By Philip Fungurai
Terrorism is a very complex concept. Its complexity is clear in the adage “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”. It is against this background and complex dynamics of terrorism that an ecumenical approach will be ideal in setting a common foundation of values that will drive global cooperation towards global peace. Imagine an international forum with delegates from Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Hindu. Such a forum will make clear the relationship between terrorism and religion and help demystify the question “are all terror activities motivated by religion?”, as well as promoting an appreciation for shared values, and deeper understanding of terrorist groups like Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, and Al–Shabab. The net effect of all this would be well-informed strategies, early warning systems and policies other than barbaric wars against terror that do more harm than good. In this post September 11 era, interfaith dialogue should shape and notch the fight against terrorism. Interfaith dialogue is a strong instrument to pacify the extreme religious sentiment which is assumed to be the cause of the hostility against the religious others. The fundamental interfaith and ecumenical moral duty for the welfare of others makes progress towards combating terrorism possible.
A typical example in this regard is the ecumenical approach acknowledged and adopted by the Philippines government to address terrorism in the country. Their interfaith initiative is reflective of their foreign coupled with domestic policy. An opening speech by the Philippines President, His Excellency Mr Arroyo at the March 2006 regional interfaith conference in Cebu terrorism constituted the crux of the symposium. Speaking about the challenges of interfaith dialogue in the country, the President referred specifically to the over 20 years Mindanao conflict between Muslim groups, and the communist movement characterized with terror activities that have been a threat to security in the nation-state. Interfaith dialogue has been ceaselessly employed by the Philippines government to complement military interventions. In the same symposium, Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Hassan Wirajuda reiterated interfaith dialogue as a reinforcement of the fight against terrorism.
In Southern Africa, the late Nelson Mandela reaffirmed the important role of interfaith religious initiatives in peace and security. He postulated that inter-religious solidarity played a pivotal role in the fight against apartheid in South Africa, (Mandela, 1999). During the 1999 Parliament of World Religions, the once freedom fighter, and once termed “terrorist” by Boers said, “Without the Church and religious institutions, I would never be here today”. It is in this light that this article resounds the notion that, ecumenical dialogue can only be effective if it aims not only at understanding but working together for the creation of socio-economic, religious and political justice, which is at the root of many terrorist and conflict issues concerning people of different religions. This is affirmed by Bagir, (2010) who explicitly points out that, “Understanding does not simply mean knowing the teachings of other religions, but also understanding the common fate/predicament that we (our religions/religious communities) are in together right now”.
Whilst neo-conflict theorists dismiss the fact that religion is at the heart of terrorism and conflict, blaming other drivers like the greed and grievance theory (Collier, 2000), trends in terrorism have continuously pointed back to religion as the primary axis thus attesting to the relevance of an inter-faith (ecumenical) approach as an adequate panacea to addressing terrorism. For instance, in the April 2015 Garissa attacks, Al-Shabab purposefully killed and targeted over 150 non-Muslims and left all Muslims unharmed. Similarly, the September 11 attacks were partly grounded in Muslim anger towards American stationing of troops closer to their holy mosque, the Mecca. In light of this, acknowledgement of the crucial role of religion in causing and exacerbating terrorism and conflict would be a crucial point of departure towards the holistic engagement of ecumenical initiatives and dialogues. Ecumenical initiatives complemented by anti-terrorism media campaigns, pro-inter religion solidarity media and holistic early warning systems form a solid foundation towards ameliorating anti-Muslim sentiments, mitigating religious stereotyping and facilitating global peace.
Philip Nyasha Fungurai is a researcher who holds a Bsc Honours Degree in Peace and Governance with Bindura University of Science Education. He is also a peace building, human rights and democracy patron and specialist who works in cohorts with civil society organizations, research institutes and think tanks in Zimbabwe and Africa.