I posit that all competent persons, groups, tribes, and nations are in some way or form religious (they have faith in something or someone). Even in the case of atheists or agnostics, their unbelief or choice not to know is their religion. Everyone has a religious viewpoint, whether one believes or not in a supreme being, each person practices a view – a religion. As a community of peacemakers, we must acknowledge and confront the role religion can play in addressing conflicts around the world.
Many global conflicts are seemingly without solutions. Often, differences involve the basics of religious discord vested in unclear ideas of past hatreds, and intensified by disenfranchisement and poverty. What function can the religious community (TRC) perform to identify, analyze, resolve and ameliorate conflicts that all but beg for peace to break out? There exist so many possibilities for interventions in nations such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cuba, Haiti, India-Pakistan, Indonesia, Iraq, Iran, Israel-Palestine, Northern Ireland, the Philippines, and the United States to name a few. Can TRC’s power affect the favorable outcome of international affairs if and when it corroborates with others of dissimilar faiths?
Many of the world’s leaders fail to consider and use a significant resource – Religious Leaders – at their disposal to fit into the changing faces and nature of some discords. The United States in particular faces difficult challenges as it attempts to rearrange, manage or fully resolve conflicts in which it has become engaged. Our political, diplomatic and military leaders know the power of religion and religious leaders in our own and other societies yet seem to have failed to take appropriate action. Think of the influence that these Religious Leaders have held in the world: the Ayatollahs of Iran, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Dalai Lama of Tibet, Sun Myung Moon of Korea, Mohandas Gandhi of India, the Pope, Mother Theresa, as well as U.S. religious scholars such as Billy Graham and Martin Luther King. Are U.S. leaders attentive to the need and ability to employ the option of religious or faith-based efforts, to address conflicts for the enrichment of societies, extension of American interests, and pursuit of peace? Have we attempted to employ the influence of allies who enjoy more sway with our enemies to infuse peace making into the political realities?
The U.S. faces increasingly difficult choices in its global war on terrorism due to the purported impending clash of civilizations, (the West versus the East, Christianity versus Islam.) But the war on terrorism must never be perceived as a war against Islamic Faith or Muslims. This is the exact perception in which extremists are trying to cast the U.S.’s actions – that the goal is to eradicate Islam. When criticizing the U.S, extremists reference our support for Israel against Muslim Palestinians in the ongoing Middle East struggle; moreover, as the U.S. continues its “occupation” of Iraq, they again indicate that the country is by and large Muslim. The U.S. has a fragile line of defense for its actions against such charges. Though the U.S. has support of “moderate” Islamic nations, these seemingly untenable positions could easily change perceptions that the U.S. is waging a war against Islam. Any mistake of this nature could spawn a call for Muslim unification in a holy war against the West – a disastrous possibility unless we start thinking outside the box.
What new options are available? They are many, all are complex, and none is independent. First of all, many diverse religions must be engaged (Baha’ism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, etc.) to cooperate for the purpose of resolving these difficult conflicts. Socioeconomic conditions in known “enemy” strongholds must be assessed and addressed. Extremists must be deprived of all opportunities to call for a holy war, which potentially could fall on many receptive ears in the Islamic world. The U.S. must make every effort to be evenhanded in managing its relationships with “moderate” Muslim nations. In important moves the U.S’ stance has aided our nation in building a coalition with partners from the Muslim world with credible foundation; but as the war on terrorism gets bigger, choices will become more complex.
I invite political leaders, religious leaders, and conflict resolvers to think about how we can more effectively tap into religion to help our peacemaking efforts. Through the lens of many world-faiths (Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, and Judaism), I teach a course that examines the role of religion in peace operations. Texts are reviewed; current operations analyzed where the employ of religion (belief, conviction, creed, culture, faith) is a major factor in national and transnational conflict resolution. We debate the relationships among conflicted parties, international donors and military – with clerics, holy men and women, imams, monks, mullahs, pastors, and rabbis. It is my hope that as Peacemakers we can value both similarities and differences among dissimilar faiths, that we can be personally grounded and confident to engage in dialogue and to formulate religious policy on issues of national, regional and global proportions.
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