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'To Disarm Terror -- A Role for Believers'

Cardinal Kasper's Address at Milan Meeting

MILAN, Italy, SEPT. 13, 2004 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the address Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, delivered Tuesday on the topic "To Disarm Terror: A Role for Believers." He spoke in the context of the Men and Religions meeting, organized by the Community of Sant'Egidio and the Milan Archdiocese.

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After the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall, there was hope for a period of peace and of peaceful and democratic development in the world. Now we know that that hope was altogether illusory. The new scourge of humanity and the new challenge posed to the whole of civilization is terrorism -- together with hunger and poverty in the world. Undoubtedly, this represents a challenge for all civilized states that will credibly characterize the whole century that has just begun.

The causes of this terrible phenomenon are complex. Needless to say, social problems also play a role. However, terrorism can never be justified based on the existing structures of injustice and the gravely unjust distribution of goods; these, in themselves, play an important role in the terrorists' attempts at justification, and are of help to terrorist groups, especially small ones, or serve at least to be tolerated by some sectors of the population.

Moreover, the debate often brings to light another problem, namely, the link between terrorism and religion. Above all, suspicions of intolerance fall on the three monotheist religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and therefore, of at least having a propensity to violence because of their exclusive faith -- in fact or so understood -- in one only God.

Being self-critical and sincere, we cannot simply deny all the examples of history that could support this thesis. In the Book that Christians call the Old Testament and Jews the Tanach, there are many texts that speak of holy wars and annihilation of the adversary. As regards the history of the Church, reference is often made to questions linked to the Crusades, the bloody persecution of heretics, and the wars of religion. Finally, Islam is reproached for defending itself with the sword and glorifying the holy war against the infidels. So the three monotheist religions have cause for a critical revision of their own history and for a "purification of the historical memory."

The three monotheist religions are also obliged to face present, known and disagreeable phenomena, such as the conflict in Northern Ireland, Israel's security policy [and] terrorist groups of Muslim leanings. But also in non-monotheist religions there are intolerant groups that are prepared to use violence, for example, in Hinduism.

Those who take a profound interest in this phenomenon know that social, economic and political motives are mixed with religious motives, and that religion often serves as an ideological cover and, consequently, is instrumentalized. But are religions opposed with sufficient clarity to this instrumentalization?

These are phenomena that cannot be denied, and it makes no sense to blame others. It is the way children fight, when they dispute over who started a quarrel and who first provoked the other.

Overcoming this infantile way of confronting one another, the question becomes fundamental. The question is: Are the phenomena described an expression of a disorder of religion and a reprehensible abuse of the latter, or is this aspect of intolerance and of inclination to violence, which ends in the physical annihilation or violent submission of the disloyal adversary, part of the very essence of religion, especially of the monotheist religion?

An answer is possible on three levels.

The first level: All the religions mentioned can refer to central passages of their sacred texts which absolutely prohibit all types of violence and, specifically, terrorism. The Golden Rule which states that one must not do to another what one does not want done to oneself is found in different forms in all religions. The Koran also contains phrases that speak explicitly of tolerance. The Decalogue's prohibition of killing with the sole exception of direct self-defense is of great importance.

Christianity adds the commandment of love even of one's enemy and invites one to forgive. The three monotheist religions also prohibit suicide and because of this categorically exclude suicide attacks. Therefore, whoever carries out such suicide attacks should not -- according to the principles of the Koran -- be venerated as a martyr, but should be condemned as a murderer and criminal.

Second level: For the Judeo-Christian tradition, the prohibition to kill and to commit suicide is based on the very concept of God. This tradition is revolutionary because it puts ...

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