Monday, August 28, 2006

ISNA Creates History: Elects First Woman President

The New Face of North American Muslims
Dr. Ingrid Mattson

The Islamic Society of North America (, the largest religious organization representing Muslims in North America, has elected Dr. Ingrid Mattson as its President. She is the first woman to head the organization.

Dr. Mattson, who earlier served as the first female ISNA Vice President, is Professor of Islamic Studies and Director of Islamic Chaplaincy at the Macdonald Center for Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary in Hartford, CT. Dr. Mattson, born in Canada, studied Philosophy at the University of Waterloo, Ontario (B.A. '87) and earned her Ph.D. in Islamic Studies from the University of Chicago in 1999.

I am delighted for ISNA because their new leader, a dynamic Canadian born woman, will be the new face of Muslims in North America. The media and the pubic will recognize someone more like those of the dominant North American culture. I am delighted for Dr. Mattson, whom I have come to know and admire. I think she will bring a level of thoughtful and energetic leadership to ISNA which will be very good for the organization.

Congratulations all round!

Read more:

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Confronting Violence and Advancing Shared Security -- WCRP 8th World Assembly, Kyoto, Japan

I am privileged to be among over 2000 religious leaders attending the World Conference of Religions for Peace 8th World Assembly in Kyoto this weekend. I am attending as a Business Delegate representing Religions for Peace - USA where serve as a Board member.

Among the more interesting presentations today was that of His Royal Highness Prince El Hassan Bin Talal of Jordan who serves as the Moderator of WCRP. The Prince began with an apology to Buddhists on behalf of Muslims for the destruction of the Bamian Buddha statues by the Taliban in Afghanistan. He said that he had offerred to the UN to go to Afghanistan in a delegation of Muslim leaders, but the UN sent other representatives in stead. He regretted that, he said, because had he gone, that would have created an opportunity for a public disagreement among Muslims. This he says is very necessary at this time. He called moderate Muslims the silenced majority.

He addressed many other issues. We have a law of war he said, why don't we have a law of peace? He also proposed multi religious councils of conflict transformation. Economic justice, he suggested, is the biggest issue facing humanity and needs urgent attention. He also decried child soldiers. Children holding weapons is an abomination, he said.

Among the other speakers was Catholic theologian Hans Kung. Speaking of security, he said --
There will be no security without a culture of non-violence and reverence for life;
There will be no security without fairness in global markets
There will be no security without a culture of truth
There will be no security without a culture of partnership based on dignity between men and women.

More on the WCRP assembly and its actions in the coming days....

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Myth of Redemptive Violence

Professor Emeritus (Auburn Seminary) Walter Wink in his Engaging the Powers trilogy wrote on a very important theme, that has impacted my thinking over the years: "The Myth of Redemptive Violence." Ekklesia website recently published an article on the theme in preparation for a seminar organized by the London Mennonite Center.

The belief that violence “saves” is so successful because it doesn’t seem to be mythic in the least. Violence simply appears to be the nature of things. It’s what works. It seems inevitable, the last and, often, the first resort in conflicts. If a god is what you turn to when all else fails, violence certainly functions as a god. What people overlook, then, is the religious character of violence. It demands from its devotees an absolute obedience- unto-death.

This Myth of Redemptive Violence is the real myth of the modern world. It, and not Judaism or Christianity or Islam, is the dominant religion in our society today. When my children were small, we let them log an unconscionable amount of television, and I became fascinated with the mythic structure of cartoons. This was in the 1960s, when the ”death of God” theologians were being feted on talk shows, and secular humanity’s tolerance for religious myth and mystery were touted as having been exhausted.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

NCC prayer site receives 88,000 hits

New York City, August 22, 2006 – While nations parse words and actions around a Middle East cease-fire, people of many faiths have been drawing on a new resource to focus the power of prayer on a "holy land" that birthed three major world religions. As the region was wracked with senseless violence and bloodshed, people of faith quickly turned to as part of their agenda for waging peace.

