Religion Can of Course Help
Healing the Wounds of Conflict
Dr. Mozammel Haque
Religion is peace and religion teaches how to live a disciplined peaceful brotherly life. It can not only play but its aim and purpose is to guide humankind to lead a peaceful disciplined life and keep away people from conflict, violence, and disorder. There is no doubt sometimes some people used religion to create disturbance, disorder and conflict.
But religion prepares the psychological state of mind to cope with different situations. Islam prepares the common bond of humanity by establishing their common origin and universal brotherhood. This universal brotherhood emanates from the following basic concepts and is demonstrated in a most authentic and brilliant manner here on this occasion:
Adam is the first man from whom all human beings have sprung up;
Abraham is the father of monotheistic religion;
Acceptance of all prophets as prophets of God;
Belief in all revealed books of Allah.
Thus, this acceptance of Abraham as the patriarch of the concept of Tawheed and recognition of the continuity of Prophethood from Prophet Adam to the Last Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and having faith in all revealed books keeps up a chain of faith known as Islam throughout the world. This binds the whole humankind into a bond of brotherhood whose genealogical father is Adam and the spiritual father Abraham. Thus Muslims believe in the continuation of the human race on earth. There are no conflicts and controversies in the monotheistic religion decreed by God. All Muslims (those who consciously and willingly surrender to the Will of the Creator) belong to this Ummah and therefore constitute a fraternity of faith.
Lord Eames mentioned brotherhood. But it is known and we found conflicts were there in the past and still are around the world and people were victimised. Religion teaches forgiveness as mentioned by Dr. Marcus Braybrooke but we have to remember that religion also teaches, at the same time, not to cause injustice.
We have noticed in the past the main cause of conflict is not religion, but injustice and this injustice was created by the wrong policy of some policy makers who are in power. Dr. Marcus has mentioned different stages of forgiveness. When injustice is caused to some people, some communities or some countries, they became victims and some of the victims of oppression and injustice, may be they are very minimal, may be 1 in 1000, took to violence; though religion does not approve violence, extremism or disorder; though no sensible peace-loving people will support that; but we noticed it is happening.
Healing the Wounds of Conflict –
How Can Religion Help?
Naturally, under this situation and circumstances, how can religion help? Becomes the topic of discussion and debate undertaken by the Universal Peace Federation in its event on 22 February 2016.
A meeting on “Healing the Wounds of Conflict – How Can Religion Help?” hosted by Lord Ahmed of Rotherham, was held at House of Lords Committee Room, on 22 February 2016. This meeting was organised by Universal Peace Federation (UPF) on the occasion of World Interfaith Harmony Week. In the event, people of so many different traditions communities religious groups faith groups gathered and represented which makes this meeting more important and more relevant.
The purpose of holding this meeting was, according to Universal Peace Federation, “While it is quick to destroy development and positive inter-community, inter-ethnic, inter-religious relationships the recovery from conflict requires a long period of healing. It is said that politicians can sign peace treaties but it is a role of religious leaders to encourage the healing and the reconciliation that makes that treaty long lasting and brings hope for future generations.”
“UPF has had a series of conferences chaired by Rev Dr Marcus Braybrooke on forgiveness and reconciliation. They have allowed us to consider the dynamics of forgiveness. Reconciliation is a wider process that brings together communities and individuals in mutual reflection and honest effort to build understanding and then trust that will underlie generations of future development,” said UPF.
Among the speakers, there was Rt. Rev. the Lord Eames OM, the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland (1986-2006), Rev. Dr. Marcus Braybrooke, Joint President of the World Congress of Faiths and Irris Singer. In the absence of Lord Ahmed, the event was chaired by Mr. Robin Marsh, Chairman of the Universal Peace Federation, London, United Kingdom. After the speeches, there was Q&A.
