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September 13 2011 09:00 | Residenz, Kaisersaal

“From a Culture of Fear to a Culture of Trust” by Munib A. Younan

Munib Younan

World Lutheran Federation

The topic of this panel is “11th September 2001 to 11th September 2011.” It is a time to reflect on the atrocity of 9-11 now ten years after the fact. 9-11 was a horrendous event. I was in the States at the time, speaking at the opening ceremonies of a Lutheran University in the heartland, a time when students were filled with hope, optimism, and goodwill. Yet overnight, they were transformed by these experiences. Gone were the hope, optimism, and goodwill as their lives were shaped by a culture of fear. I experienced this tragedy, I heard the cries of pain, I empathized with the feelings of hurt and abandonment. I could understand in my head how the world would be changed by the events of September 11.

Although it was certainly not anticipated when this conference was planned, there was a second event that marks our reflection now at the end of ten years: I’m talking about the events of July 22 in Oslo—fifty days before September 11, 2011--the Christian extremist Anders Breivik who set off a bomb in the city and went on a shooting rampage at a political camp for youth, killing 77 in all. “This was the Norwegians' 9/11 moment,” said some, “and the country would never be the same again.” In talking about this decade, I think it is wise to look at these two events together, events that serve in a sense as bookends for a decade of fear. Together these events help us to reflect on how we are “Bound to Live Together.”

From a Culture of Fear to a Culture of Trust

These two events – 9-11 in New York City and July 22 in Oslo—raise the very important question: How are we bound together? And in particular: “How does religion help us in living together?” “How does religion created problems for us and divide us?” From Sept. 11 in New York City, we were faced with the problem of Muslim extremists. From July 22 in Oslo, we were faced with the problem of a Christian extremist. The vast majority in both religions, those who follow Christianity and Islam in their historic forms, have distanced themselves from these

perpetrators of violence. These are extremists who distort religion. The problem is not religion, but extremism.

Throughout the last two decades of the twentieth century, the esteemed Lutheran historian Martin Marty of the University of Chicago undertook the five-volume Fundamentalism Project1 in which he found a common movement among all religions of the world that presents a militant opposition to modernity. This phenomenon is characterized by a strong rejection of religious and cultural pluralism, a belief that one’s own way is the only way, the formulation of a rigid set of rules and laws, and a following of strong individual leaders or a group of insiders who interpret these rules for all.

Also among those studying religious extremism is Charles Kimball, an American Baptist minister, who been involved already in the late 1970s facilitating communication when Americans were taken hostage in Iran, and served as Director of the Middle East Office of the National Council of Churches in the U.S. and later as a University Professor. Shortly after September 11, Kimball wrote When Religion Becomes Evil: Five Warning Signs. He argued that the problem is not Islam, or Judaism, or Christianity. The problem is when certain individuals, claiming to be speaking for God, or defending God, act counter to the core teaching that love for God shows itself in respect for the other. He writes:

“Whatever religious people may say about their love of God or the mandates of their religion, when their behavior toward others is violent and destructive, when it causes suffering among their neighbors, you can be sure the religion has been corrupted and reform is desperately needed… Conversely, when religion remains true to its authentic sources, it is actively dismantling these corruptions.”

I see a second problem, hinted at by Kimball. When mainline Christians, Muslims, and Jews—especially their leaders—remain silent and timid about these core values, they allow themselves to be held hostage by the extremists, and they contribute to the problem. This is the reason that I call on religious leaders to be prophetic. Religious leaders from every faith and ethnicity must have the courage to stand up and say to their own extremists that any violence done in the name of God or religion is blasphemy. We as religious leaders need to become more engaged and to speak out more forcefully to “dismantle the corruptions” and give a vision of life together in all its diversity in the whole globalized world. Instead of dividing the world on the basis of religion, religion must be a uniting force against the evils of the world, when we focus on the common values we share.

