The religious basis of peace, non-violence and reconciliation in a plural world was one of the main discussion points at a recent meeting of faith leaders in the light of the fifth year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York.
A conference entitled 'The World's Religions After September 11: A Global Congress' was held from 11 ñ 15 September 2006 in Montreal, Canada. The deliberations included much soul-searching around the question, 'Can religion be a force for good?', as participants acknowledged the way faith has often been exploited for death-dealing ends.
The meeting was concerned to encourage dialogue within and across different traditions. So Dr Manohar Singh, chairperson of the World Sikh Congress ñ American Region, presented a paper on as a part of a special symposium organized by the National Council of Churches (NCCUSA) USA focusing on 'Forgiveness and Reconciliation - Perspectives from Various Religions.'
Some participants pointed out that 9/11 also emblemises other important events in world history ñ from the 3,000 people killed during the 1973 US-backed coup in Chile, through to Gandhi's 'Nonviolent 9/11' in 1906 - described on Ekklesia by Chaiwat Satha-Anand, a conflict transformation expert from Thailand.
The Rev Dr Shanta Premawardhana, Associate General Secretary for Interfaith Relations for NCC-USA declared: "Five years after the horrific events of 9/11, people of the United States still debilitated by fear need to understand forgiveness and reconciliation."
Other panel speakers at the NCC-USA symposium included Rabbi Dr Daniel Brenner (Director of Center for Multifaith Education at Auburn Theological Seminary), Dr Thillay Naidoo (Rama Krishna Society of South Africa), and Dr Muhammad Shafiq (Executive Director of Center for Interfaith Studies and Dialogue at Nazareth College). The panel was chaired by Professor Jane Smith, Director of Hartford Seminary's MacDonald Center for Study of Islam and Christian Muslim Dialogue.
Religious responses to 9/11 in the USA varied considerably. One Baptist church in Northern Indiana held an exhibition to support US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, including an ammunition collection box. But Mennonites in the same area took part in vigils for peace and reconciliation, remembering all who have died in the conflicts.
An overwhelming number of Christian leaders have expressed opposition or disquiet towards Western military adventurism and the approach and assumptions of the 'war on terror'.
[Also on Ekklesia: Remembering the Nonviolent 9/11 by Chaiwat Satha-Anand - originally published in The Mennonite. The author is on the faculty of political science at Thammasat University, Thailand, is vice president of the Strategic Nonviolence Committee of the National Security Council, and is a member of the National Reconciliation Commission]