Rev.Dr. Marcus Braybrooke
Rev. Dr. Marcus Braybrooke, Joint President of the World Congress of Faiths, started by explaining the importance of forgiveness in different Faiths. Dr. Marcus said, “We must forgive as the Jesus did.” He said, “In the same way, Muhammad (peace be upon him) when he returned victorious to Mecca showed a divine mercy. He called for the leaders of the Quraish and said to them, ‘This day, let no reproach be cast On you: Allah will forgive you, And He is the Most Merciful Of those who show mercy. (Al-Qur’an 12:92)
He also mentioned, “The Buddha said, “hatreds never cease through hatred in this world; through love alone they cease.”
But Dr. Marcus said, “If it is easy to talk about forgiveness, I know how difficult it is even in ordinary life. I cannot begin to imagine how difficult it is for those whose loved ones have been killed or tortured, but the only hope for healing and lasting peace is for us to mirror the forgiveness of God. As Desmond Tutu said, “There is no future without forgiveness.’”
After showing the importance of forgiveness, Dr. Marcus mentioned how difficult it is to practice and then he mentioned various stages of forgiveness. He said, these are:
1. The victim feels anger and hatred
2. The victim demands justice – public recognition of the wrong can do something to reduce the anger.
3. The victim recognises that the anger is damaging himself or herself, making him or her twice a victim, and tries to let go of the anger.
4. The victim begins to think about the wrongdoer. Negative feelings begin to be replaced by positive ones. Perhaps the wrongdoer is a relation or member of the same faith community or the victim recognises that the wrongdoer has lots of problems or poor background or ‘was obeying orders.’
5. There is some expression of willingness to forgive but, a key question, is whether this can happen before there is confession of guilt and repentance on behalf of the wrongdoer?
6. May be there is some form of reconciliation. For example one ex-husband, when his wife married again took the wedding photos.
He mentioned about the most vital role of the faith communities is to give practical help to victims of violence, but can they also play a role in reconciliation?
Then Dr. Marcus mentioned about various commissions such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, recent Canadian Truth and Reconciliation report says, ‘shaming and pointing out wrongdoing were not the purpose of the Commission’s mandate. Ultimately the Commission’s focus on truth determination was intended to by the foundation for the important question of reconciliation. Getting to the truth was hard, but getting to reconciliation will be harder. Reconciliation requires that a new vision, based on a commitment to mutual respect, he developed.’
Dr. Marcus mentioned that Wikipedia lists some 40 Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, Some have been set up by the United Nations, some by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the great majority by governments. In South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which Archbishop Desmond Tutu headed, offered an amnesty the whole truth was told.
Acknowledgement of Injustice
Dr. Marcus also mentioned about the importance of the acknowledgement of the injustice. He said, “The importance of knowing what actually happened to one’s loved ones is very important. The Citizen’s Pact in Mexico had as its first demand ‘the naming of the victims’ as well as acknowledgement of the injustice. Desmond Tutu repeatedly emphasized his faith in the healing power of truth telling, captured in the banners which said ‘Revealing is Healing’. The same is true of the community trials after Rwanda genocide. ‘They served to promote reconciliation by proving a means for victims to learn the truth about the death of their family members and relatives.’
Dr. Marcus also mentioned the importance of public apology. He said, a person needs to recount the traumatic experience in detail. People also need to have the injustice they have suffered acknowledged. This is why I think public apologies are important and are not empty gestures. Dr. Marcus mentioned about Pope John Paul’s words of apology in the scroll put into the Western wall in Jerusalem were very important.”
Dr. Marcus also mentioned about the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of Verdun. He said, “By the end 300,000 German and French soldiers had been killed. In 1984, President Mitterrand and Chancellor Kohl went there together. They did not just shake hands but held each other’s hand. As the historian Le Naour said, ‘Verdun ceased to be a symbol of nationalist pride. It became a symbol of peace and the stupidity of war’ and of the new Europe – perhaps it should not have social effect. Dr. Marcus also mentioned Symbolic events and public apologies are, I think, helpful.
