Posts Tagged ‘Diplomacy’

By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, FEB. 28, 2010 (Zenit.org).- In recent years, religion has come to be seen as a problem or a threat to national or international security. One strategy for countering religious extremism has been to attempt to banish faith to the purely private sphere. This is a big mistake, according to a report released Feb. 23 by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

The report, “Engaging Religious Communities Abroad: A New Imperative for U.S. Foreign Policy,” was authored by a task force of 32 experts, ranging from former government officials, religious leaders, heads of international organizations, and scholars.

Currently, the authors of the report argued, the U.S. government does not have the capacity to fully understand and effectively engage religious communities. There have been improvements in the past years in recognizing the role religion plays in global affairs, but this process is still far from complete.

For better or worse, religion is playing an increasingly influential role in politics, the report observed. The trend to globalization along with new media technologies has facilitated the spread of extremist views. This is not about to go away, the report noted, and it urged the U.S. government not only to improve its knowledge of religious communities and trends, but also to develop better policies to engage believers.

It’s important to realize, the report commented, that religion is not some kind of a secondary human experience without any bearing on political developments and that we can therefore ignore. “Religion — through its motivating ideas and the mobilizing power of its institutions — is a driver of politics in its own right,” the report affirmed.

The report also warned against viewing religion solely through the focus of terrorism, as this would lead to overlooking the positive role of religion in dealing with global problems and promoting peace.

It’s also necessary to move beyond a focus just on the Muslim world and to take into account other religious communities, the report said.

Global

While attention is often focused on the Middle East when it comes to the interaction between religion and politics the report pointed out that religion is a factor in many other countries.

China, for example, has a number of indigenous new religious movements such as Falun Gong as well as a rapidly-growing sector of legal and underground Christian churches and Muslim communities.

Buddhist monks have justified, and even promoted, conflict against Tamils in Sri Lanka, as well as marching against a repressive regime in Burma. Tensions between Christian and Muslims exist in Nigeria, and Indonesia, but also in European cities like London, Amsterdam, and Paris.

In India political debates are often influenced by different visions of Hinduism and the proper relationship of Hindus to other ethnic and religious communities.

The rise of Pentecostalism in Latin America and of Christian churches and preachers in Africa and Asia are other important religious developments that warrant attention, the report added.

And while religion has fomented bloody conflicts in countries such as Bosnia and Sudan, it has also promoted peace and forgiveness in South Africa and Northern Ireland. Alongside religious extremists there are other figures such as Pope John Paul II and the Dalai Lama, the report noted.

“The many examples of religious contributions to democratization and of religious leaders who help provide foreign assistance, implement development programs, and build peace are emblematic of how religion can play a positive role everywhere in the world,” the task force affirmed.

Patterns

The members of the task force identified six principal patterns in the role religion plays in international affairs.

1. The influence of religious groups — some old and others new — is growing in many areas of the world and affects virtually all sectors of society.

2. Changing patterns of religious identification in the world are having significant political implications.

3. Religion has benefited and been transformed by globalization, but it also has become a primary means of organizing opposition to it.

4. Religion is playing an important public role where governments lack capacity and legitimacy in periods of economic and political stress.

5. Religion is often used by extremists as a catalyst for conflict and a means of escalating tensions with other religious communities.

6. The growing salience of religion today is deepening the political significance of religious freedom as a universal human right and a source of social and political stability.

In more concrete terms the report pointed out how these trends can present challenges in making policy decisions. For example, while the United States supports the spread of democracy, in some countries the introduction of popular elections could give greater power to religious extremists who often have anti-American views. So there needs to be a reconciliation between the promotion of human rights and democracy with protecting national interests, according to the task force.

The report also pointed out that the promotion of religious freedom as part of the foreign policy of the United States needs to be done in a way that is not seen as some kind of challenge by Western society on local religions or customs.

Recommendations

In dealing with religion’s role in public affairs the report advocated that the best way to counter extremism is through a greater engagement with religion and religious communities.

This means listening carefully to the concerns and fears they have and then entering into a substantive dialogue with them. At the same time it’s important not to overstep this dialogue by intervening in theological disputes or by trying to manipulate religion, the task force warned.