The website has seen more than 88,000 hits since it was launched two weeks ago. The project is a ministry of the National Council of Churches USA's Interfaith Relations and Religions for Peace-USA. The site’s homepage contains an invitation to prayer from several faith leaders including the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Rev. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the NCC. More:

Monday, August 21, 2006

Pro War Buddhist Monks Disrupt Interfaith Peace Rally

Pro war Buddhist monks in scuffle

An anti war Buddhist monk

Its hard to imagine, but pro-war Buddhist monks disrupted an interfaith peace rally which included anti war Buddhists monks, Christian clergy and nuns, as well as Muslim and Hindu leaders. The event attended by over 1000 people, ended up in fisticuffs. A blow by blow description of the unseemly scuffle was broadcast over Sri Lankan TV the following day.

Chanting "no war, no war" the marchers wended their way Vihara Maha Devi park in Colombo for a rally. The event was organized by the National Anti-War Front (NAWF). During a speech by government minister Mervyn Silva, the pro war monks are reported to have climbed on to the stage and unfurled a banner interrupting the speech. The banner asked the peace demonstration to be held in Kilinochchi, a rebel held city in the North where fighting has intensified over the past two weeks.

The pro-peace lobby that has emerged is interesting in as much as it cuts across party antagonisms and has members of the Mahinda Rajapaksa government as well as the opposition United National Party (UNP). The only groups not represented in the NAWF are the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the Buddhist monks' party Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU),which are vocal supporters of the war.

The basic document of the NAWF called for an end to the hostilities and the commencement of talks between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. "We demand that all parties honor the Ceasefire Agreement,” it said. “We demand that the LTTE refrain from all acts of violence. We urge the Government of Sri Lanka to refrain from violence and not to encourage a culture of impunity."

The NAWF recalled that President Mahinda Rajapaksa had promised in his election campaign that he wanted to take the road to peace and was ready to meet the LTTE chief, Prabhakaran, face to face, to resolve all the issues.

"We urge the President and the Leader of the LTTE to talk to each other in resolving issues. We urge this to take place soon, when everything else seems to have failed," the NAWF document said. "We also urge the LTTE to transform itself into a political party and get involved in the political process," it said.

The NAWF wanted the LTTE to commit itself to a solution within a united Sri Lanka where both sides could achieve a "win-win" situation.

"We urge the LTTE to make a statement assuring the minorities and other political entities full representation and democracy in the North and East," it said.

Anglican Bishop of Colombo, Rt. Rev. Duleep de Chickera said: "It's regrettable that such aggressive acts occurred at an anti-war rally at which several religious dignitaries and peace loving citizens from all religions were present." He told Ecumenical News International, "This was a shameful act."

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Interfaith Relations August Newsletter Now Online

Rev. Lyndon Harris hosting a barbeque on Broadway
for the volunteers at Ground Zero

The Interfaith Relations Newsletter from the National Council of Churches USA is now online. Among its contents are a lead article from Rev. Lyndon Harris who was the pastor at St. Paul's Chapel at Ground Zero, entitled 9/12: Forgiveness and Reconciliation. Interfaith Relations Commission meeting in September in conjunction with the Congress on World's Religions After 9/11 in Montreal, will host two panels on the subject. The newsletter also has an article on the "Future of Mission" and a page of new resources for Interfaith Relations.

Please click here to download and read.

The Season of Prayer for Peace in the Middle East website keeps growing with religious leaders endorsing the effort and prayer resources from many religious traditions being added everyday. Click here for the Season of Prayer website:

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Nagasaki Principle

Today is the 61st anniversary of the bombing of the second Japanese city, Nagasaki. "Historians debate the justification of the Hiroshima attack, but there is consensus that Nagasaki, coming less than three days later, was tragically unnecessary," writes columnist James Carroll in the Boston Globe, August 7th.

The order to bomb was given on July 25th, by President Harry Truman to bomb four Japanese cities. Hiroshima got it first on August 6th, and the devastating effects became immediately evident. Why was no order given to stop the unnecessary second bombing of Nagasaki? James Carroll says, that's because of the Nagasaki Principle.

"War creates momentum that barrels through normally restraining barriers of moral and practical choice. Decision makers begin wars, whether aggressively or defensively, in contexts that are well understood, and with purposes that seem proportionate and able to be accomplished. When destruction and hurt follow the outbreak of violence, however, and then when that destruction and hurt become extreme, the context within which war is begun changes radically. First assumptions no longer apply, and original purposes can become impossible. When that happens, what began as destruction for a goal becomes destruction for its own sake. War generates its own force in which everyone loses. This might be called the Nagasaki principle."