Trials for the injustices
Dr. Marcus then mentioned about the requirement of justice for those who persecuted atrocities. He said, “To what extent, does justice require the prosecution of those who perpetrated the atrocities – as for example the Nuremberg trials. More recently, in Rwanda, following the genocide, more than 120,000 people were detained and accused of hearing criminal responsibility for their participation in the killings. To deal with such an overwhelming number of perpetrators, a judicial response was pursued on three levels: First by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.”
Dr. Marcus also mentioned about the Liberian Commission and South Africa. He said, “The Liberian Commission recognised that prosecution is desirable to foster genuine national reconciliation and combat impunity, but allowed for amnesty in some circumstances, especially for children and for individuals admitting their wrongs, speaking truthfully and expressing remorse. A trial expresses public horror – may be it acts as a deterrent, but does it purge or perpetuate the memory? In South Africa, a person who made a full confession was freed from criminal or civil liability. Tutu has insisted that ‘public exposure and humiliation’ was a big price for the perpetrator to pay. Others more cynically have said it was a price worth paying.”
Then Dr. Marcus enquired about compensation and rational forgiveness. He said, “This is also significant because some Christians try to practice was had been called ‘rational forgiveness,’ which encourages the victim to forgive even if the person who hurt them has not expressed sorrow or contrition. The victim initiates the search for reconciliation. Desmond Tutu in his beautiful Book of Forgiving insists on two simple truths, ‘there is nothing that cannot be forgiven, and there is no one undeserving for forgiveness’. Yet I cannot forget the warning of a Jewish friend that ‘to be kind to the cruel is to be cruel to the weak.’
Referring to the recent crisis in Syria and Middle East, Dr. Marcus said, “This may seem an abstract theological discussion: but I think it is of real importance to think now about the long and very difficult process of healing that will be necessary in Syria and the Middle East when at last there are no targets left to bomb. Let me end with the words of Kia Scherr after the death of her husband and daughter in a terrorist attack in Mumbai. ‘If we continue to love in the face of terrorism, we disempower the terrorist and the terrorist ceases to terrorise. Imagine multiplying this a million-billionfold around the world and over time, we will truly end terrorism.’ Should we pray for terrorists as well as for their victims?”
“Only love and forgiveness can disperse the revengeful dust of history rises up to haunt us,” Dr. Marcus concluded.
Rt. Rev’d the Lord Eames OM
The Archbishop of Armagh and
Primate of All Ireland (1986-2006)
The next speaker was not only the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland but also a member of the House of Lords. Among the many titles and positions Lord Eames was awarded the Freedom of the City of Armagh. His contribution to a troubled city was described as follows: ‘The immense national and international stature of Lord Eames in both church and community life has rightly been much celebrated. This award, however, signals something more: the respect and deep affection in which Lord and Lady Eames are held in the city and district which was their home for over twenty years and the contribution they made to the community of which they were a part. ‘Northern Ireland is enjoying something of a ‘Springtime of hope’ at the moment. Much of the foundation for that hope was laid by the work, quietly undertaken by day and by night, in homes just as much as in council chambers, by Lord Eames during his long tenure of office.”
Practicality of peace process
Lord Eames started saying that “thank you Marcus, may I say what you say that you have set the scene so perfectly for what I wanted to talk about; because I come among you as the practitioner, I come among you as the person who through experience has had to do the sort of things that Marcus talked about. The phase the dilemmas the phase the challenges; the phase the failures; because the hardest path to walk is the path of reconciler. There is no harder path; and there is no more difficult task.”
The Archbishop of Armagh and the Primate of All Ireland had played the role reconciler during the Irish troubles. He described the situation, “It’s January, snow on the ground on the barren hillside there is a group of man several trucks and from the trucks comes machine guns. rocket launchers, revolvers, ammunitions - the whole paraphernalia of the terrorists. And they are putting these in a huge file on the side of the hill. With another person I have been appointed to observe the destruction of terrorists’ arms and for 4 or 5 hours on that barren hillsides I watched individual bullets counted and numbered. I watched individual weapons sliced into; I watched … exploded in the distance; and I watched scientists dismantle weapons of hate and destruction. That was for me the end of years of pilgrimage because it marked the surrender of arms which had been used to kill, to maim and destroy in my community. And for 20 of those years as Archbishop of Armagh without wanting to be but compelled to be part of the process that brought that and produce what we call the practicality of the peace process.”