One of the most important things the United States must do, the report noted, is to learn how to communicate effectively. Therefore, in addition to listening to what religious communities are saying government needs to be more effective in presenting America’s own views. It’s also vital to keep in mind that actions often speak louder than words, so government policies must back up its media strategy, the report added.

Among the measures proposed in the report was the need to give a comprehensive instruction to diplomats, military personnel and other officials, on the role of religion in world affairs.

The report also recommended that the United States continue to promote religious freedom. “Imposed limitations on religious freedom weaken democracy and civil society, poison political discourse, and foment extremism,” the task force commented.

Healthy cooperation

Religion’s role in politics was a theme touched upon by Benedict XVI in his Jan. 11 address to the members of the diplomatic corps.

“Sadly, in certain countries, mainly in the West, one increasingly encounters in political and cultural circles, as well in the media, scarce respect and at times hostility, if not scorn, directed towards religion and towards Christianity in particular,” he commented.

Echoing the views expressed in the Chicago Council report the Pontiff said that: “It is clear that if relativism is considered an essential element of democracy, one risks viewing secularity solely in the sense of excluding or, more precisely, denying the social importance of religion.”

Such an approach, however, only creates confrontation and division, the Pope pointed out. “There is thus an urgent need to delineate a positive and open secularity which, grounded in the just autonomy of the temporal order and the spiritual order, can foster healthy cooperation and a spirit of shared responsibility,” he urged. A cooperation that will greatly benefit efforts to promote peace in the world.

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Escaping Poverty: Interview With Archbishop Silvano Tomasi

GENEVA, OCT. 16, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Intelligent use of the economy, market and culture is needed to attain objectives coinciding with our values as Christians and members of the human family, says a Holy See representative.

In this interview with ZENIT, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, apostolic nuncio and permanent observer of the Holy See to the Office of the United Nations and Specialized Institutions in Geneva, spoke of the necessary avenues to help developing nations escape poverty.

Q: What tools does Vatican diplomacy use to evaluate the most underprivileged in the world?

Archbishop Tomasi: The Holy See works within the international sphere, with the United Nations and in the U.N.-related agencies, as an “observer” state; this gives the Holy See the right to intervene and take part in non-voting activities, thus allowing the Holy See to act more freely than other states.

Furthermore, the Holy See endeavors to promote a line of discourse to support and aid the least developed countries, particularly those suffering in conditions of extreme poverty.

Specifically, the Holy See tries to generate a public culture, a world opinion within the international sphere, by declaring that developed countries are not only in a position to choose to support poorer populations, but that they bear the ethical responsibility to do so.

Then, the Holy See tries to offer actual help to these populations, not only in the form of financial support, which sometimes contributes to corruption, but, above all, through technical training, the exchange of information and licenses, all to help facilitate production.

And, with the aid of existing international structures and U.N.-related entities, such as the U.N. Conference for Trade and Development, we try to equip less wealthy countries with the ability to take part in trade, keeping in mind that participation is one of the most important concepts in the Church’s social doctrine.

According to this concept, everyone is entitled to take part in international life, to have access to common goods in a fair, proportionate and justified manner.

Q: What is your position in the debate about debt forgiveness for poor countries?

Archbishop Tomasi: For years, particularly since the Jubilee of the year 2000, several private organizations, the Church, and the Holy Father himself, have issued exhortations on the subject of debt forgiveness for poor countries because even payment of the interest is so burdensome that it obstructs development.

Therefore, I am in favor of debt forgiveness for the poorest countries as soon as possible, so that some of the resources that thus become available can be channeled toward social development, health care, children’s education, drinking water systems, all for a gradual improvement of living standards.

Q: Do you consider the developed world to be adequately informed and involved in the problems of poor countries?

Archbishop Tomasi: Public opinion is often distracted by many things that are not so essential. Occasionally, great tragedies or humanitarian campaigns draw attention for a while.

Some time back, we had the tsunami in Southeast Asia, which brought about people’s very constructive, positive and generous response. But we have other “tsunamis.” We have thousands of people dying of hunger, malaria or AIDS every day while nothing is said about these silent tragedies.

