GUESTVIEW: From “security” to compassion – a needed shift for Obama gov’t

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Libyan theologian Aref Ali Nayed is a senior advisor to the Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme and a leading signatory of A Common Word.

By Aref Ali Nayed

Being held in the early days of the Obama presidency, this year’s U.S.-Muslim World Forum in Doha last weekend was particularly luminescent with rays of hope. One was the very fact that its host, the influential Brookings Institution think-tank, invited faith leaders to discuss how to improve the dreadful state of relations between Washington and the Muslim world. The basis for discussion was A Common Word, an appeal by 138 Muslim scholars to Christian leaders to join in a dialogue based on the shared commandments to love God and love one’s neighbor.

That a theological and spiritual initiative is of keen interest to policy planners is indeed a fresh ray of light.  Basking in that hopeful light, moreover, I had the rare privilege for a Muslim theologian of listening to the U.S. CentCom Commander General David Petraeus expound there on a “network of networks” that constituted a “security architecture” for our Middle East region. (Photo: General David Petraeus addresses the U.S.-Muslim World Forum, 14 Feb 2009/Osama Faisal)

General Petraeus argued that security can only be achieved through a multi-layered and multi-faceted network of networks that involved training, tooling and equipping, information sharing, and infrastructure building.

I very much liked the talk of a network of networks and indeed agreed with the need for training, tooling, information sharing and infrastructure building. Alas, I had to keep reminding myself, while looking at the elegantly uniformed speaker, that it is a military network of networks that he was advocating and that all those nice-sounding activities pertained to matters military. It turned out that I very much liked the structure of what General Petraeus was proposing, but definitely not its content!

Lawsuit on alleged religious bias in U.S military widened

A lawsuit alleging religious bias, including mandatory participation in Christian prayers, against the U.S. Department of Defense was expanded  this week, the latest twist in a story that probably won’t go away in 2009.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation’s (MRFF) expanded lawsuit said the U.S. military was sanctioning Christian missionary activity with Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan — a highly sensitive issue in two predominantly Muslim countries where the United States is waging war.

We’ve blogged on this before  – in September the MRFF said a non-religious Kansas soldier is suing U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on the grounds that his constitutional rights were violated when he was forced to attend military events where “fundamentalist Christian prayers” were recited.