Common denominator of being a reconciler
Lord Eames gave a short sketch of his experiences of those days. He said, “I want to suggest you that no matter who you are tonight, no matter what tradition and experience who have had, there are Common denominators of being a reconciler. For the principles, Marcus has said so clearly a few minutes ago, are there worldwide. I speak to you having seen them at first hand and because of that have lived through it. You have read and experienced troubles of Ireland; causes of that go back generations and centuries. We have not got even time to begin to discuss what they are; but the result of that was that in the early 1960s warfare, literally warfare, broke out between two communities – Protestant and Unionist communities in Northern Ireland; wished to be long and continue to belong part of the United Kingdom.”
Ireland 1960s war broke out
Speaking about the Ireland conflict of 1960s, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland said, “Republican nationalist Roman Catholic community who in the main favoured being part of the Republic of Ireland. Now that, in a very simplistic way, is what was the cause of the conflict. Into that you put terrorism, into that you put reaction to terrorism; into that you put para-militaries and vicious groups; and into that you put killing and maiming and destruction and terrible suffering. That’s the position which I was called to exercise the role of the Anglican primate of all Ireland and because of that much of my Ministry took me down the path of being not just sanctuary of pulpit or the Communion table; it took me into the homes of despair of broken families, the victims; the people who cried and did not know why they are crying; the little children who said where is my father and above all else it took me to the world of politics as they struggled to find a way of bringing to an end.”
Path of Reconciliation
Lord Eames started describing the scene the winter hillsides which was actually, in reality, the consequences of the efforts of so many of the making for brought the end of one side of the armed conflict. About this the Archbishop of Armagh said, “I will take back that picture with me to my grave.”
What is conflict?
Lord Eames was requested by the organiser of the event to say something about the path of reconciliation. Lord Eames said, “First of all, what is conflict? Conflict is an action of an opposing person or communities who have lost the will to find a peaceful resolution to difference; peaceful resolution, be that religious difference, political difference, economic difference; it is the failure to find dialogue for peaceful solution to a conflict situation.”
Lord Eames maintained that it is a failure to resolve conflict resolution. He said, “Conflict is the ultimate failure; conflict takes over the people where peace failed and conflict takes over where bridge building has given the second place dialogue. For I am totally convinced from my experience that no matter how hard it is before we even begin as Marcus has said earlier on, before we even begin into talk about forgiveness we have to recognise the nature and meaning of conflict.”
Nature and meaning of conflict
Lord Eames defined the nature and meaning of conflict. He said, “Conflict is a human condition; and while we talk about bringing reconciliation between groups and communities and nations and people its all about getting ordinary men and women to recognise that the benefits of reconciliation and peace outway the consequence of conflict. And when we struggle and tried to get that message through that we begin to realise the complexity of what we are talking about.”
Referring to Dr. Marcus who spoke earlier, Lord Eames said, “Marcus has rightly said earlier on that sometimes religion is not the cure of conflict but it is also the cause and if I think back to the Irish situation of my experience I have to say with all honesty yes, it is as much the cause of the problem as anything else that we had failed over the generations to explain the real essence of faith of religion no matter who we are; what traditions we belong to; the real essence of it is brotherhood.”
Brotherhood – Essence of Faith
The Archbishop of Armagh Rev’d Eames explained brotherhood. He said, “Brotherhood which acknowledges that no matter what are particular teaching may be, we are fellow citizens of the one world; and my colour, my creed; my faith and my experience may differ me from other people; we are still basically seeking to find a reconciled world in which there is respect for difference. I sometimes begun to feel during the struggle I am talking about. The hopelessness of despair is time and time again our efforts failed and that failure was much to our inability to understand the meaning of conflict as it was to begin to learn what forgiveness meant.”
