Peace and Security

Presentations to Roundtable on Faith, Religion, and International Security

Presentations at the roundtable on Faith, Religion, and International Security, Washington DC, March 13, 2013

Dr. Douglas Johnston
President, International Center for Religion & Diplomacy

If one had to convey a single message to U.S. foreign policy practitioners, it would be that religion matters. For good or for ill, the world is growing increasingly religious. What’s more, the nature of religion in many places is changing; it is becoming more dynamic, more activist, and more political. While the majority of religious movements are peaceful, some errant ideologies are at work justifying and encouraging violence. These ideologies must be countered, and countered effectively. Military force is clearly an asset in the fight against religious extremism, but it can never fully protect us from the type of terrorist assaults that have taken place over the past decade. Ideologies must be countered with ideas, and ideologies steeped in religion need to be challenged on religious grounds. 

These days, in almost any foreign policy situation, ignoring the motivating influence of religious faith is a sure recipe for failure. Because so many terrorists, like those that struck the United States on 9/11, derive their legitimacy from extremist interpretations of their religion, the most effective counter is to empower the more tolerant, mainstream beliefs of that religion, especially among those communities most at risk of succumbing to violent propaganda. Although radical Islam is at the forefront of most religious conversations today, the lessons to be learned from combating extremism in an Islamic context apply equally well to any conflict having a religious dimension to it.

At latest count, some 86% of the world’s 7 billion inhabitants identify themselves as members of a religious community.[1] It may be fair to say that it is in the nature of things that humans instinctively aspire to a higher order of things. To ignore the motivating influence of religious ideas and not have a sympathetic understanding of those who identify strongly with the dictates of their faith would be to handicap ourselves severely in dealing with today’s geopolitical realities. Religious political parties are becoming increasingly influential in North Africa and the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Spring, as they are in other conflicts in the region and in the current political evolution in Turkey. Similar tendencies are also being experienced in the West where Muslims have been migrating in large numbers and reshaping public attitudes and government policies in the process. This suggests that any effective long-term strategy to counter extremism should seek to capitalize on religion’s extensive reach as well as its ethical values.

By the same token, it is important not to over-generalize in ascribing religious motives to all extremist activities. Terrorism has long been used by people of various cultures for various reasons, primarily to achieve political aims. More than 95% of all known cases of suicide bombings between 1980 and 2004 had clear political objectives.[2] Whether in Chechnya or Sri Lanka, Kashmir or Gaza, the goals were always political and, more often than not, related to expelling an occupying force.[3]

It is also the case that those who committed these bombings came from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds. Between 1982 and 1986, Hezbollah carried out 41 suicide attacks against Israeli, American and French targets in Lebanon. Of these, only eight were carried out by Islamic extremists, 27 by members of secular leftist political groups such as the Lebanese Communist Party, and three by Christians. All those involved were born in Lebanon and adhered to diverse, if not totally divergent, ideologies.[4] More recently, the anarchy and bloodshed that ensued in Iraq following the US invasion was motivated by political competition between the Shiite and Sunni militias in a bid for power.

Thus it is that the overriding motivation in most long-term, large-scale terrorist activities is political rather than religious. Where strong political passions exist, anyone can be a terrorist. Regardless of the cause, though, religion can often offer a powerful antidote, if properly engaged. All of the major world religions share core tenets about neighborly concern and the betterment of humanity, tenets that under the right circumstances can be used to bridge differences between adversaries. Such is the challenge before us. Despite the risks that may accompany such activity and despite whatever discomfort one may feel in navigating the relatively uncharted waters of spiritual engagement, the stakes are simply too high not to give it our best effort.

Partogi Samosir
Counselor for the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia

Does religious hatred matter in international security? We live in an age of turmoil, and much of it has a religious dimension. Almost anywhere you turn – Kashmir, Chechnya, Algeria, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Sudan, Sri Lanka – one finds this to be the case. Whether religion is the root cause of a particular conflict or merely a mobilizing vehicle for sectarian passions, it is central to much of the strife currently taking place around the globe.

Many violent conflicts throughout the world have been cloaked in religious garb. What the moderates think of or idealize as religion might differ from the conceptions of radicals. While moderates denounce radicalism as “irreligious,” extremists regard and believe that violence is a part of a “sacred mission” and strongly rooted within their religious traditions, beliefs, doctrines and teachings.

There are a number of reasons why religion does matter in some cases of violence.

The first reason is that, as prominent religion historian R. Scott Appleby noted in The Ambivalence of the Sacred: Religion, Violence and Reconciliation, religion’s confessional loyalty translates into a clearly defined and durable community, its model of faith counters rational calculation and enlightened self-interest, it cultivates a righteous sense of persecution and provokes passion against evil that fuels the excesses of group hatred.

