In view of President Donald Trump’s upcoming first foreign trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Vatican – hosts to some of the holiest sites in Islam, Judaism, and Christianity – is there a unique opportunity to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East through ecumenical diplomacy?
The short answer is definitely yes. National Security Advisor General H.R. McMaster already confirmed in a press briefing last Friday that one of the core purposes of the trip is “…to broadcast a message of unity to America’s friends and to the faithful of three of the world’s greatest religions.” He further asserted that “…what President Trump is seeking is to unite peoples of all faiths around a common vision of peace, progress, and prosperity. He will bring a message of tolerance and of hope to billions, including to millions of Americans who profess these faiths. The President will focus on what unites us.”
But are the collisions between the antagonists endless and therefore unavoidable to prevent the likelihood of more terrorism and wars? Or can interfaith relations nevertheless provide a practical base from which to dampen the passion of strife and continued bloodshed in the name of “God”?
To be sure, faith in general is deemed as an appropriate source to draw upon in ultimately persuading even adversarial co-religionists to recognize the potential dangers in their unresolved explosive confrontations. For this reason there is an urgent need to support any efforts for this engagement through détente and diplomatic alternatives. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity can indeed accomplish this goal by lowering theological incitements and tensions. Additionally, partisans abroad should be mobilized to promote tolerance and create conciliatory circumstances in which the parties can continue with constructive negotiations towards peace.
Consider, for example, if President Trump during his discussions with the leaders in the home of these three faiths will offer the following selected recommendations:
First, declare a “truce of God” in the Holy sites, such as in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, and Nazareth, sparing them from any future violence by extremists;
Second, encourage leaders to issue a condemnation of all forms of theological incitements to violence;
Third, establish an Israeli-Palestinian security hotline between the leaders to prevent any potential acts of religious-motivated terrorism;
Fourth, designate a monthly “Day of Peace” for the Middle East jointly sponsored by the denominations;
Fifth, encourage faithful members around the world to develop programs to improve interfaith relations with views of bringing peace to the Middle East;
And sixth, set-up a special supplementary “Nobel Peace Prize” for a person or organization that contributed to promotion of peace in all regions in the name of all religions.
In sum, it would be presumptuous to believe that some of the foregoing decades-old recommendations would suffice to inspire the parties to solve the myriad of schisms in the Middle East. Nevertheless, religion can be a useful instrument of peace. It would behoove world leaders to follow one of Pope Francis’s observation:
“…any violence which seeks religious justification warrants the strongest condemnation because the Omnipotent is the God of life and peace. The world expects those who claim to adore God to be men and women of peace who are capable of living as brothers and sisters, regardless of ethnic, religious, cultural or ideological differences.”
Yonah Alexander, former research professor at the George Washington University and currently director of the Inter-University Center for Terrorism Studies at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies. Sharon Layani is a research associate at the IUCTS.