Again referring to Dr. Marcus’ definition of forgiveness quoted from different sources, Lord Eames mentioned, “Forgiveness, as you have defined from the various sources you quoted, means different things to different people and when that action of hill side was over, it was not the end of a story; it’s the beginning because people have the victimhood, people of the victim world, all had the different concepts of what they wanted to do.”
Failure of understanding
Then the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland mentioned about two cases which he cannot forget. He said, “I remember bearing a young man recently married whose little child from the former married is standing on the side of the grave that I buried him. In my robes I remembered turbulent feeling something is talking to my robes. And I looked down; a four year old looked up to me; amazed and aghast; what was going on and she said simply: ‘Archbishop, what you have done to Daddy?’ I still feel emotional and cannot reconcile the story because that tragic scene summed up to me so much of the tragedy of what we call the trouble; it is the human reaction in the simplicity of a child which makes your sophistication and my sophistication doll into insignificance. What you have done with daddy?”
Lord Eames said, “As a Christian, I had offered his human remains into the hands of our God of Love and I could have been a Muslim; I could have been a Hindu; I could have been a Jew, I could have been a non-believer, but my weeping for that little child was universal. Was not it? Universal whatever faith you come from; you would have the same feeling, the same emotion; I am quite certain, if you have any compassion.”
Speaking of another experience, the Archbishop Rev’d Eames, said, “I think of the mother when she said to me, ‘I want justice’. I said, ‘what is the justice you are looking for?’ She said, ‘I don’t want to see someone in prison; I don’t want to see one condemned what they have done to my daughter; I don’t want to see a person to execute for what they have done; I just want to know what happened?’ Tell me more; listen to what she said; ‘I just want to know: did they give her lunch before they kill her.’”
Common humanity – victimhood
After referring those two little incidents, Lord Eames said, “My friends, those are just two little incidents which remind us something humanity; the common humanity of the field of suffering which is victimhood, for it is victimhood we are talking about to night; if it is the religion whatever faith you come from, if you and I have a role in bringing a reconciled world, its got to be a world which we understand. We understand conflict; we understand reconciliation but we also understand what makes a victim. I have my own little definition. It is not any book that I have written. One that I have worked out through the years of trial and experience. It’s called instantaneous theology.
Lord Eames explained Instantaneous Theology. He said, “That is the fact that you confronted with scene and with situation that no textbook you prepare for; no teaching prepare you for; no study prepare you for; but you react how you think your faith, it’s that situation. And when clergy turned to me in the past; please tell us what we should say? I have to say and I am going on to say to: When people forget what you said, they remember you; you are there; when people forget the Jew confronted hard to encapsulate the right word to speak out their tragedy. They remember you are there. They remember your face, they remember your compassion; they remember your brotherhood and I think that helps perhaps to understand: what true faith, what true religion, whatever the label, what true religion comes up to do in situation that may seem at first sight is totally beyond this. Instantaneous theology; Instantaneous compassion; Instantaneous brotherhood.”
The Role of Politician
Up to now, Lord Eames was talking about the role of religious person or from the religious point of view; that was his first story on conflict resolution. Lord Eames then started to tell his next story. He said, “The next step in my story is to talk about the role of politicians; for ultimately, for all solutions to conflict situation will involve the element of the political. I had to meet numerous politicians, in numerous occasions and indeed listen to numerous politicians in the scenario that was the Irish trouble and what has been by overriding impression again the years rolled by is the fact that we are fellow pilgrims looking for reconciliation. There is a sense that we have a common denominator – clergy and politician; our overall aim is to influence people. I would want to influence people along the lines what I have just described - the elements of love and compassion and forgiveness and reconciliation.”
