Faith, Religion and International Security – My Roundtable Experience

A month ago I attended this discussion Faith, Religion and International Security. ‘The overriding question was,

How can faith inform both US and global foreign affairs?”

It was sponsored by the Universal Peace Federation, and moderated by Dr. Douglas Johnston, the founder and president of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (ICRD).

There were not many people in attendance, and everyone was invited to speak and add to the conversation.

I happily inform you dear readers, I spoke in front of such august personages as Dr. Douglas Johnston, along with the vice president of the ICRD; James Patton. Other participants included the president of the DC UPF office; Antonio Betancourt, and the Chief Representative of the League of Arab States to the United States; Mohammad Alhussaini Alsharif.

For the record, I urged the group to remember that when discussing conflict, we’re talking about individuals, not collective identities. At the heart of conflicts are people – people who have human needs for justice, reconciliation, acknowledgement of wrongs done against them, and a better life. Although, we may not agree on the ‘methods’ to create said better life, like terror tactics.

I also briefly shared my experiences talking with some Hindus and Muslims in India about their hatred of one another. A few I spoke with could not even articulate ‘why’ they hated the other, just that they had always been ‘taught’ to do so. That type of learned animosity is prevalent in many conflicts and debilitating to conflict resolution efforts.

It was an enlightening experience for me. And I was honored to be part of such a group.

Among the topics we discussed were ‘how to deal with non-state actors who are trying to hijack conflict resolution situations in the name of religion?” And as a follow-up, what do we do with religious actors vs. believers who behave a certain way in conflict?

We also explored the idea that every faith shares core tenets of belief in human dignity, freedom, mandates for the poor, justice, etc. Furthermore, we looked into how those of us in the peace-building community can help conflicting parties embrace and understand each other using universal religious frameworks.

There were many take-aways for me, but perhaps the most simple and profound were from Mr. Betancourt, who, when discussing the use of religion by actors to violently drive conflict, said “We must give them the respect they don’t have for themselves, or they don’t deserve.”

That’s easier said than done, but so important and crucial to remember.

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