Sunday, November 16, 2008

The massive irony of the Interfaith Conference

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah "initiated" a United Nations interfaith conference held in New York over the past couple of days. The conference was first suggested by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal.

Roger Runningen and Bill Varner, in an article for Bloomberg News, noted that King Abdullah, "in his remarks, said it was 'high time' for leaders to learn from harsh lessons of the past, adding that 'terrorism and criminality are the enemies of every religion and every civilization.'"

Human Rights Watch in New York critized the Saudis, and "cited Saudi Arabia as an example of intolerance, because the kingdom forbids the practice of any religion other than Islam."

That's the irony! But that's just one problem with the Saudis. In spite of the fact they have been our "allies" through a succession of presidents as Craig Unger reports in his book, The House of Bush, the House of Saud, the Saudis have sponsored terrorism (specifically al-Qaeda) for years through various Islamic charities. Fifteen of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis. Not only does freedom of religion not exist in Saudi Arabia, persons who attempt to practice other religions are treated with the utmost harshness. And Saudi Arabia continues to refuse to recognize the state of Israel.

Which makes the statement of Israeli President Shimon Peres, in which he praised the Saudi king's speech, quite incredible. More irony!

Altogether 14 world leaders attended this conference. If you consider talking the talk without walking the walk as significant, the conference was a success. For example, at the end of the conference a declaration by 80 nations was read which "expressed concern 'at serious instances of intolerance, discrimination, expressions of hatred and harassment of minority religious communities of all faiths.'"

When Saud was asked if Saudi Arabia would now allow freedom of religion in his country, he demurred: That is "an important question," he said, but it would take time. Here's another important question: The king rules absolutely (more or less). He could with a single pronouncement make freedom of religion a reality in the kingdom. Will he do so? (That would, of course, put him on the outs with the imams, and he needs their support to prop up his regime. So Abdullah is not likely to allow tolerance in Saudi Arabia, no matter what he says in New York.)

Now, for more irony. President George W. Bush stood up in front of these 14 world leaders and suggested that the fruit of greater religious freedom and tolerance was peace and stability. So far, so good.

Then he said, that his administration is putting religious freedom front and center; it is "a central element of our foreign policy." The United States, said Bush, has helped to protect the rights of Muslims in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We believe," said the prez, "God calls us to love our neighbors and to treat one another with compassion and respect. We believe God calls us to live in peace" and to "oppose all those use his name to justify violence and murder."

It is a wonder that the entire group didn't break up in hoots of laughter at the comic irony provided by the man one blogger calls "the smirking chimp."

This is the man who said God told him to invade the non-threatening country of Iraq and who lied to the American people to justify that invasion. This is the man who used the name of God, not to bring peace, but war. This is the man who used the name of God for the very reasons he now condemns, "to justify violence and murder."

No one broke into hoots of laughter. More irony. The world leaders present included the Prime Minister of Great Britain, the Israeli President, the Pakistani President, the Turkish Prime Minister, the Iranian Ambassador (who attacked Israel), the Saudi King, the US President, the Spanish King, the Kuwati Emir, the Lebanese President, and the King of Jordan: it would be hard for them to laugh when some bear as much guilt as Bush.

Maybe the conference will do some good. We have no way of knowing at this point. We can be sure the Islamists will not voluntarily give up power in any country where they hold sway. The United States has its own problems for theocrats like the Christian Reconstructionists and the Pentecostalists with which Palin is associated, are moving to make the United States completely intolerant of any other religious expression.

While Bush may believe "God calls us" to do certain things, that's not the answer. Too many people have too many different understandings of what God calls us to do!

The answer is to leave God out of the equation entirely, as did our Founding Fathers in both our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution. They knew how religion and notions of God often create wars and justify violence and murder. Therefore, they deliberately and carefully constructed a secular nation, based upon the ideas promulgated in the Magna Carta, and common law as refined during the enlightenment.

In a secular nation such as ours, all religious expressions are to be tolerated and no religious dogma of any kind is to be promulgated by the state.

Problem solved.

You can read King Abdullah's entire speech is here.

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