Unfortunately, following September 11, main line religious leaders were perhaps a bit too timid—there is no question that their views were spoken, yet they were drowned out by others, for example, Rev. Franklin Graham, the son of the respected American Evangelist Billie Graham, who publicly declared that Islam was an “evil and wicked religion.”

Such religious views played into the political views articulated by Bernard Lewis and Samuel P. Huntington called A Clash of Civilizations,3 which were very influential in the Bush White House. Within only a few days of September 11, the Christian piety of the American President gave way to the voice of his Vice President who declared that the U.S. had to "work the dark side," using "any means at our disposal" and "without any discussion." The world was soon divided between the axis of good and the axis of evil.

I am convinced that as religious leaders we must continually, and unequivocally, speak with one voice for an ethic of non-violence. To take up the cross of Jesus and to follow takes seriously his command to love our enemies and to turn the other cheek. It means holding steadfastly a candle of light even in the darkest part of the night.

During the midst of the Civil Rights movement, nearly four decades earlier Dr. Martin

Luther King jr. wrote:

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.

It is no accident that King title is book, The Strength to Love. Working the dark side can only be understood as a sign of weakness. Hating the other only shows our own inadequacies. The only answer is love.

Edward Said, the renowned Palestinian-American educator wrote shortly before his death: “No culture or civilization exists by itself; none is made up of things like individuality and enlightenment that are completely exclusive to it; and none exists without the basic attributes of community, love, value for life and all the others.” What is the essence of Religion? When a young man approached Jesus asking what are the greatest of commandments, Jesus responded very simply: Love of God and Love of neighbor as self (Matthew 22:37-40). It also came from the Jewish Torah, and was quoted by Jesus’ own contemporary Rabbi Hillel. Islam teaches the same principle. Building on this ethic of love, John teaches, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen” (I John 4:20).

In September, 2007--in reaction to the negative responses following September 11, including the war on terror, the profiling of Arabs and Muslims, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the continuing growth of hatred and suspicion--138 Muslim scholars from all Islamic countries and regions in the world came together to produce a document A Common Word Between Us and You, expressing what they saw as fundamental Muslim teaching and also the main common ground between Christianity and Islam. According to their statement, the most fundamental common values between Islam and Christianity, and the basis with the highest potential for future dialogue and understanding, are shared emphases on the love of God and the love of neighbor. A Common Word documents these shared emphases by referencing significant passages in the Qur’an and the Bible. Rather than engage in polemics, the signatories have adopted what they see as the traditional and mainstream Islamic position of respecting the Christian scripture and calling Christians to be more, not less, faithful to it.

Another important initiative is the World Interfaith Harmony Week, proposed by King Abdullah II of Jordan and adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in October 2010 to be recognized each year in the first week in February. When Prince Ghazi of Jordan, Special Adviser on Religious Affairs to King Abdullah, presented the initiative before the UN General Assembly, he stated: “The misuse or abuse of religions can … be a cause of world strife, whereas religions should be a great foundation for facilitating world peace. The remedy for this problem can only come from the world's religions themselves.” I call on all churches to set aside the first week of February to share in this observance of religious harmony.

This is the reason that we must seek the common values of love, co-existence, accepting the other, peace, forgiveness, justice, reconciliation that can change the culture of fear into a culture of trust. Only the culture of trust can make our world into a safe haven for all. Hopefully we have turned the corner from the Clash of Civilizations mentality to focus on the shared responsibility of all religions to proclaim love for the other as the manifestation of love for God.

In this way we may together combat all kinds of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, Christianophobia, or Xenophobia, in order that religion will be the true source of understanding, forgiveness, and reconciliation in every civilization and culture.

This is why it is important to reflect on the events following the July 22 massacre in Oslo to balance those following September 11.

At a memorial service for the victims, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said, "My greatest thanks goes to the Norwegian people, who appeared responsible when needed, who kept their dignity, who chose democracy." He reaffirmed the need for "dialogue and tolerance" in the land, and he expressed the hope that when political work resumed, leaders would "behave with the same wisdom and respect as the Norwegian people" had shown. Even the chief of police had his say, "We do not want barbed wire, roadblocks and weapons as part of everyday life in Norway."

