Middle East meetings stress need for protection, aid
By United Methodist News ServiceA
gathering of Iraq's religious leaders and meetings with heads of
government in Lebanon and Iraq have led executives of the U.S. National
Council of Churches to renew their call for nonviolent solutions to the
Middle East's problems and for more humanitarian aid.
Robert Edgar, staff head of the NCC and a United Methodist clergyman,
and Antonios Kireopoulos, who heads the NCC international affairs and
peace area, were among the international religious leaders,
intellectuals, diplomats and officials from humanitarian aid agencies
who attended a May 27-28 meeting in Amman, Jordan.
The meeting of
Iraq's religious leaders, including Shi'ite, Sunni and Christian
representatives, to address the Iraqi crisis was convened by the World
Conference of Religions for Peace.
"The Iraqi religious leaders -
Christian and Muslim - met together and really reported that there is
danger on the streets of Baghdad and throughout Iraq, and they shared a
strong conviction that the international community must help," Edgar
said. He added that he's sure the leaders will be heartened by the
decision of the countries represented at the G8 summit in France to
support the rebuilding of Iraq.
"What was important (at the
meeting) was to receive confirmation that chaos has broken out in Iraq
following the military action, and that going to war might be easier
than securing the peace." Edgar reported.
In what was believed to
be an unprecedented meeting, the Iraqi Muslim and Christian leaders
urged that humanitarian aid organizations increase their assistance
through Iraqi religious and other social institutions, that the
occupying forces provide security to the civilian population as they are
obligated by international conventions and that a temporary Iraqi
government be formed as soon as possible.
Their joint statement,
issued May 28, asked that a permanent Iraqi government be based on free,
democratic elections and that a constitution be adopted that would
protect all religious, ethnic and national groupings while maintaining
the nation's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
"I have to
say that the United States and Great Britain did not help themselves by
not being prepared for what would take place after the military action,
and that was clearly in the hearts and minds of the religious leaders
who came to Jordan," Edgar observed.
"On the positive side, I
think there is a very important moment right now in the Middle East," he
said. It's important for Christian, Muslim and Jewish moderates to
assist in the peacemaking in that region, he explained.
with Lebanon's prime minister and Syria's president, as well as regional
Christian leaders, made "very evident that they believe there is a role
for the international religious community, as well as the government
officials, to develop nonviolent and peace strategies for the region,"
The Rev. Riad Jarjour of the Middle East Council of
Churches - an organization of Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Catholic and
Protestant churches in the Middle East - coordinated the visits. He and
the two NCC executives were joined by William Vendley, president of
World Conference of Religions for Peace.
el-Assad of Syria thanked the NCC and the U.S. National Conference of
Catholic Bishops for opposing war in Iraq and, more importantly, Edgar
said, for "communicating to the broader community in the Middle East
that the ultra-extremist Christians in the United States - the
fundamentalists - don't represent the total religious view."
said that the primary purpose of the visits to the three countries was
to communicate "that the moderate-to-progressive (U.S.) community stands
for nonviolence and wants to work for peace in the region."
Kireopoulos said their purpose was to bring a voice of moderation, tolerance and mutual respect to the region.
Easterners of both Christian and the Islamic viewpoints see the
proselytizing efforts of U.S. Christians in the Middle East as possibly
more destabilizing than even the war itself, Kireopoulos said. "To them,
that translates into a clash of civilizations or a crusade and that
sort of thing.
"Both the Christians and the Muslims saw (our
voice of moderation) as a note of hope and not a rush to cultural and
religious war," he explained.
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