Although religions were indeed manufactured or invented within particular historical and political contexts of thousands of years ago, their creeds, Appleby (2000: 57-61) has argued, are represented as fundamental truths, providing security in times of uncertainty, and countering the challenges of relativism and secularism of late modernity. This is precisely what Salafi, Wahabi and other religious radical groups have held up in the world.

Second, religion possesses a stock of material metaphors and military imagery, and promises rewards for violent sacrifice. The concept of some transcendental authority — the “will of God” — which translates into the absolute authority of church officials, and religious myths of election (e.g. the concept of the “chosen people” or the “best religious community of believers”) and persecution, provides a powerful alternative to the delusional formation of paranoia, which transforms victimhood into vengeful action. This is among the reasons why “religious culprits” and doers of violence never regret their inhuman, violent acts.

Third, religion potentially transfers secular differences between a particular “us” and “them,” the known and the unfamiliar, to the cosmic plane and thus into a moral struggle between the amorphous forces of order and chaos, and good and evil, for which the ultimate sacrifice — murder or martyrdom — is possible.

Fourth, religion did matter during the anti-Shi'a or anti-Ahmadiyyah campaigns since it provides a more powerful and effective force for mobilization than other forms of collective identity partly because, according to Chris Wilson in his From Soil to God, religion is “not only strongly linked to a sense of self, but also provides a far-reaching and uplifting ideology, powerful institutional structures and an enduring and clear-cut definition of an ‘other.’” Rioters, unsurprisingly, often were discovered to be driven by religious zeal. The mobilization of ordinary people in the riots was full of religious symbolism. Some religious institutions became primary conduits for the mobilization of people for violence in the name of God, faith or even particular schools of thought (mazhab). These institutions, moreover, exercised vast emotional influence over some adherents of Islam, as well as provided social meeting places, communication networks and pools of resources.

Fifth and finally, religion provides the concept of a “sacred territory” and a set of ready materials and symbolic targets, which if attacked provokes intense feelings. Accordingly, mosques were destroyed, religious centers desecrated, sacred texts and beliefs were ridiculed, prophets or religious figures were slandered and other symbols of faith violated.

To conclude, while religion never acts autonomously as a cause of conflict, ignoring its role completely would preclude a proper understanding of much of the violence in the world.

Indonesia: a Lesson Learnt

The bombings on Oct. 12, 2002 at two nightclubs in Bali killed 202 people, mostly foreigners. They were the first major terrorist attacks in the country since the 9/11 events in the United States.

Indonesia has taken serious measures to combat terrorism since the first Bali bombings. Those measures, including investigation and prosecution of suspects, reached the conclusion that Jamaah Islamiyah (JI), an al-Qaeda-linked regional terrorist network, was responsible for the attacks.

Three of the perpetrators of the 2002 bombings: Amrozi, Muklas and Imam Samudra, have been executed. A fourth man, Ali Imron, Amrozi’s brother, was sentenced to life imprisonment for his role. Subsequent counterterrorism operations at home have managed to arrest or kill some 770 JI members, including key leaders Hambali, Azahari bin Husin and Noordin M. Top.

Simultaneous programs to “de-radicalize” potential terrorists and tackle the root causes of terrorism are in place. Despite these successes, many others who threaten our country’s security and safety are still at large, and even more determined to groom new recruits to their networks of hatred and terror.

The killing of top al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden at Abottabad, Pakistan, in May of last year has resulted in a weakening al-Qaeda and its global network, including JI. However terrorist acts have never ceased.

Smaller cells of radical groups and new, younger faces of terror have emerged, continuing the mission, but with significantly different targets. Initially attacks in Indonesia were aimed at Westerners and American symbols. Now terrorists target Indonesian “infidels” such as police, anti-terrorism squads, lawmakers and others deemed as obstacles to transforming the country into an Islamic state governed by Sharia law.

According to Ansyaad Mbai, the Chairman of the Indonesia’s National Counterterrorism Agency, many terrorists asked us to kill them so they could complete their jihad


Era of Warm Peace

We have moved from the era of the Cold War to an era of Warm Peace.

In this “Warm Peace”, pockets of hatred and bigotry, intolerance and extremism continue to litter our world. Radicalism is a worldwide phenomenon.Perhaps we will have to live with this warm peace for decades. But I do believe that we can lower the temperature of this warm peace. Where possible, we can resolve the conflicts one by one. We can strengthen the building blocks for peace. We can promote a new globalism that can potentially change the dynamics of conflict resolution.

In order to do this, we should be able to evolve a universal culture of: “Universal Shared Values, Interdependence and Mutual Prosperity based on what is common, noble and holy among humanity. To develop with the cooperation of the UN and individual governments a commitment to education of respect of one another, mutual appreciation of one another’s religious convictions. In such a world, the voice of the moderates—the voice of reason and compassion—would be heard clearly over the din of prejudice and bigotry. In a global regime of compassion, respect and tolerance, no war is possible.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights underlines that in exercising their freedom of expression, everyone must observe morality and public order. Freedom of expression is not devoid of self rule of respect and decency. Either we police ourselves or someone will police us.

