Ever since Sept. 11, some American religious leaders have been outspoken in calling for a peaceful response and respect for civil liberties. Their perspectives contrast sharply with President Bush’s bellicose invocations of religious rhetoric, as in his Sept. 20 address to Congress when he declared that “God is not neutral.”
“Christians have a ‘just war’ teaching that in theory can be used to judge any war. In practice, the teaching serves to bless rather than judge wars,” said Sister Evelyn Mattern, a program associate at the North Carolina Council of Churches. “For example, the U.S. Roman Catholic bishops recently invoked the ‘just war’ teaching with regard to Afghanistan. In their hurry to support the president, they failed even to mention one of the main criteria for a just war: that it can be declared only after every other effort has failed. It has yet to be revealed, I think, what the U.S. tried and failed before it began bombing.”
On the question of a “just war,” David Potorti, who lost his brother in the World Trade Center and who recently completed a peace walk from the Pentagon to New York, said: “The phrase ‘just war,” used in reference to the battle being waged in Afghanistan, is resonating, but not as a deep philosophical concept… War, to the increasing exclusion of everything else, is almost the only thing that America collectively cares about anymore… We direct our attention and our resources into what we do best: war.”
Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, director of the Shefa Fund’s Torah of Money project, which deals with Jewish ethics on finances and socially responsible investing, suggested that U.S. foreign policy should address the root causes that push people in developing countries to extremism. “We have to find a way of getting beyond the levels of despair and misunderstanding that grip much of the world. Despair makes a populace rife for an opportunistic leadership that easily divides the world into good and evil, leading to bloodshed. The focus on defeating evil rather than on improving living conditions leads to more people raised in despair. We need to rekindle hope. That comes from working for real change.”
“However vulnerable we might feel, we must caution against blind nationalism which too often leads to irrational and violent behavior,” commented the Rev. Lucius Walker, director of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organizing. “As an interfaith agency, we condemn the vilification of Islam, a major world religion which shares its roots with Judaism and Christianity. We are also deeply concerned about the impact of a U.S. war on the already brutalized population of Afghanistan. We cannot justify an attack on innocent civilians who are already living under horrific conditions given the civil war that rages on. The tragic reality is that people in many parts of the world have been the victims of terrorism, and that much of that terrorism has been fomented by our government. This in no way excuses the terrorist acts committed against the people of the U.S. — but it must inform our response to those terrorist acts.”
From a Buddhist perspective, Sue Moon, the editor of Turning Wheel, the quarterly magazine of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, said: “I don’t support the war and I don’t support the continuation of bombing in Afghanistan and I definitely don’t support the extension of the war to Iraq. As Buddhists, one of our first precepts is not to kill and to search for ways of being nonviolent and to work for social justice. I would be in favor of continuing international talks and agreements and negotiations. Aid to Afghanistan is essential. We should cut back on arms sales and reevaluate our energy policy, which is dependent on Middle Eastern oil, by supporting alternative energy policies.” Moon is the author of Being Bodies: Buddhist Women on the Paradox of Embodiment.
On the issue of civil liberties, Dr. Laila al-Marayati, the founder of the Muslim Women’s League, said: “America pays lip service to things like human rights, that makes it a source of hope, but when we don’t walk the walk, that leads to resentment… . We should not sacrifice our freedoms in the name of this war. The crackdown on various religious charities feels like an attempt to limit the American Muslim community’s activism on behalf of legitimate causes like the suffering of Palestinians.”
“Now we have the proposal to reinstate covert surveillance of religious and political organizations in the United States,” said the Rev. Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine. “For those of us who have lived through those activities in the past, it brings back all the memories of government harassment of dissent. Finding and punishing those who committed the attacks of Sept. 11 and preventing future attacks is something we all should support. Sacrificing our constitutional civil liberties to do so is not.”
David Harrison is a writer with IPA Media, a project of the Institute for Public Accuracy.