Is religion a factor of violence or peace? If religions didn’t exist would the world be better or crueler? And what are paths that religions can take to eradicate violence and become means of peacemaking?
These were the questions posed at the opening a jam-packed round table discussion on the theme “Religions and violence”, a central issue following the dramatic and brutal events that have taken place in Iraq, Syria and several other places in the world.
According to Al-Najjar Abdul Majeed, member of the Tunisian Constituent Assembly, the “cause of the violence perpetrated in the name of religion can be traced to the fact that the modern states of Islamic countries have monopolized religious education, removing …. reliable religious sources and thereby exploiting these teachings for political and economic motives”.
Domenico Quirico, a reporter for the daily La Stampa, kidnapped in Syria in 2013 and released after 5 months of harsh imprisonment, said the violence in war zones constitutes a “new totalitarianism”. “In Syria – the journalist recalled – 200,000 non-combatants (children, women and defenseless elderly people) were killed. God seemed to have evaporated while the devil was actively at work”.
“Totalitarianism takes over when a man is condemned to death not for what he did but for who he is, because he is Slavic, Kurdish, Tutsi, Yazida…which uses as a pretext not just the race or the ideology, but the very identity of the victim. We don’t know who slit the throat of the American journalist Steven Sotloff”, said Quirico, “but it appears as though he was British and perhaps a doctor, a singer or a drug dealer. Three possible types who have grown up with the values of our times, with the principle of the sanctity of life, who should have been saviors of human life, idols of the young suppliers of our bad habits. All this, Quirico concluded, poses disquieting questions”.
Lastly, Jerry White of the U.S. State Department, proposed three levels to promote peace: “promote the acquaintance and association with religious leaders, promote actions on the part of the United Nations to put a halt to violence e involve civil society in supporting the study and knowledge of religion”.
All this requires courage on the part of religious leaders, but represents the only way to combat what White defined as the “Ebola of violence”.