The media sometimes reports on these, issuing information, but it is then lost because the news items are not dramatized, and public attention wanders.

The fact that there are wars going on, people dead as the result of conflicts in Africa, Asia or the Middle East, is viewed with a certain degree of indifference. It is almost as if we have grown accustomed to the normalcy of these tragedies.

In my opinion, for people to see on the news that 100 people have been assassinated in Baghdad, another 20 in Mogadishu, and 50 refugees have died in a tragedy in Africa, is sometimes not very different from watching an entertainment movie after the news bulletin.

Therefore, it is important for Christians to sensitize people through the network of parishes, groups and movements, about the need for solidarity toward the most disenfranchised, to work together toward peace, for a bit of progress and for a better standard of living for these distant people.

Q: What are your thoughts on multilateral diplomacy versus bilateral dialogue in the international community?

Archbishop Tomasi: I would say, above all, that there is still a strong desire to struggle and negotiate in order to continue on a multilateral level, to seek solutions to current problems, particularly in the field of trade.

For example, the director general of the World Trade Organization insists on the fact that we must definitely continue to grow together in the same direction in order to be truly effective in the long term, even in the case of developed countries.

However, at the moment, there is the temptation in Europe and in other states to try to bypass common action through bilateral negotiations. This tendency can have very dangerous consequences because the stronger party tends to impose its terms on the weaker one, so that the negotiation is not really equitable.

In the long term, this can just lead to the maintenance of the status quo, in other words, the coexistence of rich and poor countries, which, in fact, does not succeed in combating poverty.

Q: As permanent observer of the Holy See in Geneva, do you consider international organizations in the field of economics, especially the World Trade Organization, as directing their course of action toward the sustained development of Third World nations?

Archbishop Tomasi: I attended the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference at the end of 2005, when the WTO tried to evaluate the “Doha Development Round” [from November 2001].

On that occasion, it became clear that, despite the extremely tough bargaining, it is possible to reach agreements that are beneficial to all concerned. Therefore, these international structures, which are necessary to achieve the globalization of the economy, the market, and culture, must be used intelligently.

We have to make an intelligent use of these structures in order to attain objectives that are truly in line with our fundamental values as Christians and as members of the human family.



Religion’s Role in International Society

By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, SEPT. 16, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Amid the clatter of popular books attacking religion, one of the more frequent accusations made is that faith is guilty of fomenting political conflict. Clearly, it can’t be denied that religion is sometimes a factor in provoking dissension. On the other hand, it can also be powerful force for good both in national and international politics. 

A study published in July by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), provides an interesting overview of the interplay between faith-related factors and the foreign policy of the United States. 

The report is titled, “Mixed Blessings: U.S. Government Engagement With Religion in Conflict-Prone Settings.” It starts by observing that faith-based groups have played a major role in determining U.S. foreign policy in countries such as Sudan and China. In addition, religiously motivated terrorists have threatened security, and the United States is also involved in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, where religion is a critical factor. 

In spite of religion’s importance, in general there has been a failure to understand its role — a failing that has hampered U.S. policy, the CSIS comments — even to the point of harming the country’s national security. 

These inadequacies stem from a variety of causes, according to the report. 

— Government officials are often reluctant to address the issue of religion. Many in the government see religion as a dangerous or divisive issue best left out of analysis. 

— Official frameworks for approaching religion are narrow, often approaching religions as problematic or monolithic forces, overemphasizing a terrorism-focused analysis of Islam and sometimes marginalizing religion as a peripheral humanitarian or cultural issue. 

— Institutional capacity to understand and approach religion is limited due to legal limitations, lack of religious expertise or training, and a lack of structures able to deal with religious groups and leaders. 

Peace and conflict 

The bulk of the report is dedicated to analyzing how the U.S. government deals with religion in its foreign relations. Nevertheless, it also deals with questions related to religion as a source of, or a solution to, strife. 

Religion, the report points out, can be an aggravating factor in conflicts in a number of ways. These include provoking strife between different faith communities, repressing minority religious groups, and conflict between the government and religious groups over control of the state. 

