On Faith

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Below is an excerpt from "On Faith," an Internet feature sponsored by The Washington Post and Newsweek. More than 50 figures from the world of faith regularly engage in a conversation about an aspect of religion. This week's question: In response to the terrorist attacks in India, how would you advise President-elect Obama and his new foreign policy team to confront religious extremism and terrorism?

A new presidential policy on religiously defined terrorism should act in three directions:

(1) Work to strengthen those in every religious community -- beginning with those in American mosques and Muslim organizations -- who oppose religious violence.

(2) Treat terrorism as a crime to be policed and punished, not through "war'' that breeds more terrorists by destroying civilian life.

(3) Heal the political canker-sores (such as conflict over Kashmir and over Israel-Palestine) that have festered into motivations and excuses for terrorism.

Right away -- not waiting till Jan. 20 -- President-elect Obama should start visiting mosques, and speaking in mosques. It is shameful that he did not do so even once during the entire election campaign. At these mosques, he should praise those Muslim organizations -- by name, including the Islamic Society of North America, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and the Muslim Public Affairs Council -- for their forthright and vigorous public statements denouncing the Mumbai attacks, and others in the past.

He should make clear that, of course, they were doing no more than is their responsibility, but it is especially incumbent on the American media to let the public know about these statements, and that he is mentioning them to aid in that process.

He should be clear that the serious adherents of all religions should be condemning the use of violence in the name of their own as well as other religions, and that this should be true when Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, or Buddhists use violence in the name of their faith.

He should praise the efforts at Jewish-Muslim inter-education by the Union for Reform Judaism and Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), and urge churches and mosques to pursue the same kind of efforts.

And he should urge the governments of India and Pakistan to undertake two joint projects:

(1) Seeking out by means of criminal investigation and police work the perpetrators and planners of the Mumbai attack, explicitly refusing to criticize either government for the Mumbai attacks and refusing to define them as acts of "war" or responding to them through a "war" on terror. Mass murders they were, and should be prosecuted that way, rather than creating more terrorists by bombing whole villages in retaliation.

(2) Agreeing to heal the poisonous canker of the Kashmir question by bringing in the U.N. to negotiate toward and conduct a free and fair election by Kashmiris to decide their own future, including such choices as independence, demilitarized accession to Pakistan or India, and unconventional multinational status with representation in both national governments.

-- Rabbi Arthur Waskow, founder and director of the Shalom Center

To read the complete essay and see more "On Faith" commentary, hosted by Jon Meacham and Sally Quinn, go to http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company