For good measure, we also need to promote a continuing process of dialogue and work among faiths, civilizations, and cultures. Dialogue and work in which peoples of different cultures and faiths can come together and care for one another. These communities will become bulwarks for peace and they will make it difficult if not impossible for any kind of armed conflict to erupt.

Dr. Andrew Wilson
Professor of Scriptural Studies, Unification Theological Seminar

“God’s Providence in the Middle East”

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this meeting moderated by Dr. Douglas Johnston, whom I have had the pleasure of hearing several occasions at my school, the Unification Theological Seminary. In our M.A. Program we introduce students to the work of Dr. Johnston, John Paul Lederach and others in the field of faith-based peacebuilding. I hope that some of my students are inspired and edified by your work and will take their place among the ranks of religious workers for peace.

Today, however, I am not going to speak about religious actors for peacebuilding or the methodology of Track 2 diplomacy. Mine is a different sort of talk, about another aspect of religion that bears on peace and international affairs. My topic is Divine Providence. Specifically, I want to speak about the work of God as the molder and shaper of the events of history in 2013, and in the Middle East in particular.

The Judeo-Christian Bible speaks to a God active in history. The Hebrew prophets were tasked with discerning God’s hand in the current events of their day, understanding God’s attitude towards Israel’s domestic and foreign policies, and thereby to give guidance to kings. The prophet Isaiah understood God’s providence when he counseled King Hezekiah not to make an alliance with Egypt, for the Egyptians were not reliable allies in the struggle against the Assyrian empire. Jeremiah similarly counseled King Zedekiah that he should not rebel against Babylon, for the Babylonian exile was God’s righteous judgment upon Israel for its sins.

Christians in the American colonies recognized the hand of God’s providence in the founding of this nation. President Lincoln recognized the hand of God’s providence when, in his second inaugural address, he described the Civil War as God’s judgment for the sin of slavery, paid for in blood. America’s sense of its exceptionalism stems from numerous events in its history understood by faith to be divinely guided, from the remarkable defeat of Great Britain in the American Revolution even to the rise of American power in the 20th century to take the lead in defeating the scourges of fascism and Communism.

Israel is another nation where many Christians and Jews have seen the hand of Divine Providence. The remarkable story of its founding in 1948 and its survival through the trials of the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War against much larger Arab forces have been widely celebrated as indications that the modern State of Israel exists by the hand of God. While many secular Israelis would pooh-pooh this notion and credit their success to superior training, organization and military prowess, believers know better. I have visited Israel and Palestine over a dozen times, and I am convinced that it is a special place, where God has planted His flag of ownership. Nothing there happens easily, because of the weight of providential history that lives in its very stones.

In my church, the Unification Church, where I have been a disciple of Rev. Sun Myung Moon for over 40 years, we understand that God’s providence is not unilateral or irresistible; rather, it advances as a result of cooperation between the divine and the human realms. Thus, we critique the apocalyptic scenarios of Fundamentalists who await the Last Judgment, which they conceive to be a supernatural event of cosmic proportions when nothing that human beings do will avail. On the contrary, we believe that our task is to be co-creators with God to bring His Will to pass. It has to do with God wishing to bequeath to humankind the dignity and rights of ownership in His Kingdom.

In Rev. Moon’s life, he dedicated himself to what he saw was a major goal of God’s providence: ending the scourge of Communism. He organized a movement, CAUSA, to teach against Marxist-Leninist ideology in front-line states. He founded The Washington Times to promote the fight on the stage of American politics. Having been given prophetic knowledge that the Soviet Union would meet its demise, in 1985, even when its power was at its height, he organized a conference of Sovietologists and insisted on the audacious title, “The Fall of the Soviet Empire: Prospects for Transition to a Post-Soviet World,” much to the chagrin of many of the academics in attendance. Yet his prediction proved correct; by 1990 the Berlin Wall had fallen, and those academics could take pride that had participated in a conference that anticipated what few of their colleagues saw.

Since God is omnipresent, He can work His providence through anyone, believer and non-believer alike. When President Truman supported the founding of Israel at the UN it was not because he believed God wanted it, but nevertheless in his heart he was led to understand that it was the right thing to do.

So where is God’s providence today in 2013? The Sovereign of all humankind is at work in every corner of the globe, but there is often a focal point. It is like the fulcrum of a lever, strategically placed to move the whole world.

Today, I believe that focal point is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The three Abrahamic faiths all have a deeply rooted and emotional stake in its outcome. As long as this conflict festers, it provides fuel to incite Muslim hatred of the West. Yet Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” would rapidly go away if the Israelis and Palestinians were living peaceably in two neighboring states. As their natural links of trade and tourism and shared security grew stronger, Israel and Palestine potentially could become a model of reconciliation, giving hope and setting the example for moderates and peace-makers in other Muslim-Christian conflict zones.

