Religious summit: time to talk in the open

Moscow, (RIA Novosti political commentator Marianna Belenkaya) 

It is time to call a spade a spade and talk about taboo subjects. Otherwise, it will be difficult to parry the challenges posed to the world by terrorism. This idea is the bottom line of the religious summit now taking place in Moscow.

This summit is unprecedented. About 200 leaders representing different religions have responded to the initiative of the Inter-Religious Council of Russia to meet for this event. The Council explained that the summit was not supposed to deal with theological issues. Rather, its goal is to work out a common position on both the religious and secular problems that concern mankind today. What should religious leaders do to stop terrorism? This issue has aroused heated debates.

This is what Russia's Chief Rabbi, Berl Lazar, said on this score at a news conference at RIA Novosti before the summit: " We should make it clear that no religious leader supports terror. There are no religious extremists - either you are a religious person, or you are an extremist." Regardless of their religion, the majority of religious leaders agree that it is important to bring this idea home to the public. All are unanimous in their belief that terrorism cannot be justified by anything, still less so by religious reasons. But in the last few years, representatives of different religions have said at numerous meetings that religion and terrorism are incompatible. Has this helped in the struggle against terrorism?

Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, who chairs the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, believes that the answer to this question is no.

Meeting with journalists on the eve of the summit, he emphasized that all previous attempts to give an inter-religious response to manifestations of terror boiled down to general appeals to "be friendly" or statements that "religion does not motivate terrorism". He believes these are just words. "The peopled who hijacked the planes in the U.S. on September 11, 2001, justified their acts using religion. They gave up their lives for its sake," the Metropolitan reminded.

In other words, official statements by religious leaders have no effect. None of the world's religions is a source of terrorism, but this fact does not prevent terrorists from using the name of God as an excuse for their actions, or from avowing divine justice.

Metropolitan Kirill emphasized that "if we discuss the subject in the context of political correctness, we will never be able to achieve our goal." Giving up political correctness does not mean renouncing respect for each other. It means giving up eloquent but idle verbiage, facing reality, and speaking the bitter truth.

Incidentally, when it comes to terrorism, not only religious leaders but also secular figures are trying to be politically correct. They do not want to damage relations between religious institutions and the state, or upset the fragile ethnic and religious balance in this or that country.

It is not easy to talk about terror and religion, or the nature of terrorism as a whole. It is sufficient for the mass media to quote one careless phrase, or a sentence out of context, and ethnic or religious strife is inevitable. It is enough to recall the demonstrations after the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed in the European press, or the clashes between police and immigrants in French cities. This is why everyone is trying to exercise caution and stick to general phraseology.

But more often than not this phraseology is a cover-up for double standards. The majority of civilized people do not accept terrorism, but regardless of that the attitude towards it depends on the political situation in this or that country. What some consider terrorism is an act of resistance to others. This question should be discussed in the open.

"We have to unanimously declare that double standards are impermissible in a political approach to terror," said Berl Lazar. But is it possible to achieve this in the modern world, where many regional conflicts remain unsettled?

Religious leaders believe that many problems might be resolved if we proceed from a system of moral values.

"Democracy is a system which enables society to harmonize the interests of different people. But if we rely solely on rights and freedoms, and ignore moral responsibility, we are bound to be asked why we don't consider the interests of such groups as terrorists and fascists," said Metropolitan Kirill. He went on to explain that moral values alone do not enable us to "distinguish between good and evil, or to decide life-and-death issues." He said that a system of moral values should be integrated into the legislation of all countries, and should receive the unqualified support of society. It is in this direction that religion and governments should conduct dialogue and build cooperation.

But the secular authorities are not likely to give up double standards and political considerations in their decision-making, and be guided by what Kant called the "moral law of the heart", the Metropolitan said. Nobody can guarantee that the political situation in an individual country, or in the world as a whole, will help religious leaders establish common positions. When politics is involved, moral considerations alone are not enough.

Metropolitan Kirill expressed doubt that the Moscow summit would put an end to the tradition of political correctness at inter-religious and political meetings. "It is very difficult for the participants in the summit to draft a politically incorrect document. But if the summit produces a common resolution, it may pave the way for a deeper inter-religious dialogue, in the context of which we could begin to have increasingly open and heated debates," he concluded.

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