Religions unite for peace

The First World Congress of Imams and Rabbis for Peace, held in Brussels in January 2005, was an historic milestone in Jewish-Muslim dialogue. The Second World Congress of Imams and Rabbis for Peace took place on March 19-22, 2006 in Seville, Spain. Over 150 Imams and Rabbis, among the most influential Jewish and Moslem leaders in the world, gathered to focus upon: promoting dialogue between Jewish and Muslim religious leaders, creating an opportunity for religious leaders to use their influence in conflict resolution in various regions of the world, helping religious leaders to challenge fanatics who are misusing religion, and creating structures and initiatives to continue practical day-to-day work.

At the Second Congress, the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Yona Metzger, called for the creation of a world body with representatives from the major religious groups, a “United Nations of religious groups”. The Imam of Gaza, Imad al-Faluji, said politicians lied but religious leaders had a different objective – to work towards a higher good. The imams and rabbis at the conference said the world is in crisis and it is time they acted to restore justice, respect, and peace. The delegates have made it very clear that now is the time for concrete initiatives.

Religious leaders of different communities across the world joined their voices to condemn all instrumentalisation of the name of God or his principals for the use of violence. In doing so, they have won back Godís word taken hostage by extremists, and brought the voice of unity capable of opening the path to more concrete solutions: the promotion of education and knowledge, including the teaching of peace. Yesterday, the Dalai Lama was in San Francisco at the invitation of Muslim leaders for a historic peace gathering, continuing the path towards a “United Nations of Religions” set at the recent Congress of Imams and Rabbis for Peace. The gathering is the first assembly of a “religious parliament” that will meet once or twice annually in countries throughout the world. The intent is for religious leaders to unite in dispelling misunderstanding and injustice that breed extremism. San Francisco was picked for the gathering because it was where the United Nations was founded. Imam Seyed Mehdi Khorasani invited the Dalai Lama, urging him to meet with religious leaders and scholars to “construct a strategy that will unite our voices and express our common goal to live in a world without violence.” The Dalai Lama was joined by approximately 100 world-renowned scholars, teachers, and leaders of Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and other faiths who met with their Muslim and Buddhist counterparts and took part in the landmark discussion. The Organising Committee for the gathering said in a statement:

“Religious intolerance, and the violence that tragically attends it, have masqueraded as a legitimate expression of religious conviction and have grabbed the world stage from the majority voices of reason. Those attending this gathering want to rectify this imbalance as they are acutely aware that political and economic agendas, however disguised, have no place in religious practice; and they are committed to acting in their communities to promote compassion and counter divisiveness. Never before have so many of the world’s prominent and influential religious leaders come together at one time for such an imperative and specific purpose. The message of peace and understanding that will emanate from this conference and the solidarity powerfully represented by these great and compassionate thinkers speaking in unison will help heal the world.”

Why peace?

Why peace? The simple answer is so we can divert our resources, energy, and attention away from war and to other issues… things like the environment, climate change, poverty, hunger, disease, the lack of education and access to information and information technology.

And what could we get if we decided to spend our money on something other than war?

Well, according to the highly respected Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stieglitz of Columbia University and Linda Biomes, who teaches management at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, the ultimate cost of the current Iraq war could go as high as $2 trillion. That figure appears in a paper released earlier this year, and it includes the cost of fighting the war now, caring for the wounded veterans of the war in future years, rebuilding a worn-out military, and other economic costs. Stieglitz and Biomes’ estimate is based upon a U.S. deployment in Iraq that lasts until 2010. Under this scenerio, the United States military is spending $783 million a day, for seven years. This is more than the arms expenditures of all other nations combined.

A few months ago, Senator Edward Kennedy gave a moving statement on the Senate floor titled “The real cost of the Iraq war.” It was an interesting look at what we could be spending our money on if we weren’t at war. But Senator Kennedy used the then accepted figure of $195 million per day. Using the recent estimate of costs, the true cost of the Iraq war is over four times as much as the original figure. So to update the comparisons with a few examples…

One day in Iraq could provide health insurance coverage for one year to 1,523,600 uninsured children in America. One day in Iraq could employ 14,388 additional registered nurses for one year. One day in Iraq could pay for an increase of $13.36 per hour in the wages of every minimum wage worker in the country for a year. One day in Iraq could feed all of the starving children in the world today almost 18 times over!

Those are some really good reasons not to go to war.

As President Dwight Eisenhower observed in 1953… “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of laborers, the genius of its scientists, and the hopes of its children.”