Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 19, 2001
Suggestions for interfaith relations
Religious conditions lie at heart of attacks
By BISHOP FRED HENRY
In one of his videos Osama bin Laden proclaimed: "Here is America struck by God Almighty in one of its vital organs. Grace and gratitude to God." Not surprisingly, many leading Islamic scholars and religious leaders immediately disassociated themselves from such an extremist view.
Others denounced the massacre of Sept. 11 but offered a rationalization for it. It would be immoral to allege that these atrocities were committed for religious reasons. Arguing in effect, that the terrorists were a fringe group who acted out of the deep anger that the whole Arab world feels at what it perceives to be American arrogance and partiality in dealing with conflicts in the Middle East.
Secular commentators, either out of ignorance or fear or both, have decided that rather than focus on religious motives, our attention ought to be placed on the real political issues, whatever they may be in their humble estimation.
Although we will never be in a position to understand the minds and motives of those who committed the atrocities associated with Sept. 11, research has shown that terrorists who are ready to sacrifice themselves and others for a cause justify their actions as fulfilling a religious duty or sacred mission.
Perverse though it may seem, they believe that in carrying out such crimes, they are engaged in an ultimate battle between good and evil, and are acting in the service of the good.
Despite my own muddled thinking, fragile hopes and haunting fears, I would like to offer 10 Suggestions (in some cases, commandments) for reflection:
Terrorism should not be identified with the religion of Islam.
The concept of a "holy war" is an oxymoron. The name of the one God must become increasingly what it is: a name of peace and summons to peace. We mustn't let what has happened lead to a deepening of divisions, religion must never be used as a reason for conflict.
"There can be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions. There can be no peace among the religions without dialogue between the religions. There can be no dialogue between the religions without research into theological foundations" (Hans Kung).
It is not enough for religious leaders to disown the unacceptable actions of their fringe groups. We need more than interfaith prayer services during and immediately after crises. Each faith community needs to promote a respect for human life above all other beliefs and interests.
To speak of the need for tolerance is a wholly inadequate response to the terror perpetrated in God's name. The concept of tolerance was developed essentially as a reaction to the growth of pluralism in belief and practice.
The crisis of today in our global human relationships calls for a more proactive approach to diversity. It demands willingness from those with faith and without it to acknowledge and to protect more vigorously the right of others to think, to believe and to act differently. No creed or grievance should ever be allowed to justify human slaughter in any part of the globe.
The personal identity of a human group is built on the foundation of a historical past which cannot in any way be cancelled, even if we should desire to cancel it.
But memory can be healed and purified by a common determination to initiate new and constructive mutual relations, built on dialogue, collaboration and a true encounter. It can be enhanced by an admission of guilt, the request for forgiveness, and the granting of forgiveness for crimes committed under the pretext of defending the truth.
A purification of theological language and thinking is also needed. Much of the theological evaluation of other religions has been traditionally negative. There is still too much talk about "pagans," "infidels" or "non-believers" on all sides. The very terms "non-Christian" and "non-Muslim" ought to be considered offensive.
What would we think if the "others" were to consider us and call us "non-Hindus" or "non-Buddhists"? People should be named on the basis of the comprehensions they have of themselves, not on the basis of some prejudicial estimation.
Nothing less than a true conversion of persons and religious groups will suffice to bring about peace between the religions of the world. What is required is a welcome for the others in their differences. Communion is built on the mutual complementarity among persons.
Peace can only be built on the solid foundations of mutual respect, justice in relations between members of different communities, and upon the magnanimity of the strongest.
"Those capable of magnanimity are those who have not just strength, but moral strength as well, the sort of strength that follows legitimate objectives lucidly and prudently, and does not yield to the unjustified use of force, transforming it into a type of violence that does not resolve problems but only provokes new tragedies" (Father Pasquale Borgomeo).
The war against religious terrorism cannot be won on a battlefield alone. When the shooting stops, the challenge will be to develop and maintain the political will to act decisively on behalf of the dispossessed of the world. This will require much more than emergency food aid in times of calamity.
The world's political elite need to recognize that inequality does matter and has to be tackled if peace and security are to be achieved, and further globalization of terrorism is to be curtailed.
"In the midst of conflict, we pray for peace. In the aftermath of terrorism, we seek justice. In response to hate, we offer love. At a time of trial we turn to God as our refuge and strength to show us the path to healing, reconciliation and peace" (Bishop Joseph Fiorenza).
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