Pushing Past Terror to Understanding

Three advocates of intercultural dialogue debate religion's role in terrorism and in healing its root causes.

 
In the wake of the 7/7 London terrorist bombings, Beliefnet Senior Editor Alice Chasan talked with Prof. Akbar Ahmed, Bishop John Bryson Chane, and Prof. Judea Pearl--three leading proponents of interfaith dialogue--about their ideas on countering religiously inflected violence with religiously inspired coexistence.



What 9/11 and 7/7 have in common


Muslim leaders' gesture of solidarity


Why it makes sense to say "Islamic terrorist"


Condemn terrorism in the language of Islam


Islam's internal debate


Does a "clash of civilizations cause terrorism?"


There are moral absolutes


We can't afford to lose the Muslim majority



In the aftermath of the London terror attacks, how should religious leaders and people of faith in general should respond to purveyors of hate in their midst?



Bishop John Chane: The way the city of London responded to the horror of those bombings is in many ways a unique way of responding, which I think the United States was unable to do when it was attacked on 9/11. And the way it was done [in the U.K.] was to very clearly condemn it, but to recognize that we ought not to condemn a religion because of the crime of several people who have used religion in an inappropriate way-using very poor theology to do so. We must recognize this phenomenon as something that is very much a part of our culture in the 21st century. But it does not reflect on the integrity of the religion that those people claim to be empowered by.



Judea Pearl: I don't recall the U.S. condemning a religion. It could be some individuals, like Lt. Gen. Boykin, who made a nasty remark here and there, but I think that President Bush was very careful to distinguish between a war against terrorism and a war against Islam. He may not have been successful in convincing all the people that this is the nature of the war [he was waging], but at least he tried.



I am really wondering, John, what made you characterize the failure of America in that way?



John Chane: Going back to where I lived at that time-I was dean of the Episcopal Cathedral in San Diego, California what I remember very clearly in that particular community was a very strong response against Islam as a religion by a number of people. I was surprised they responded in that way. Part of it, I think, was their ignorance about what Islam is. That ignorance precipitated the responses that occurred throughout this country. We still have codes that tend to stereotype folks who don't look like Americans and who speak a different language.



Akbar Ahmed: This is a very interesting discussion, because it is telling us two things. Number one, the similarities here in the United States and in the United Kingdom in terms of these terrible attacks, 9/11 and 7/7.



And second, the dissimilarities: John's point is well taken. The entire British government--the entire hierarchy--went into overdrive to differentiate Islam, the religion, from this terrible act of terrorism. To the point that [when CNN anchor] Wolf Blitzer in the usual style of the American media, said "Islamic terrorism" to the British ambassador here in Washington, and the British ambassador corrected him. He said, it is terrorism, so don't label-please don't smear-an entire religion. The Muslim leadership responded very positively to the sensitivity of the British administration and media. So that you had unambiguous, unequivocal solidarity of the Muslim population with the British people. This is a very important point because this gave the message loud and clear to the British by the Muslims that we are with you, we are part of this culture, part of this tradition, of this land, and these terrorists are few in number, and we will fight them together.



The contrast [with the United States] is that Muslims are, number one, invisible in the media since 9/11, and generally smeared and attacked. Judea is right that President Bush did go to the mosque, he made attempts as an individual, but on the whole America was totally unprepared and therefore caught off-guard.



Confronting evil head-on
Read more on page 2 >>



_Related Features
  • Theater of Sacred Terror
  • Globalization's Revenge?
  • London's Blind Eye to Islamist Terror
  • Continued on page 2: »

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