Religious groups may be particularly effective in stemming religion-based terrorism, according to America, a Jesuit magazine (April 14).
One finding of a recent Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict concerned the pivotal role co-religionists play in countering the “hateful side of the religious sword with the other side of tolerance and love for humanity.”Statements condemning terrorism by religious leaders in major cities or in far-away nations are unlikely to convince local religious clergy “who are captivated by the rhetoric and manipulation of sacred symbols” by someone like Osama bin Laden. Counteracting the terrorism and violence that first breaks out locally (violence between Muslims and Christians, for instance) “requires local presence and local response,” writes Joseph Bock, a conflict resolution specialist.
One solution to this dilemma is the “model provided by civic groups, like Rotary, which are global in reach and have a local presence.” Bock cites the example of the Catholic diocese in Mumbai, India where it imported the base Christian communities approach from Latin America and transformed it into “Base Human Communities.” Each group, which include Muslim, Hindu and Christian members, monitors aggression by any religious group toward another and takes “immediate action to prevent malicious rumors from spreading. They also take measures to prevent isolated, yet potentially explosive, events from being blown out of proportion…” The program has been so successful that where these “interfaith civic groups” exist, interreligious riots, which have plagued other parts of Mumbai, have been noticeably absent.
Bock adds that scholars seeking preventative solutions to terrorism are embracing an ”iniquity theory.” For years social scientists have sought to explain terrorism with “equity” theories that sought to redress injustices and inequalities that result in violent behavior. The new thinking holds that it is one thing for people to feel the injustice of living in a refugee camp, but “quite another for them to develop a view that this injustice is evidence that the Christian West is the enemy of the Muslim world and that Muslims have not only the right to lash out violently against the Christian West but a religious duty to do so.”
Thus, social scientists are now paying attention to the way leaders of militant movements, like bin Laden, recognize that some of those who are discontented about geopolitical issues can be made to feel a collective sense of moral violation and “that they have an obligation to be violent against that which is defacing something they hold sacred.”
Another way scholars and activists are working to prevent terrorism and other forms of violence is by introducing the concept of forgiveness into political strategy, according to Bill Bole in the April 21 issue of America. The new emphasis on making public acts of forgiveness and mutual repentance takes its cues from the work of the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa and applies it to cases where normal diplomacy does not solve conflicts, such as identity-based antagonism, including tribal genocide in Rwanda and varieties of Islamic extremism.
The concept is now slipping into an “array of initiatives aimed at building trust and relationships, especially in post-conflict societies. These “outsider-neutral organizations,” such as the World Conference on Religion and Peace, and the Appeal of Conscience Foundation often are instrumental in pushing spiritual leaders in such torn societies toward interreligous dialogues and in bringing the concept of forgiveness into reconciliation workshops. For instance, the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies has sponsored dozens of seminars in the former Yugoslavia that bring together lay members of the Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim faiths, where participants acknowledge the atrocities committed by their religious and ethnic groups against others.
Bole concludes that forgiveness can be of use in conflict resolution, if it leaves “behind much of its privatized religious and therapeutic baggage and if it is recognized as a process, not a single, instantaneous act.”
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