The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Rev. Bud Heckman is Director for External Relations at Religions for Peace (New York) and Matthew Weiner is Program Director at the Interfaith Center of New York.
By Rev. Bud Heckman and Matthew Weiner
In the foreshadow of President Obama’s much anticipated speech to the Muslim world and on peace this week, there is new hope for peace in the Middle East. Its source is the opposite of what many may think: religion, and the extraordinary promise of principled inclusion of religions in seeking solutions for peace and justice.
Of course, in one sense this is nothing new. Think of the Peace of Westphalia and the political virtue of tolerance developed in response to bloody religious civil wars, which were no less serious than any religious conflict we face today. One difference now — to some degree the result of secularization — is the assumption that the political and public is more frequently separate from the religious. That is to say, an assumption arises that we can do without religion in the public sphere to solve public problems. With this secular mind set, when making a political peace, it is assumed that religion should be sidelined or asked to join only in some superficial way. (Photo: An image of Barack Obama made from postage stamps at the Asian International Stamp Exhibition in Jakarta, 25 Oct 2008/Dadang Tri)
But this neglects the very real power of religion when it comes to developing shared forms of peace-building and reconciliation. In fact, the very frameworks of social justice and peace that good minded politicians hold dear often emerge from these religious moral principles.
Again, U.S. President Barack Obama will make what presages to be an historic address in Cairo on June 4. We are among those who eagerly await details of his peace plan as well as the dialogue that his announcement will spark around the world. Together with President Obama, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and King Abdullah II of Jordan have each offered to bring fresh initiatives towards achieving security and peace in the Middle East. These are encouraging signs. Prioritization of attention and resource allocation on behalf of the United States, the other members of the Quartet, and Arab countries are welcome developments.