Tags: Rein | Fanatical | Religion

Rein in Fanatical Religion

Wednesday, 27 June 2007 12:00 AM

Today, the great challenge facing humankind is to find how people of different religious faiths can live together peacefully.

Many religions, especially Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Islam, espouse noble qualities like peace, charity, humility, honesty, and other virtues important for the continuance of a civil society.

But it is also true that all the great religions have histories of intolerance and sometimes outright violence toward non-adherents. Sometimes fanaticism can take a violent twist.

There is a famous story about English nobleman Simon de Montfort leading a Catholic crusade against a city in southern France in the 13th century. The city had been a sanctuary for many members of a heretical group called the Cathars.

De Montfort and his Crusaders faced a dilemma. Many of the citizens of the besieged city were not heretics but devout Catholics. De Montfort turned to the papal representative for advice. History records the papal legate's response: "Kill them all. God will know his own." In the end, all in the city were slaughtered.

For Christians, much of this medieval thinking about faith and violence has been discarded. Still, some religious extremists today would wildly embrace such senseless behavior.

The al-Qaida members who attacked the World Trade Center most assuredly knew that many American Muslims also worked in the towers and these Muslims would perish as a result of al-Qaida's suicide mission.

Osama bin Laden would no doubt believe it is of little worry since "Allah will know his own."

My point here is that religious extremism with a violent edge is the underlying and present threat we face in our war on terror.

The leader of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, personifies this extremist danger. He is a radical Shiite Muslim who believes he is ushering in the time of the 12th imam, the ultimate savior of mankind. He believes that a global confrontation leading to world chaos needs to be triggered for the emergence of this 12th imam.

Unless they are stopped, religious fanatics like Ahmadinejad and bin Laden will soon be armed with nuclear devices. Preventing them from obtaining such weapons is an immediate concern.

The long-term problem that must be solved is confronting the growing rise of religion gone amok.

One person who has been offering some real solutions on this front is Rabbi Arthur Schneier. A friend, Schneier runs the Appeal of Conscience Foundation in New York and is spiritual leader of Park East Synagogue.

His organization, founded in 1965, is an "interfaith coalition of business and religious leaders who have sought to promote peace, tolerance, and ethnic conflict resolution." Schneier recalls the days when major religions were united in their opposition to the atheistic Soviet empire.

Indeed, it was the United States, through the CIA, that backed the Muslim insurgency in Afghanistan during the dark days of the Soviet occupation. One of the U.S.-backed mujahideen was a young Saudi named Osama bin Laden.

Since then, the Soviet Union has fallen. China has opened up. This tectonic shift in geopolitics has exposed other real fault lines in the world, most notably in our religious differences.

Schneier is a remarkable man who acts as a religious "secretary of state," shuttling among political and religious leaders in seeking to resolve religious differences in places like the former Yugoslavia, the Middle East, and other hot spots.

He is not a pessimist, however, when it comes to dealing with Islam. "We are the children of Abraham," he says, staking out the common ground. But how can the children of Abraham of the Islamic branch be so intent on a religious war against the West?

Schneier believes the extremists were not and have not been the majority in the Islamic world. Still, these extremists have "captured the street" in the Arab world, he says. "The voices of co-existence in the Islamic world are muted and intimidated."

Dealing with the rise of Islamic fanaticism will not be an easy task, suggests the rabbi. The West must know the sources of these problems. He points to the Saudi Wahhabi sect, which is funding madrassas across the Muslim world that teach hate, and Shiite Iran, which is backing terror groups in Lebanon and in the territories around Israel, among other places.

Schneier says that Pope Benedict grasps the problem well. He understands religious tolerance cannot be a "one-way street." "The Muslims have a huge mosque in Rome. They have one in New York. Can you imagine a church or synagogue in Riyadh?" Schneier asks. He notes that some 1 million Filipinos live and work in Saudi Arabia, but are denied the right to practice their Christian faith.

The Western nations should and must demand reciprocity. Just as nations joining the European Union must adhere to certain principles from member states, the world should do the same. The United Nations charter calls for religious tolerance by its member states, but the rule is flouted by countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia.

For Schneier, the ideas of religious freedom, acceptance and tolerance are not ones that prove one side wins. It is a realization that religious fanaticism is lurching the world toward a dangerous point.

People of all faiths must remember that "Religion is like fire. It can warm, but it also can destroy," the rabbi says. He adds that no one wins when destructive forces are unleashed.

"We either swim together or sink together."

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Today, the great challenge facing humankind is to find how people of different religious faiths can live together peacefully. Many religions, especially Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Islam, espouse noble qualities like peace, charity, humility, honesty, and other...
Wednesday, 27 June 2007 12:00 AM
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