A Time for Vigilance Not Amnesia
Sharm el Sheik
Director, Office of Interreligious Relations, IIFWP
Director, Middle East Peace Initiative, IIFWP
February 9, 2005
Political processes, truces, ceasefires, roadmaps, and other symbols and contracts for peace are fragile and have a habit of breaking down. Witness the aftermath of the “roadmap,” and the birth of the second intifada, which yielded a massive spike in violent deaths to Israelis and Palestinians alike.
How many Mont Blanc pens used for signing peace treaties enjoy the serene security of climate controlled museum cases, while mothers and wives scrub the splattered blood of their loves ones off the walls of their homes, coffee shops, and supermarkets?
We are fully encouraged by the near spontaneous eruption of a commitment to “calm” shared by Sharon and Abbas in Sharm El Sheik, made all the more enchanting absent the shadow of the omnipresent US bribe (the international version of the parental surrender “I’ll give you an I Pod if you stop fighting with your sister – a victory for blackmail depriving everyone involved of discovering the genuine joy of having one’s own sister as a true friend). The perennial oil spill of US dollars will slick over the blue green human desire for peace soon enough, but last week’s Sharon-Abbas handshake sparkled in an untainted beauty. Egypt and Jordan surely deserve their day in the sun for having faithfully trod a treacherous line dreaming of peace in a troubled time and a troubled place.
The heady and intoxicating dreams sparked in us by such Spring-like moments in Egypt, should be accompanied by a stern and focused glare reminding us that now is the time, more than ever, to recall that conflict in the region is not merely political, and cannot be solved by politicians alone.
The horrors and calumny shattering the dreams and lives of undeserving innocents in the region do not stem merely from political differences and issues. This is why the likes of Sharon and Abbas should not be abandoned or isolated in this moment during their efforts to realize the peace they nobly symbolized in their dramatic act of hope and courage. As politicians they can NOT solve the problems which cause violence and bloodshed in the Middle East. They can only solve the POLITICAL aspects of the problem, and history shows beyond a shadow of doubt that political efforts to provide solutions in isolation will forever be woefully inadequate to address the complex and deep-rooted causes of conflict in the region.
Violence and conflict in the region are spiritual in nature above all. Additionally they are religious, historical, and cultural. For this reason it is the unmitigated responsibility of all peace seekers in every field to come to the support of Sharon, Abbas, Rice, Bush, Murbarak, and Abdullah II of Jordan in their time of courage, of risk, and of need. Furthermore, from among all leaders responsible to support the public face of pursuing peace, NO ONE bears greater responsibility than religious leaders, not only in the region, but also in the world.
All religions represented in the region have important centers of influence in many other parts of the world. Each and every world religious body must hasten to organize their respective faith communities, as well as their official, public utterances from central leadership to undergird the courageous, dream-filled, and hopeful moments radiating from Sharm El Sheik this week.
We urge President Bush and his cabinet, which publicly acknowledge the role of the divine in human affairs not to grow dull in mistakenly thinking that the God of all is confined to private Sundays.
The political process is the starlet on center stage evoking our dreams and hopes, but it is the spiritual and religious leaders who must light the path for Sharon and Abbas as each of them now faces enormously difficult negotiations with hard-liners to their left and to their right.
Believers and religions cannot sit idly by in this moment of serendipity. If anything, religions and believers should achieve greater sacrifice, risk, humility, trust, and reaching out across boundaries and barriers than secular leaders. Religions have the urgent responsibility to reach those yet to intuit that the path of true faith forgives, believes in change, and pursues a peace that surpasseth all understanding.