Rev. Moon began investing in the Middle East in March 2003, when he called on the Christian clergy to take down their crosses and go to Jerusalem. Among other things, it was to be an act of Christian contrition, recognizing the pain that the theology of the cross with its latent anti-Semitism had caused to the Jewish people through history. We arrived in the midst of the second intifada, when suicide bombers were striking every week and Jerusalem was empty of tourists. Yet in addition to the Jewish-Christian amity that our visit generated, we could see something else: the suffering of the Palestinians. When this was reported to Rev. Moon, he said, simply, “Gaza kaja,” Korean for “Let’s go to Gaza!” The Middle East Peace Initiative was born. Tens of thousands of clergy participated in peace marches, prayers at al-Aqsa, and door-to-door visits over the next three years. It attained certain goals; notably it forged a personal bond between Rev. Moon and Yasser Arafat. Rev. Michael Jenkins, the President of the Unification Church of America, was the only Christian minister to attend Arafat’s funeral in November 2004.

By 2005, the initiative had largely petered out. God’s providence pays attention to timing, and in 2006 the time for peace was not yet ripe. Yet my own ministry in this area was only just getting started.

In April 2011, a small group of us including Rev. Moon’s eldest daughter Ye Jin Moon met in Hawaii and drew a map, a “line of demarcation,” where we understood God would wish to place a border. After a trip to Jerusalem to refine the border in the contested areas around that city, we published it on the website as the “Citizens Proposal for a Border between Israel and Palestine.” I began posting blogs advocating measures to move towards this solution on As I understood my role, the point of the Hawaii meeting and the map was to lay down a marker on earth of what God wishes to accomplish through His providence. This is how the prophets of old worked: they spoke the word as a foundation for God to bring that word to pass.

Today many commentators opine that a two-state solution is on its last legs, but I am convinced that it will definitely come to pass within the next five years and maybe much sooner, because God wills it so. However, the speed with which God can conclude His Providence always depends on the extent of human cooperation.

When necessary, God can nudge things along. I see the Arab Spring in this light: although based on Arab citizens’ desire for democratic change, it also had a providential purpose to change the environment around the Israeli-Palestinian issue by destabilizing the status quo. I also see Europe’s growing impatience with Israel over the settlement issue, the surprisingly lopsided vote in the UN General Assembly granting Palestine the status of an observer state, and the BDS Movement, all as arising out of God’s desire to prod Israel, which has grown too comfortable with being an occupying power, into giving the Palestinians their state.

God’s providence is slowed by non-cooperation. On that score, God has been handicapped by a weak American administration that is more worried about the politics of the Jewish vote than about pursuing goals of peace in the world. If American State Department was doing the work of God, it should be leaning hard on Israel as well as the Palestinians to come to the peace table. Then it would not have suffered the embarrassment of being on the losing end of a 138-9 vote at the UN.

If a person in a central position stubbornly stands in the way of what God is doing, God can cause his downfall. This seems to be happening to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Throughout 2011 and 2012, despite many admonishments from the US, Europe and the UN, he continually stonewalled peace talks and pandered to the settler movement. If Netanyahu were simply balancing competing domestic forces while defending Israel’s national interests, such behavior would be permissible, but the Israel-Palestinian problem is a world-wide problem, and God regards it to be His problem. So what happens? Just a year ago he was on top of the world, “King Bibi” they called him, but through a series of missteps his power has been steadily diminishing. Today, as a biblical swarm of locusts descends on Israel,[5] a swarm of politicians are nibbling at his heels. Israel’s new coalition government has been called “the stuff of Benjamin Netanyahu’s nightmares.”[6] King Bibi may be on his way to becoming a modern-day King Saul, an object-lesson on the fate of those who oppose God.

In conclusion, I am convinced that God intends to establish a Palestinian State, and that this is a high priority matter. Also, it is in America’s national interest to see this happen. Achieving a two-state solution will do more to pacify the Arab world than five Iraq wars. It will do more to end the Iranian nuclear threat than fifty air strikes against its nuclear facilities. It will do more to end the threat of terrorism than 5,000 drone strikes. It is time for the American government to cooperate with God, and advance its own interests, by taking an active role in coercing both sides to come to the peace table.

Velma Anne Ruth
President, Independent Review, Inc.

"Spirituality and Governance"

In consideration of the over 190 member states and associate members of the United Nations, international representation regards varying social implications of policy per country, and relative impacts on given populous and international relations. A people’s nation, whether governed by the people or strictly by the upper echelon, is dependent on the values to which the governance holds firm. At personal and strategic levels, those values have various roots, not withstanding history, cultural mores, or spiritual principles.