On the positive side, the CSIS argues that religious groups and leaders can often be effective diplomats due to their credibility with local communities. This can give them what the report terms a “unique leverage for promoting reconciliation among conflicting parties.” A case in point cited by the study is the faith-based Community of Sant’Egidio, which played an effective part in resolving conflict in Mozambique. 

In addition, religion can help to heal persons and communities after conflicts are over and provide a place where both grievances and discussions on how to achieve greater tolerance can be held. 

Another way in which religion contributes to communities is through helping the poor. The charitable works carried out by many faith communities often play a vital role in developing nations. The report noted, for example that more than half of the hospitals operating in Africa are run by faith-based organizations. 

In some countries U.S. government agencies provide aid in partnership with religious groups. A further example of working together comes from Burundi, where a U.S. agency worked with Catholic Relief Services to encourage the establishment of a peace and reconciliation commission comprising members of various ethnic and religious orientations. 

So far almost all the government aid has been channeled through Christian groups. Of the $1.7 billion identified going to faith-based organizations from 2001 to 2005, 98% went to Christian organizations. 

Spiritual perspective 

Another look at the relationship between religion and U.S. foreign policy came in an article published in the May 14 issue of the Weekly Standard magazine. John J. Dilulio Jr., who for a period in 2001 was the first director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, titled his essay “Spiritualpolitique.” 

From Brazil to Belize and Beirut to Boston, he commented, “religion in over a hundred forms and in a thousand different ways has outlived ‘modernity’ and ‘postmodernity.'” 

Dilulio explained that by the term “spiritualpolitique,” he means a view of religion that takes into account its significant power to shape politics within and among nations. It also means understanding religion not as something portrayed as being in conflict with modernity, but as something preached and practiced by many people. 

Even in stable democracies we need to realize, Dilulio commented, that religious differences play an important role. In countries where democracy and constitutional rule are still in the process of formation, religion can be a complicating factor in achieving national unity. 

Therefore, he recommended that government officials should wake up and pay a lot more attention to the role of religion and its impact on global politics. 

Religion in action 

A broader consideration of religion’s impact on conflicts came in a book published earlier this year titled: “Peacemakers in Action: Profiles of Religion in Conflict Resolution.” The book, a series of essays edited by David Little, is dedicated to a number of case studies of religious figures who have helped to promote peace. 

A useful concluding chapter by Little draws together some conclusions that can be deduced from the book’s profiles. He urges readers to avoid two oversimplifications. The first is that religion can best be seen as violence, or clashes of civilization. The second is that “good” religion always brings peace. 

A number of the testimonies in the book give eloquent testimony that contradicts the first oversimplification, Little points out. Moreover, religion is only one among a whole series of factors that are present in causing violent conflicts. 

The second affirmation is also unsustainable, Little adds. The experience in situations such as the warfare following the break-up of Yugoslavia demonstrate that religion, and even the clergy themselves, can inflame hostilities. 

Little then lists a series of lessons that can be drawn from the book’s case studies, some of which are: 

— Religion neither causes violence by itself, nor, by contrast, is it without influence, particularly in its extremist form, on the course and character of violence. 

— Religion is not just a source of violent conflict, but also a source of peace. 

— Proper religion exhibits a preference for pursuing peace by non-violent means and for combining the promotion of peace with the promotion of justice. 

— Religion dedicated to promoting justice and peace by peaceful means often prompts a hostile and violent response, at least in the short run. 

Faith and peace 

Looking at the religious figures presented in the book, Little comments that their beliefs provided an important foundation for the task they took on of promoting peace. They drew vision, motivation and perseverance from the theological traditions of their faith. 

Religion can also play a part in helping build institutions that will increase and sustain social harmony and civil unity. As well, nongovernmental groups and individuals can foment an environment conducive to peace and to negotiations for resolving conflicts. 

Benedict XVI addressed the relationship between religious belief and peace in his message for this year’s World Day of Peace, celebrated by the Church in Jan. 1. He termed as “unacceptable” those conceptions of God that encourage intolerance and violence (No. 10). War in God’s name is never acceptable, the Pontiff warned. 

“Let every Christian be committed to tireless peace-making and strenuous defense of the dignity of the human person and his inalienable rights,” he urged in the conclusion of his message. An appeal that should find an answer in the hearts of all believers.