Published on Monday, August 28, 2006 by the Inter Press Service
'Middle East Conflict Threatens Global Peace'
by Deidre May
Warning that spiralling violence in the Middle East presented a serious threat to world security, religious leaders gathered in this ancient city for a global inter-faith meet are calling for urgent resolution of festering conflicts in the region.Of the suggestions that came up over the weekend, at the ongoing 8th assembly of the World Conference of Religions for Peace (WCRP), was one mooted by Jordan's Prince El Hassan bin Talal that the problems in the Middle East be viewed and treated as essentially Asian ones.
"All the participants agreed that the front lines of global security have shifted decisively from Europe to Asia," Talal said after a session on ‘Advancing Security Through Peace Building'. ''That is why it is well worth involving new actors, such as South and East Asia.''
''The dilemma is clear, exclusion from political stakeholding radicalises, moderates, and legitimises violence,'' said Talal, the outgoing moderator of the WCRP. "For the Middle East to be pulled back from the brink of all-out chaos, we must take the first difficult steps on that road.''
A huge banner, with the Chinese character for way or road painted on it, hangs above the main hall of the assembly to constantly remind the more than 500 senior religious world leaders attending the four-day conference, ending Tuesday, to find ways to fulfill the stated aims of confronting violence and advancing shared security.
Talal's proposals included a conference for security and cooperation in the Middle East with the active participation of all Asian states that ''could help to mobilise a stronger Asian identity and link our disparate regions for mutual benefit''.
Addressing a press conference, William F. Vendley, secretary general to WCRP, commented that attempts at peace like the Oslo Accord were not successful at creating peace between Israel and the Palestinians for the reasons that secular efforts were not enough to solve the problems between people of different religious faiths.
Mediation may be necessary in the Middle East, Mustafa Ceric, the ‘Reis-ul-ulema' from Bosnia-Herzegovina, said citing the case of his own region where the first Inter-religious Council (IRC) president was a Jew because the Muslims and Christians were having difficulty talking with each other and needed a mediator.
As a Muslim from Sarajevo, he appealed to Jewish, Christian, and other religious leaders to regard the Holy Land as belonging to all. There have been too many holy wars and too much bloodshed over the property, Ceric said, adding that no victory can be claimed after killing innocent women and children. ''Muslims do not trust the world and as a consequence the world does not trust Muslims.''
Chief Rabbi David Rosen, the International Director of Inter-religious Affairs of the American Jewish Committee and founder of the IRC in Israel that embraces more than 70 organizations in Israel and current president of World Religions for Peace, dwelt on the causes of violence in the name of religion. "Every leader is going to find justification for the position of the community he or she is part of since religion seeks to give meaning to who we are, which is bound up with our identities. So when our identities are threatened we seek to defend them."
Rosen said because religion is so profoundly related to identity, when people are hurt they fall on their religious traditions to give them a sense of purpose and seek self-justification in a way that disregards and stigmatizes the other. This way, he continued, politicians come to the conclusion that for peace building they must keep away from religion. He urged the assembly to acknowledge that terrible things have been done in the name of religion and referred to the Holy Land as an area where conflict resolution has failed because politicians did not work together with religious leaders.
Rosen played an instrumental role in bringing together the three monotheistic faiths for the first Middle East inter-faith summit in Alexandria in 2002, where a declaration was drawn up condemning violence in the name of religion. This was vetted by the Palestinian and Israeli political leaders of that time, Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon.
Former Iranian president Seyed Mohammed Khatami said he hoped the United Nations 2001 theme of Dialogue Among Cultures and Civilizations (which he proposed) would yet pave the way for talks to resolve the Middle East crisis.
Khatami said that although he respected the roots of Anglo-American civilization, he hoped its great capacity and energies could be utilised to establish peace and stability for mankind. But this capacity was being squandered by politicians who are ‘'neither serving the interests of American citizens nor the people of the world''.
Iran's nuclear development had nothing to do with the Middle East crisis and as signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Iran had the right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, said Khatami. He pointed out that three countries in the region, including Israel, had nuclear weapons but faced no international pressure.
Speaking on the Israeli attack on Hizbollah, Khatami said for such a widespread attack at least a year of planning was necessary. He said victory belongs to Lebanon since the country was fighting to protect its sovereignty. Khatami expressed the wish that Iran's potential in helping to solve the Middle East crisis would be recognised.
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi revealed that his proposal for peace made during a recent tour of the Middle East had found acceptability with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Jordanian King Abdullah 11. The proposal consisted mainly of building a ‘Corridor for Peace and Prosperity' which would enhance the living standards of the people in this region through the creation of an agro-industrial park in the West Bank.
Religions for Peace is the largest non-sectarian coalition of religious groups and represented are religious leaders from over 100 countries including Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq and faiths including Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jew, Islam, Sikh, Shinto, Zoroastrian and indigenous beliefs. Kyoto is where the first assembly was held 36 years ago, organised by the founder of Rissho Kosei Kai, a Buddhist movement that remains a key sponsor.
Copyright © 2006 IPS-Inter Press Service