Approximately 85% of the global population is religious. Each nation varies in their dominant religion, religious mosaic, and approach to religious diversity. While subject to updated analysis and polling, the pie-chart below suggests that the three (3) top spiritual platforms in the world are Islam, Christianity, and the “non-religious.” Additional religions follow as Hinduism, Buddhism, traditional Chinese, Judaism, and other. In each religious group there are diverse religious sects, each maintaining different philosophies between them, while under certain umbrellas. With such a broad span of reference to values that promote varying rules of law, the spiritual diversification of our planet is bread with inherent conflict.  

To philosophically rise above all inherent conflicts of spiritual principle, one may approach policy “objectively”, in a macro-view and consider the high-level fundamentals of best practices in law, as they have local impacts on a nation’s “risk/need status” of health, social strata, labor, finance, industry, science and technology, communications, education, security, international relations, and beyond. The “decision-making” of governance and rule-setting of these policies has roots in the spiritual determination of how a nation’s management impacts the people, and how the country’s body reflects its national values.

Consider the basics of universal values. Each spiritual group or nation has varying definitions of godliness, good and evil. Those behavioral and psychological rules bear influence on given laws and enforcement of those laws. These values impact strategies in negotiation, conflict resolution, justice, and ultimately, economics.

However, given certain societies have greater or lesser access to education, science, and technology, those constituencies with lesser access are left with dependency on historical philosophies to guide the establishment, while are equally amendable to the offerings of academia and innovation to advance their societies.

Science does not have a moral language, as it is rooted in evidentiary fact, which is “objective”. In contrast, spiritual beliefs and religious mores are philosophical, or “subjective.” For example, all people can agree that “the grass is green.” While Muslims and Christians may differ in their “belief” on the definitive divinity of Jesus Christ. By preserving religious analysis in the contrast between objective and subjective, the furthering of modern approaches through institutional developments and science may not necessarily be a threat to the spiritual make-up of any society, but rather spirituality may nurture the growth of a society under positive aspirations of a nation’s people and governance. Tactics of advancement are geared through language, where the deepening capacity for comprehension and development of strategic resources in varying industries and sectors provide applications that feed on inspirations towards a society’s future. At the highest level of global welfare, a government’s system and policies should be good for all. This is one planet, with one human race, where the global economy is instrumental in impacting multiple societies, and the capacity of a nation to thrive is inherent upon the welfare of its people.

As a matter of philosophy, principle, and influence, religion and politics cannot be separated. However, in application of law and order, the separation of church and state maintains objective higher-grounds in the discourse of infinite subjective disagreements. A policy maker as an individual, or a government organization as an entity may be inspired by their spirituality, as religion feeds the secular, and does not control the secular. In the most diverse societies and governments, religion, rituals and scripture are preserved in the “personal” arenas of life, while resonating values embellish the given society. Hence, science does not have the moral language to force, but the governing bodies inspire their people with moral.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is an objective standard which leverages diverse spiritual principles of wellness in society, for varying sectors of health, education, security, justice, and beyond, with complete respect to the religious mosaic of our planet and shared quests for peace.

Ambassador Mohammad Alhussaini Alsharif
Chief Representative, League of Arab States

Amb Mohammad Alhussaini Alsharif offered the following quote from the Qur'an, reflecting also that God considers mankind to be one single human family by virtue of origin and birth. A family which was made divers in order that its members should get to know and understand one another as well as cooperate among themselves.

"O mankind we created you from a single (pair) of a male and a females and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God have the become of the most righteous." (IL-13)

Please see below for additional quotes from religious texts, offering comparable subjective views in their common aspirations for peace:

  • Islam: Not one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself. Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi 13
  • Christianity: All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. Matt 7:12, Luke 6:31
  • Judaism: What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow men. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary. The Talmud
  • Judaism and Christianity: Leviticus 19.18 Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them
  • African Traditional Religions: One going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts. Yoruba Proverb (Nigeria)
  • Bahá'í Faith: And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbor that which thou choosest for thyself. Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, 30
  • Zoroastrian Faith: Whatever is disagreeable to yourself do not do unto others. Shayast-na-Shayast 13:29

Psychology, Intelligence and Reform

The global community is facing a series of revolutionary waves between western and eastern hemispheres, which are challenging political climates amid struggling economies and horizons of brighter futures. The characteristic outlays of culture, subculture, social groups and individuals are not always transparent to international media, intelligence, or even local communities, setting boundaries upon that which is projected as change, and that which actually advances, for better or worse.

Ambassador, Dr. Alsharif reflects on his 40 years of diplomacy, having been in contact with various cultures and been fascinated by the way various cultures conduct their business and affairs. He observed that differences do not come about because some people are good and others are bad, but different circumstances dictate different modes and ways of life. He found out that all of us, no matter how different we feel, are products of history and geography and in many cases destiny.

As he traveled more, he grew more tolerant and came to realize that one basic element of tolerance is respect which entails many qualities. If you respect someone you will want to know more about him or her and you will acknowledge his right to have views not quite compatible with your own. If you respect a culture, you will grant it the right to evolve its own system of beliefs and values in its own way. Bu the end of the day you will accept others regardless of their religion, nationality or race.

