Religion: Fuel for Violence, Key to Peace

Religious tolerance was one of the topics widely addressed during the 2005 World Social Forum, held in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

"When some two years ago in the West Indian State of Gujarat a train compartment was bombed and 58 people were killed by unknown offenders, local and regional newspapers published the headline '58 people killed by Muslim extremists'. As a reaction, more than 2000 innocent Muslim Indians were chased, raped and killed in a most cruel way in the week after the bombing," Siddharta, leader of Fireflies, an interreligious Ashram in Bangalore, India, recounted, during a panel discussion on the role of religion in conflicts.

"Religious conflicts are a reality that societies all over the world have to live with," said another panel speaker, Rifat Kassis from Palestine.

Kassis, the international coordinator of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), pointed to areas such as Sudan, Sri Lanka and Northern Ireland, in explaining that "What is happening in the Middle East is not unique."

Members of the panel agreed that religion has sometimes “justified” or even “fuelled conflicts” outside of the purely religious sphere. Similarly, the panelists agreed that relationships between religion has been the root that develops initiatives for peace.

At that light, Ulrich Duchrow, a professor of theology from Germany, said ethics and spirituality must be considered in an interreligious and interconnected context.

”The market is driven by the neoliberal paradigm whose psychological basis creates aggression and competition rather than solidarity. Within this climate, the other is seen as a permanent threat,” said Duchrow. "We won't survive with an ethics that is considered as 'individual private value judgment. IIf we consider ethics as a condition for life, we mustn't see each other as atomic individuals or as rivals but as closely connected beings. A future ethics must be relational, it must be an ethics of solidarity."

Meanwhile, Palestinian Christian Kassis said he hopes mutual understanding could contribute to a culture of peace.

"If you don't know any Arabs, you could get the idea from certain media that every Arab is a terrorist," explained Kassis. "Even if we focus on Christianity, we should not think that our religion is the only peaceful one."