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Y.M. Vorontsov: Religious Leaders Are Needed in Conflict Resolution

We have many examples where militants posing as protectors of religion are not helping at all. They are even conflagrating the crisis.

Take, for example, Chechnya, which is very close to my country, Russia. Some Muslims in Chechnya say, "We Muslims are fighting the Russian infidels." But there are other Muslim republics of Russia and they are not supporting the militant approach of some of the Chechen leaders. They are looking for the solution of the problem, putting religious issues to the side. I talked to these Muslim leaders in Moscow, and they are all telling me that Islam has nothing to do with the fighting in Chechnya. Other factors are causing the conflict, such as the interest of certain groups in Chechnya to project their influence around their own territory. When leaders of the rebel forces in Chechnya penetrated into Dagestan, they were thrown out by the Dagestani police. The Muslims in Dagestan are very good Muslims, as I understand, and did not want that kind of aggression on their territory by people who were just posing as protectors of religion.

Ideologists are on one extreme and militant elements of religious groups are on the other. This leaves the center of the picture for the politicians and religious leaders. However, the religious leaders have been obscured by ideologists on the one side and religious fanatics on the other. The field is being occupied by these two extremes.

Hence, it is very important, to my mind, to encourage the activity of religious leaders around the world in settling international disputes.

I can give you an example of where I would like to see more participation by religious leaders in conflict resolution. I am entrusted by the Security Council and Secretary General of the United Nations with the task of helping to find 600 Kuwaiti civilians who disappeared during the Iraqi occupation. Nothing has been heard about them. Meanwhile, the 600 families of these people are absolutely devastated. They still don't know the fate of their loved ones who were arrested by the Iraqi occupation forces nearly 10 years ago. Perhaps they are still alive in a prison in Iraq. They were taken somewhere by bus, and nothing is known about their fate.

As I am now trying to find out the fate of these people, I have tried to increase the interest among many countries to influence the Iraqis to give out some information. Most of all, I am trying to somehow raise interest among the Muslim countries. Both Kuwait and Iraq are Muslim countries. Therefore, I thought it would be valuable to appeal to Muslim religious organizations.

I concentrated on the Organization of the Islamic Conference, a group which unites all the Islamic countries. I was pleading with them, "Help me and help the United Nations to influence Iraqis to locate these people and find out what is their fate."

It was very difficult to get a response. They said, "Yes, we are all Muslims, but we are so disunited as countries."

I said, "I understand that. Forget the divisions among your countries. Talk to each other as people of the same religion. Try to find a solution to this very important problem. Kuwait is a small country. Six hundred families have lost their loved ones and don't know anything about them. Six hundred families is a big proportion of their whole population." Thus I pleaded with them.

They are doing something, but unfortunately it is not much.

We need meetings of the religious leaders, congresses of religious leaders, where they will discuss not their differences in doctrine but the world situation. I don't think there will be serious differences of view when the topic is war and peace in a given region or peace on the planet or the global ecological crisis. I believe that these issues are very important for religions.