He reached the conclusion that each culture should be entitled to evolve its business and politics in the way it saw fit. He became conscious of the fact that none of us was consulted prior to birth about the region of the world we prefer to live in or what cultural background we would like to inherit.

When a nation implores oppression and violence upon its own people, whether or not this violence is observable by the naked eye, or impaled upon foreign nations; such abuses can be categorized under four types of behavior: psychological, physical, sexual, and power. Psychological torment may be engaged as harassment, or propaganda. Physical atrocities are more obvious, such as regulated torture, murdering infant girls, or legalizing assault in certain circumstances such as against wives or children. Sexual abuse is not foreign to oppressive societies, such as rape in political prison, legalized rape against wives, or pedophilia. Abuse of power is more complex, varying in forms of harm that lend to the oppressors gain, such as in monetary, social, professional or operational.

The quality of “abuse” is further evaluated with consideration of pattern, victimology, subjectivity, tactics of neglect, strategies of “dysfunction”, presence of addiction, and capacity for remorse. These psychological qualities are the predecessors of abusive behaviors, but are also visible in negotiation, conflict resolution, and policy development.  

Dependent upon the society, certain rules of law further any of the above acts, and do not consider them as abuse, but rather as justice. The notion of values then begs the question on the quality of justice in a given society, verses the capacity of individuals or communities to protect themselves from abuses. The capacity for a governance to reform its laws towards advanced treatment of its people is dependent upon those values, and so change may enable the above “abuses”, or may attempt to decrease said atrocities.

As a matter of human security, international security, defense and diplomacy, there is a need to separate 'believers' from 'entrepreneurs of conflict', and regard the role of religious principles in mobilization of peoples.

In the course of intervention, there are two (2) sets of three (3) fundamental categories of parties to consider.

In terms of highly volatile militant groups or militias, there are three categories that apply to both personnel and hierarchical leadership: 1. Those who are not interested in values or politics but who simply seek employment and enjoy recklessness; 2. Those who are more devout yet compliant and do not see other alternatives but may welcome them; 3. Those who are highly devout and maintain committed authoritative directive on volatility without remorse.

In terms of societies, there are three categories of response to governance, whether or not a respondent is inside government or is a civilian: 1. Those who reject oppression or abusive tactics and may actively seek alternatives; 2. Those who are compliant to authority out of need to maintain livelihood while may welcome alternatives; 3. Those who maintain committed authoritative directive on oppression and atrocities without remorse.

In terms of moderation and reform, those in categories 1 and 2 bear greater capacity for change or improvements given proper secured avenues, while those in categories 3 are exempt from opportunity for advancement. Categories 3 are not foreign to this framework, but rather target dissent and noncompliance in categories 1 and 2.

Intervention may engage key ‘religious actors', people who are moved by faith that may fall under any category, while considering justice-based imposition on religious actors that exploit the intersection of religion and policy for the sake of volatility.

Whether in western or eastern hemispheres, current global movements face a challenge of de-radicalization, which is in need of a sound intervention strategy that does not blame cultures or others philosophies, that diffuses conflict before conflict worsens, and is designed for positive outcomes.

In the course of reform, the application of religion shifts from extremes towards positive efforts, moderation is empowered to combat extremism, and the extremist elements are directly addressed, while promoting higher-natures in the development of self both personally and spiritually.

Employing principles of reform is diplomatic, as soft power alternative to military intervention. However, this course of diplomacy requires advanced intelligence measures, and work with non-state entities whom are often gravely endangered on the ground, and persecuted if merely identified.

International Issues and Global Spread of Extremism

In the course of diplomacy and international conflict resolution, certain debates have been incessant over decades, while centuries long trails of history threaten the perpetuation of increased issues. Over 70 years of history, the world has witnessed a new era of violence verses religious freedom.

As Ambassador Dr. Alsharif reflects, some dialogues failed because these dialogs "attempted to fuse religions and creeds in a melting pot on the pretext of bringing them closer together. This is likewise a fruitless effort since the adherents of every religion are deeply convinced in their faith and will not accept any alternative thereto. If we want to succeed, we must focus on the common denominators that unite us, namely, deep faith in God, noble principles and lofty moral values, which constitute the essence of religions."

He is of the belief that ignorance, lack of understanding or not wanting to understand others rather than cultural differences are responsible for the many so-called cultural clashes. It is only through mutual understanding and respect that we can dispel ignorance, suspicion, and prejudice which today create so many dangerous attitudes and false perceptions.

These times reflect the history of Christians in Europe up to the year 1517 AD when there was unified control, including over women’s dress and social standards. Then on October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted 95 Theses against the corrupt sale of indulgences by the Catholic Church. Luther posted the theses in Latin and intended to start an academic debate. However, they were translated into German, quickly copied using the newly-invented movable type printing press, and wound up sparking the German Reformation.

Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences (95 Theses, 1517)

Northern Europe saw the need for reform, and after 100 years of war 1648 marked the development of western states. The response of Catholicism was to transition more into mysticism, while Jesuits developed universities. This level of war may not have yet been achieved in the Middle East, where politics also uses religion to advance something that has nothing to do with religion. However, extremist groups indigenous to the Middle East know no borders between eastern and western hemispheres, such as Hezbollah that has co-branded with Venezuelan Hezbollah.

Iran and Israel, the two most diabolically opposed countries in the world withhold overwhelming similarities between their nations, religions and histories. The Jews of Iran have a history that begins over 2,500 years ago and continues through today. Famous figures in the Jewish Bible are cited as living in or traveling the areas of Iran. Also, religious studies convey reasons, as each religion prophesies the coming of the next prophet Mahdi/Messiah. There are similar descriptions of respective messiahs, including feminine leaders connected to the coming of the redeemer. Religious discourses also represent the similarities of both nationalities.

Throughout western institutions and leadership, there is a misleading understanding that the Middle East consists of a radical majority, while the populous is silenced by a minority of extremist forces who seek to establish more Islamic republics like Iran. The cultural realities exhibit a massive underground where true moderate Muslims endure strongholds of respect for religious minorities, and religious freedom is a shared principle among Muslims, Christians, Jews, and other religious minorities alike, towards shared missions to institute and protect religious rights and secularism. The propaganda war is a double-edged sword to this effect, where regimes impose threats on their peoples in the name of religion, while reflecting a peace-loving tone to foreign nations.

True, in the heart of Islam, whether Sunni, Shi'a, Sufi or other, there is a core respect for religious diversity, regard for Jews and Christians as family. However, complications compounded in well-financed propaganda war from both sides both challenge the Islamophobia that creates divides, and appeasement that furthers conflict. The question of a moderate middle ground is beyond Sunni vs. Shi'a, beyond terror groups verses states, but is a complex matrix of varying religious groups within those Muslim sects, and their political applications of violence, or peace (see Table: Islam and Conflict Matrix).

Given the pie-chart on religion above, and remembrance of history, the Christian community also has its rhetoric of concern, and conflicts between Christian sects. For example, there are certain Christian believers that hold firm that anyone who is not of their own faith, such as Muslims, Jews, or not in agreement with their sect are “Satanic.” This language is not dissimilar to the use of the term “infidel”, even if offensive behaviors are more volatile.

Both Christians and Muslims are proactive in promoting their faith internationally, with use of missionaries in charitable causes, development of religious facilities, and distribution of religious texts. Both have a global enterprising strategy, and neither are foreign to conflict. The difference however, is a range between puritanical charitable interests as priority over religious, exploitation of charity to recruit religious followers, and use of religious developments to further global threats such as trafficking, espionage, or worse.

In prayer to "God of malfeasance and benevolence", "even Satan does not want to be demonized". To “call upon the angels” of a higher self, the empowerment to rise above current assaultive tendencies gives way to betterment in society.

In those organized religions that depend on scripture, it is the professional cleric’s responsibility to guide a congregation in interpretation, and comprehension of the word, as sacred, literal, metaphorical, or in a context of non-modern times. The manner in which these philosophies are adopted and implemented is reflected in the nature of a religious leader’s presence at a diplomatic table, in government, in a secular community, or otherwise.

Bring to transparent discussion the applied use of religion in governance internationally, and the backing spiritual principles that guide policy.

One of the most conflicted nations at this time is Syria. In certain Syrian towns where Assad's regime has lost control, local leaders refer to the Qur'an, where they do not have other resources to refer to and are required to take quick action in restoring civilian order in as most peaceful way as they know how.

In the United States, conservatives consistently reflect on the Founding Fathers and how the nation is rooted in Christian principles. At the same time, there is certain ambivalence to the role of Islam in the course of security, at times ignorance on the very definition of religious freedom, yet principles of “separation of church and state” can be used as a crutch. On these foundations, US policy maintains restrictions against participating in religious war, however exercises these principles in diplomacy.

In Indonesia, a recent poll showed 61% of school students agree with violence for defending religion, while the Indonesian government’s objective is for de-radicalization. Indonesia is not secular, but is not religious government, rather spiritual and moderate. While the government explores means to teach critical thinking and overcoming radical influences, extremists target westerners, infidels, police, law makers, the anti-terror agency, and any obstacles to turn Indonesia into an Islamic state.

No matter where religion is used as a tool to back-track against peace, the injection of religion into politics to control a people defies certain spiritual principles such as free-will and independent responsibility, and is central to tactics of religious-based oppression.

