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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 before the special election of the People of God in Genesis 1-11, the general human history and that of each person who regardless of his or her ethnic, cultural, religious background or gender states that each has been created in the image of God; therefore, God places his hand on all people, because the blood of another must not be spilled.

The Bible knows only one God, but this one God is not a national idol, but universal Lord of all humanity; and the foregoing is the reason of the dignity of every man. Therefore, terrorism, as a negation of the dignity of man is at the same time an offense to God. The justification of terrorism in the name of God is the gravest abuse of the name of God and its greatest profanation. And it is very positive therefore that during the Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi all the religions present were in agreement on this declaration.

Third level: It is not enough to be in agreement only in theory; the practice should correspond to the theory. Today terrorism has become a threat for the whole of humanity; in fact, terrorists can strike anywhere. We cannot defend the dignity of man and peace only with pious words; we must also defend them with deeds. So the question is posed: What can we do against terrorism? I cannot give a complete program, but I can contribute some indications.

1. The struggle against international terrorism needs military and police interventions. If necessary, democracies must be prepared to defend freedom with force, even if this means the sacrifice of many human lives. In the struggle against terrorism, nevertheless, one cannot use that which one condemns and combats in terrorism.

That is why in the struggle against terrorism fundamental human rights cannot be annulled and the instrument of torture used, which are contrary to man's dignity. One cannot engage in a preventive war which revokes the rules of the just war which are valid only as "ultima ratio"; selective killings cannot be committed without a preceding just trial. The barbarity of terrorism cannot make us reverse in respect to the conquests of civilized humanity and cause us to drown in barbarism.

2. It is necessary to change energetically the conditions that favor the spread of terrorism and that might be considered as a legitimation; namely, social, economic and political injustice must be eliminated and there must be commitment to a more just world order, especially in the critical areas of the world.

3. Religions must wake up, and activate their own spiritual resources of resistance to terrorist violence. Such a clear and public distancing of oneself from terrorism is what many expect precisely from Islam. The profound nihilist characteristic of terrorism can only be overcome through the affirmation of the fundamental attitude of all religions, namely, profound respect.

This means both the self-critical review of one's own history as the preaching not of hatred but of tolerance, and respect for others' convictions as well as the consequent condemnation of all forms of violence. Religions must tear off the religious mask from the face of the terrorists to unmask them and show them for what they really are, namely, nihilists who reject all the values and ideals of humanity.

The clash of civilizations can be avoided only through the dialogue of cultures and religions. Dialogue puts respect for the common heritage of all religions and profound respect for the sacred first. However, dialogue in no way means syncretism and abdication of one's own identity; rather, dialogue can be undertaken only by interlocutors each of whom has his own identity, an identity that they know [and] esteem and by which they commit themselves through the arms of the spirit.

Such unity of dialogue of religions, which condemns physical conflict but is not afraid of spiritual confrontation, is the only way for peace in the world.


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Terror, War, Peace, Terrorist, Violence

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