This reflects the words of Dr. Martin Luther King jr. also echoed by those of Desmond

Tutu in the midst of Apartheid in South Africa:

Goodness is stronger than evil;

Love is stronger than hate;

Light is stronger than darkness;

Life is stronger than death;

Victory is ours, Victory is ours;

Through God who loves us.

Let us commit ourselves to continue to work for a transformation from a Culture of fear to a Culture of Trust.

The Role of Education: Bound to Live Together In a 2006 Gallup poll, respondents were asked, “What could western societies do in order to improve relations with the Muslim or Islamic world.”6 The top three answers were:

Better Understanding of Each Other’s Beliefs 18 %

Improve Education 14 %

Work Together 9 %

In a sense these three answers speak to the importance of education in improving relations. The answer “Control or stop extremists and terrorists” finished a distant fourth with only 6 % agreeing. At the same time 56 % admitted that they knew “not much” or “nothing at all” about the opinions and beliefs of people who live in Muslim countries. A survey from the same time by the Council of American-Islamic Relations found that only one in five Americans could give the name of one Muslim whom they knew fairly well. Those who had Muslim friends had a much higher opinion of Muslims than those without.

Education is the key. When I met with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a few years ago, I said, “"You cannot fight extremism with weapons. You can only overcome it with education and interfaith dialogue."

Education is the only transformative power that can build trust among peoples. This is what we are noticing in the Arab Awakening, that the power of education can transform the whole Middle East into a modern civil society that respects human rights, including women’s rights, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and other democratic principles.

Take, for example, our churches in Jerusalem, including our own ELCJHL, where education is considered our direct mission and our strength. Among our stated goals are: 

1. To develop wholesome, creative, and innovative students through a holistic approach to education that addresses their needs and develops their talents, competencies, inclinations, and ability to cope in an ever-changing world.

2. To integrate peace education and culture, reinforce democracy, and encourage tolerance, co-existence, love, and respect toward others.

Only when students from different religions study together, play together, participate in extramural activities together during their education years, will they have the skills to work together and contribute together to society as good citizens when they are adults.

The same ideas must follow also across lines for Palestinians and Israelis. I can report that currently a careful analysis of seven hundred Palestinian and Israeli textbooks is being undertaken in order to analyze how “the other” is portrayed in each group’s education materials.

This is an essential step in laying the foundation of reconciliation at the very the grassroots of our societies—in and for our children. This is a project commissioned by the Council of Religious Institutions in the Holy Land (CRIHL),8 a council is made up of leaders of all three major religions in the Holy Land: The Chief Rabbinate of Israel (including both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Chief Rabbis), the Heads of the Local Churches of the Holy Land, the Ministry of the Islamic Waqf at the Palestinian Authority, and the Islamic Shariah Courts of the Palestinian Authority.

In this way we as religious leaders have taken a stand that we believe can affect our society at its core, that can bring about better understanding among peoples and religions, and that can result in justice, reconciliation, and peace among neighbours.

This fulfils the council’s mission statement based on the core values of love of God and love of neighbour.

“As religious leaders of different faiths, who share the conviction in the one Creator, Lord of the Universe; we believe that the essence of religion is to worship G-d and respect the life and dignity of all human beings, regardless of religion, nationality and gender. . . .We accordingly commit ourselves to use our positions and good offices, to advance these sacred values, to prevent religion from being used as a source of conflict, and to promote mutual respect, a just and comprehensive peace and reconciliation between people of all faiths in the Holy Land and worldwide.”

In conclusion, if you ask me what will change the culture from one of fear to one of trust, I will say education, education, education.

May God Bless You.


Munich  2011

of H.H. Pope
Benedict XVI

09.11 - Destined to live together: New York - München
Destined to Live Together
Semptember 11, 2001
Link New York-München 

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