Clergy and Politician
Speaking about the role of politician, Rev’d Eames said, “The politician wants to keep watching the ballot box; he wants to influence people at the high level of but it’s still people that he or she has got to influence. So it is the reminder that the roots of every conflict situation it is the ordinary people who must be taught to forgive; instantaneous forgiveness and to understand the nature of reconciliation.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa had a great role played during the apartheid in South Africa. Archbishop of Armagh and Archbishop Desmond Tutu were great friends. Referring to Desmond Tutu, Lord Eames said, “If Desmond Tutu are here, sitting beside me, the moment I can just hear him giggling; and casting that infectious laugh which reverberated around the world. Because Desmond Tutu and myself have been life long friends; I worked with him in the South African Truth and Reconciliation process; as we tried to set up equivalent one in the Northern Ireland. He shared with me and we agonised together. There is one from that shared friendship that I would relate to you. Again you would not find it in a book. It was when Desmond Tutu came over here to see me and some others and apartheid was still a fact in South Africa and over his head was a threat that he would be imprisoned on his return to Cape Town. Robert Alexander Kennedy Runcie, the then Archbishop of Canterbury. Robert and I talked to Desmond in an attempt to try and get him fresh courage as he was going back to Cape Town. I remember Robert’s phrase. He said to the world: ‘You touch Desmond and you touch all of us’.”
Lord Eames continued, “The bit I want to relate to you was not public; it was between Desmond and myself. Desmond shared his worries and his genuine fear by listening I listened them; we talked together and prayed together and then he said something to me. I used to remember night after night, day after day, as we saw the end of the trouble. He said, ‘when you have cried, and when you can cry no more; you discover a new reality; there must be a different path; there must be a different path than regret.”
Forgiveness is an individual concept
Speaking about forgiveness, the Archbishop of Armagh said a very important aspect of human right. He said, forgiveness is an individual concept. He said, “I have no right to tell somebody you must forgive. I have no right to say a person, God or your belief wants you to forgive. That forgiveness must have somehow approached their situation and yes compel them to find a means whereby they can do things we call forgiveness. My reaction is not yours and your reaction is not mine. It is an individual concept; we may put the label forgiveness and we can say that’s we are talking about. At the end of the day it is an individual experience.”
The Archbishop of Armagh also mentioned, “As a Christian, I think, I have no right to judge; for one day I would be judged. I have no right to condemn; I can ask people to stop doing this; or to say there are lots of ways to reach your aim or fulfil your purpose other than violence. But I cannot condemn without justification. Or I have been or I live in a world which acknowledges the forgiveness of God; you, all of you live in a tradition, no matter what the label is, come from, forgiveness. Brothers and sisters, that’s why I begun by saying we talk tonight of brotherhood.”
After the speakers lecture; there was Questions and Answers session, where this writer, along with others participated. My comments and observations are mentioned at the beginning as an introduction.
Dr. Haque observed: We have noticed in the past the main cause of conflict is not religion, but injustice and this injustice was created by the wrong policy of some policy makers who are in power. Dr. Marcus has mentioned different stages of forgiveness. When injustice is caused to some people, some communities or some countries, they became victims and some of the victims of oppression and injustice, may be they are very minimal, may be 1 in 1000, took to violence; though religion does not approve violence, extremism or disorder; though no sensible peace-loving people will support and approve that; but we noticed it is happening.
Lord Eames and the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland brought the end of the evening by his concluding observation. Among the audience, there was a gentleman who declared himself as an atheist.
Referring to all the audience and especially to that gentleman, Lord Eames said, “My good friend, the staunch atheist there I would take up with him this question: my brotherhood with him. I still believe, I am his brother, whether he likes or not; but the point I am making is that you ask could we prevent it before it happens? It’s because we failed time and again have the difficult conversation within our community; that violence became the sign of our failure. Do you understand what I am trying to say and that’s why I am convinced that no matter wherever the conflict situation: it is in the Middle East or the local whatever it is; it does not matter; the conflict situation you change the label of the names; problems are the same and I have seen it in South Africa; I have seen it in the Balkans; and I have seen it of course in my own country. It is different conflict but it is the same principle. Did we not have the difficult conversation?”