How does the Nagasaki Principle apply in the war in Iraq and the Israeli war against Hizbullah? Click here for the entire article

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Sri Lanka's Water War

Refugees flee fighting between government troops
and rebels in Sri Lanka's northeast.

Following a 19-day blockade of water from disputed reservoir in Sri Lanka -- signalling the start of a "Water War," that sparked the worst fighting between government soldiers and guerrillas in four years the Tamil rebels have now re-opened the water sluice on humanitarian grounds.

Meanwhile, 17 tsunami aid workers from the French organization Action Contre la Faim (Action Against Hunger) were killed yesterday sending shockwaves through the NGO community.

Here’s a brief news capsule from Ecumenical News International

New Delhi (ENI). Churches in Sri Lanka have joined in the widespread condemnation of the killing of at least 15 workers for a French charity during ongoing fighting near Muttur along the east coast of the island in what is being dubbed "the water war". "This is terrible," Santha Fernando, spokesperson for the National Christian Council (NCC) of Sri Lanka, told Ecumenical News International on 8 August. Fernando was reacting to the news of the killing of 15 Tamils working with the French charity Action against Hunger, known by its French initials, ACF.

Click here for a Reuters report on the aid worker killings.

More detailed report on the state of the Sri Lankan war can be found at the following site: Reuters

This morning a bomb blast in Colombo killed a 3 year old and an older man. More information all these at a reputed Sri Lanka web news site:

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Jews and Arabs / Refuse to Be Enemies

This was one of the chants in a peace demonstration in downtown Tel Aviv on Saturday. They also chanted "We shall not die nor kill / in the service of the USA!" - "Children want to live / in Beirut and Haifa!" - "Peretz, Peretz resign / peace is more important!" - "A million refugees / that's a war crime!" - "Olmert, Peretz and Ramon / Get out of Lebanon!" reports Israeli peace web site Gush Shalom.

You won't hear this in the mainstream media, but there's a serious peace movement in Israel

In an article entitled "Bring the Soldiers Home!"It will not End - Until we Talk!"
Gush Shalom says the following:

The biggest demonstration against the war held in Israel until now took place today (5.8.06) in the heart of downtown Tel-Aviv, an area that is considered especially right-wing. Close to 10 thousand demonstrators from all over the country, among them many Arab citizens, marched from Ben-Zion Boulevard, along King George Street, to Magen David Square. There, at the entrance to the Carmel market, a stage was set up. The thousands that did not find place in the square flowed over into Nahlat Binyamin and the other neighboring streets.

When the demonstrators were still waiting for the start, a salvo of eggs was thrown at them from the balcony of a building. The perpetrators fled before the police could reach them.

Jewish Voice for Peace is an alternative voice from the US Jewish community.

From Gaza to Lebanon, the conflict over Israel has once again flared up into major violence, with civilians being the overwhelming majority of the victims. And, true to form, the blame game is in full swing. Cries of “they started it” can be heard loudly from all sides, and the voices talking about reasonable ways to end “it” are once again muted.

Their web site also has links to many other reports, articles and information, including a call to place an ad in The Nation

61st Anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Today is the 61st anniversary of the atom bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki – a day of immense suffering for civilians of two cities. Despite that, the military industrial complex continues its work of developing nuclear weapons. From North Korea, India, Israel and Iran governments of many other countries are also continuing their nuclear dreams. Below are several stories that deal with the nuclear threat.

