter.”
After the break, he said that
it was the United States and “the Zionist regime” that had nuclear weapons,
while Iran was seeking to enrich uranium only for “fuel purposes.”

The impetus for these talks came not from the Americans,
but from the Iranians,
said Ed Martin, Iran consultant for the Mennonite Central Committee,
a group that has done aid work in Iran.

In Open Letter,
Muslims Seek Cooperation With Christians as a Step Toward Peace

New York Times, 2007-10-12

[An excerpt; paragraph numbers and emphasis are added.]

Scores of Muslim clerics, theologians and academics
issued an open letter yesterday to all Christian leaders
saying the two religions need to work more closely together,
given that they share the basic principles of
worshiping one God and loving thy neighbor.

In sweeping terms, the letter notes that
55 percent of the world’s population is either Christian or Muslim,
“making the relationship between these two religious communities
the most important factor in contributing to
meaningful peace around the world.”

The letter is being seen as an effort
to tackle the strained relations between the two faiths
as well as
to address the widespread perception in the West
that moderate Muslims are mute about violence.

The letter notably lacks signatures from key figures
in the puritanical Wahhabi sect of Islam prevalent in Saudi Arabia.
The sect’s emphasis on shunning non-Muslims
is often considered a root of violence toward the West.

But experts consider the letter an important step
toward getting moderates on both sides
to overcome a tradition of hostility.

“You have to start somewhere,
and you are not going to start with harmony on either side,”

said R. Scott Appleby, a religious historian at the University of Notre Dame
and an expert on Roman Catholic-Islamic relations.
“Among the Muslim and Christian peoples of the world,
the middle-level leaders are hungry for movement in this direction
because people are losing their lives every day in its absence.”


[P]olitics, not theology,
shape anti-Western attitudes among Muslims,

Professor [Muqtedar] Khan
[director of Islamic Studies at the University of Delaware]
“They have a problem
with the occupation of Iraq,
with the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians;

it’s not about Christianity.”

“A Common Word Between Us and You”
by 138 Muslim scholars, clerics and intellectuals



Christians United for War
by Philip Giraldi
Antiwar.com, 2009-12-24


Onward Christian Soldiers, Again
by Philip Giraldi
Antiwar.com, 2010-02-04

Labels: ,