Posted by on April 13, 2012 in Blog
On April 11, AAI hosted a Congressional briefing titled, “The End of Pluralism? Religion and Conflict in the Middle East.” The event was held in response to the fact that religious communities in the Middle East are increasingly threatened as a result of recent conflicts and political developments. The on-going violence in Iraq, Syria, and Palestine has created significant refugee outflows, particularly from targeted religious and ethnic communities including Christians, Sufis, and others. The panel aimed to answer the question of whether this is the beginning of the ghettoization of the Middle East, or a trend that could be reversed.
The first speaker, Caritas Foundation President Father Simon Faddoul, talked of the difficulties in even identifying the number of religious minorities in the Middle East, and went on to explain the myriad difficulties they face across the region. He warned of the drain of Christian and other minorities to Western states where they feel safer. “Christians of the MENA are citizens of the land,” Faddoul encouraged, “they have the right to plan ahead and dream of a better tomorrow.” But, he warned, “Christians of the area have grown quite apart.” He called on Middle Easterners of all faiths and backgrounds to embrace a shared vision of the future of the region, one in which all citizens are part of a shared destiny in which all are treated equal.
The second speaker was Qamar-ul Huda, a Senior Program Officer at the US Institute of Peace. He spoke about the attempt of countries across the Middle East to “forge something new,” which may open new opportunities for interfaith relations across the Middle East and North Africa. He also warned, however, that interfaith work has been tightly controlled by the states, which have severely constrained their efforts to achieve meaningful progress. This was partly due to the state’s interest in downplaying differences between groups in order to strengthen a sense of national identity, and the remodeling of these states in a post-Arab Spring area may change that reality. On the other hand, Dr. Huda also spoke on the impact of the religious extremist ideologies that have permeated each of the traditions, that have constrained these initiatives.
Lastly, AAI President Dr. Jim Zogby spoke briefly about the limits of US policy to overcome these problems, and the ways in which US involvement – particularly military involvement – have created more problems than they have solved. “This is not to say that there isn’t an American role,” said Jim, “but it must be a thoughtful role…when we create these situations, that they will live with the consequences and we will not. “