Protestors to Call for No Nukes! No Wars! Aug. 6-9

To mark the 61st anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, rallies, vigils, teach-ins, and nonviolent protests will be held in more than 60 cities in 24 states across the country to demand an end to nuclear weapons and wars. Antiwar, nuclear abolition and indigenous rights groups are focusing on facilities run by the Bechtel Corporation, one of the world's leading nuclear weapons contractors, war profiteers, and violators of indigenous rights. Activities will take place under the banner: From Hiroshima to Yucca Mountain to the Middle East: No Nukes! No Wars! End War Profiteering! Support Indigenous Rights!
Read a story about how the war in Iraq spurred the nuclear race: From the Independent (UK)

Hiroshima Anniversary: How the War in Iraq Spurred a New Nuclear Arms Race

Tomorrow at 8.15am, a minute's silence will reverberate around the world. The people of Japan will commemorate the victims of the first atomic bomb, which was dropped by an American B-29 on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945.
Half a world away, in Tehran, the new hard man of Iranian politics, President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, will take the oath of office before the country's parliament. His presidency heralds a new era of uncertainty in Iran's fraught relations with the West over its nuclear ambitions.
In Beijing, urgent talks on curbing North Korea's nuclear weapons programme are close to collapse. And in Pakistan, efforts are still being made to roll up the world's biggest nuclear proliferation scandal. Sixty years after Hiroshima, whose single bomb killed 237,062 people, a new nuclear arms race has begun.
A crisis is deepening with Iran over its suspected nuclear weapons activities. Tehran is threatening to resume uranium conversion next week, prompting an emergency meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency which could result in Iran being referred to the UN security council for possible sanctions. More

Message from Hibakusha in Japan to the People of the United States

August 2006 -- On behalf of the 260,000 Japanese Hibakusha, the survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945, we extend our warmest greetings of solidarity to the people of the United States who have been working for peace.
We experienced the atrocity of the A-bomb hell. We have seen a number of A-bomb victims die in agony and pain. Also, the agony would last until their death with a possibility of being inherited to their children and grandchildren. We would like you to take this opportunity to listen to Hibakusha's testimonies. More

Keiji Tsuchiya is the Vice-President of Okayama A-Bomb Sufferer's Association, a chapter of Hidankyo. Mr. Tsuchiya will be speaking at the Livermore Nuclear Weapons Lab on August 6th and at the Bechtel Corporate Headquarters in San Francisco on August 9th.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

How the Middle East Crisis Challenges Interfaith Relations in the US

This question has been in the forefront of my mind for over three weeks now. However, I am going to write about it only in bits and pieces -- as those who write blogs usually do!


An act of hate brings faiths together: from the Seattle Times:

A gunman's attack on the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle targeted the followers of one religion, but the pain has been felt by all faiths.

Jew and Muslim and Christian — they all gathered Monday at Bellevue's Temple B'nai Torah for the funeral of Pamela Waechter, 58, killed by a man who barged into the federation's Seattle office Friday and randomly opened fire after spewing invectives against Jews and Israel…

Picture: Mourners at Pam Waechter's funeral

Last week we were grief-stricken when an attack on the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle by a Pakistani Muslim man killed a woman and injured five others. Apart from the sadness at that tragedy, I feared for that interfaith relations so painstakingly built in Seattle would suffer a great set back. However, swift condemnations of the incident by Islamic organizations and clear-headed statements by Jewish organizations that were careful to pin blame only on the individual, diffused what could have been a volatile situation.

Today, also, the gunman’s family – of Pakistani Muslim immigrants issued a statement expressing their sorrow and saying that Naveed Afzal Haq (30) was Bi-Polar – and that this terrible act should not be seen as an act against a community, but of one mentally unstable individual.


ABC Pulls Gibson's Holocaust Mini-Series: From Reuters

The ABC television network has pulled a miniseries about the Holocaust it was developing with Mel Gibson's production company, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday, quoting an unidentified representative for the network.
Gibson was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving early on Friday and was reported to have launched into a tirade against Jews, asking the arresting officer if he was a Jew and blaming the Jews for starting all wars.
The actor, who holds strong conservative Catholic religious and political views and whose father is a Holocaust denier, apologized on Saturday.

Mel Gibson's anti-Jewish remarks must be roundly condemned. Over the weekend, it seemed that Hollywood take the Gibson tirade without much fuss, I am glad to see the ABC decision this morning. I came to know of Gibson's anti-semitic tendency in 2004, when he produced and directed "The Passion of the Christ," a pornographically violent movie that depicts Jews in a way that is contrary to the Christian scripture. His drunken tirade does not surprise me but it saddens me to see it on such public display and that there has not been more a vigorous condemnation.