Ambassador Dr. Alsharif suggests that one of the core issues is how values of religions are implemented into behaviors, and conflicts that arise through injecting politics into religion. That religious centers, such as mosques and the Hajj should not be a forum for politics. And that human rights and dialog are important in battling terrorism. It is not about one-country teaching another country what to do, but about empowering a peoples to take leadership upon themselves to create more enriching environment for their communities.

Further, the Ambassador suggests education at the earliest ages may teach human rights, civil society, freedom, tolerance, acceptance of others, not to disrespect any religion, and to nurture new generations. It could be one book, in 100-200 pages that would foster a universal curriculum, fostered by leaders of the mature generations, coordinated by young leaders, and then exponentially spreading positive impacts to new generations.

The question remains: how to create more religious peace, how to address secularism with awareness of religious groups, and how to religious attacks in the promotion of dialog towards peace.

The answer may be a matter of education, more work with inter-faith and faith-based groups, bringing fact out of mixed messaging, advancing intelligence, balancing representation of the peoples when their oppressors maintain the microphone in diplomatic offices, and furthering the teachings of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Coptic Christian youth protect compatriot Muslim youth during prayer mid-protest Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt 2012

Table: Islam and Conflict Matrix  

Panels of experts agree that conflicts in the Middle East and beyond are deeper and more complex than Shi'a vs. Sunni, resolving in 400 potential intersections of conflict (or resolutions). The population count per sect, per country is varied, estimated in larger majority leaning towards peace, and minority for more extremism (1-3 vs. 4-5 below). For example, political/extremist Shi'a leaders politically imprison peace-loving Shia clerics in Iran.

Further, the range of sociopolitical and militant views among Muslims defies both the principles of Islamophobia and policies of appeasement.

 Religious Conflict Matrix


Sect vs. Sect

A. Shia

B. Sunni

C. Minority-Muslim

D. Minority Non-Islam

A.1. Shia - Peace-Loving

A.1. vs given A

A.1. vs given B

A.1. vs given C

A.1. vs given D

A.2. Shia - Moderate

A.2. vs given A

A.2. vs given B

A.2. vs given C

A.2. vs given D

A.3. Shia - Political/Reform

A.3. vs given A

A.3. vs given B

A.3. vs given C

A.3. vs given D

A.4. Shia - Political/Extremist

A.4. vs given A

A.4. vs given B

A.4. vs given C

A.4. vs given D

A.5. Shia - Extremist/Terrorist

A.5. vs given A

A.5. vs given B

A.5. vs given C

A.5. vs given D

B.1. Sunni - Peace-Loving

B.1. vs given A

B.1. vs given B

B.1. vs given C

B.1. vs given D

B.2. Sunni - Moderate

B.2. vs given A

B.2. vs given B

B.2. vs given C

B.2. vs given D

B.3. Sunni - Political/Reform

B.3. vs given A

B.3. vs given B

B.3. vs given C

B.3. vs given D

B.4. Sunni - Political/Extremist

B.4. vs given A

B.4. vs given B

B.4. vs given C

B.4. vs given D

B.5. Sunni - Extremist/Terrorist

B.5. vs given A

B.5. vs given B

B.5. vs given C

B.5. vs given D

C.1. Minority Islam Peace-Love

C.1. vs given A

C.1. vs given B

C.1. vs given C

C.1. vs given D

C.2. Minority - Moderate

C.2. vs given A

C.2. vs given B

C.2. vs given C

C.2. vs given D

C.3. Minority - Political/Reform

C.3. vs given A

C.3. vs given B

C.3. vs given C

C.3. vs given D

C.4. Minority - Political/Extreme

C.4. vs given A

C.4. vs given B

C.4. vs given C

C.4. vs given D

C.5. Minority - Extremist/Terrorist

C.5. vs given A

C.5. vs given B

C.5. vs given C

C.5. vs given D

D.1. Non-Muslim Peace-Loving

D.1. vs given A

D.1. vs given B

D.1. vs given C

D.1. vs given D

D.2. Non-Muslim Moderate

D.2. vs given A

D.2. vs given B

D.2. vs given C

D.2. vs given D

D.3. Non-Muslim Political/Reform

D.3. vs given A

D.3. vs given B

D.3. vs given C

D.3. vs given D

D.4. Non-Islam Political/Extreme

D.4. vs given A

D.4. vs given B

D.4. vs given C

D.4. vs given D

D.5. Non-Islam Extremist/Terrorist

D.5. vs given A

D.5. vs given B

D.5. vs given C

D.5. vs given D


[1] Pearson Higher Education. “Religion.” Universalizing Religions. Retrieved August 31, 2012.

[2] Pape, Robert A. Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. (New York: Random House, 2005). (Raw data available at the archive for the Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism, housed at the University of Chicago.)

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.,14.

[5] “Israeli authorities gear up to spray new swarms of locusts in northwest Negev,” Haaretz, March 13, 2013.

[6] Yossi Verter, “Israel's new coalition is the stuff of Benjamin Netanyahu's nightmares,” Haaretz, March 15, 2013.

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