It is clear that if there is to be any progress in the arena of interfaith discourse, it shall be to the exclusion of these morally corrupt political elitists.
AhlulBayt Islamic Mission – The widely-anticipated two-day conference titled "Culture of Peace" was concluded last week at the UN General Assembly Hall in New York. Having glossed over the list of invitees before the high-level meeting, the gathering expectedly proved to be a jerry-rigged, and ultimately meaningless, interfaith outing set within a superficial, all-embracing atmosphere. The key difference was that those seemingly engrossed by it all were not rabbis, priests, and imams, but rather heads of states and dignitaries dressed in their crisp-looking suits and ties.
With growing concerns about "serious instances of intolerance, discrimination, hatred expressions, and harassment of minority religious communities of all faiths," the stated aims in the conference abstract were to promote "dialogue, understanding, and tolerance among human beings, as well as respect for all their diverse religions, cultures, and beliefs."
The conference, convened on the initiative of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, follows on from a series of interfaith initiatives (read: photo-op roadshows) organized by the kingdom. Stuck in a deep quagmire, Saudi Arabia finds itself fighting to remain relevant as a key geostrategic player for a region in which it no longer holds sway. The Saudi Arabia of the past, whose mere mention would draw veneration, is today salvaging what remains of its lost glory from the gutters of the Arab street. Within this backdrop, it is no surprise that the conference turned out to be a sort of cross-religious parody. Beneath the paltry surface of concern for interfaith relations and promoting dialogue and tolerance, the central objectives of the meeting for the main stakeholders were evidently political.
President George W. Bush, whose term cannot end quickly enough, was not about to miss the opportunity for a political stunt of this magnitude. With his hands still dripping with the blood of hundreds of thousands of innocents, Mr. Bush took to the podium to profess his strong belief in "God" and speak about God-given freedoms and rights. If that wasn’t enough – after all the damage he has wreaked – the man who has shown himself to be mulish in his ignorance decided to treat the world to the latest version of the justifying cause for going into Iraq. From confronting a rogue regime with WMDs that posed an immediate threat to US national security to dealing with a safe haven for the loosely-connected international al-Qaeda terrorist group, the cause for the war on Iraq, in this milieu of religiosity, suddenly became a project aimed at "protecting Muslims". What a novelty of a person Mr. Bush is!
Also poised to address the gathering, and definitely not one to be outdone, was Israeli President Shimon Peres. "Harming a human being is tantamount to harming God himself. When nuclear weapons, long-range missiles, indiscriminate terror, and fanatical incitement determine the agenda, all of us have to change that agenda," exclaimed Mr. Peres with his usual saintly mendacity. Perhaps it had passed his aging memory that it is Israel that possesses nuclear weapons and not Palestine; that it is Israel which holds tens of thousands of long-range missiles and not Palestine; that indiscriminate use of terror is advocated by Israel, not by Palestine; and that it is he, the Israeli president, who unleashed and relied on the fanatical Zionistic fervor of racist settlers to systematically dispossess Palestinians off their land in the West Bank, and not the Palestinian leaders. Mr. Peres, who has yet to wipe his hands clean from the blood of over a hundred innocent women and children whom he targeted at the UN outpost in the village in Qana during the "Operation Grapes of Wrath" carried out in 1996, was here preaching about morals. The United Nations, which had found the bombing to be "a deliberate act", was in return giving its chief perpetrator a podium from which to speak to the world in the name of the great Judaic faith.
That which was discussed in the "Culture of Peace" conference was not the message of truth and justice spread by faiths. It was not a message from faith at all, but rather a message hijacked by its arch-nemesis parading in its holy garb: a deceitful, devilish political elite willing to use any means and hijack any ideal to feed its insatiable greed of self-interest.
It is clear that if there is to be any progress in the arena of interfaith discourse, it shall be to the exclusion of these morally corrupt political elitists. In order to promote greater bonds of unity between the great Abrahamic faiths, there is a pressing need for religious leaders to disavow themselves of manipulative political leaders who are in fact one of the driving causes for the increased tensions witnessed around the globe today. The efficient spin machines found within the dark corridors of power have time and again conflated socio-political questions into absolutist creedal equations so as to seed animosity between communities, while those in power conveniently make use of such opportunities to reach their ends.
Indeed, it would be all too simplistic to suggest that there are no problems between faiths that need to be resolved by religious leaders and groups. At the same time, however, the current pitch of discourse belies the strong feelings held within the majority inside of all faith of belonging to a common humanity at large. It is high time for religious leaders from across the spectrum to step up to the plate and play their part in this regard with the urgency it deserves. Now is their moment to make clear the teachings of the Divine Prophets in unison with one voice: respect for humanity, the innate dignity of humankind, sanctity of human life, speaking out against injustice, and refusal to bow down before oppression and vile possessors of power.
Whilst the Saudi King is to be thanked for organizing the conference in New York, one also has him to thank for the feeding hand that his kingdom offers to a global Wahhabi cult of extremism. For as long as such a dynamic exists between the locus of power interests and the banner of religion, interfaith dialogue shall continue to come out as a casualty, and with it a decisive blow to bridging broader inter-civilizational ties.