Issue 46, December 2005
This issue of Current Dialogue will arrive in your mailbox or be posted on the net, depending on your chosen mode of delivery, much later than we intended and we do apologise for this. The forthcoming assembly to be held in Porto Alegre in Brazil 14-23 February 2006 “God, in your Grace, Transform the World” has required much work in the Office on Interreligious Relations and Dialogue (IRRD). The general secretary of the World Council of Churches and its Assembly Planning Committee have given ample space to interreligious relations and dialogue. Some twenty guests of other faiths have been invited from world and traditional religions. Ecumenical conversations will focus on whether we embrace or fear religious plurality. In a plenary, the Archbishop of Canterbury will address the issue of Christian identity and religious plurality. Workshops or as they are called mutirão, a Brazilian word meaning a meeting place and opportunity to work together for a common purpose, will supplement and accompany the Assembly deliberations also on issues related to religious plurality and relations between people of different faiths. The programme of the Assembly thus creates space for the issue of interreligious relations and dialogue to be discussed and celebrated. It is our hope that the WCC will return from Porto Alegre strengthened, encouraged and emboldened to take new steps forward on how we best live with religious plurality; how we interact with people of other faiths and how we explore the possibilities of working together in a relevant way. This is much needed.
The weeks immediately before the Assembly demonstrated again the need for religious people as well as for society itself to rethink how we can live with freedom of expression and respect for religious traditions. Cartoons of the Prophet, published almost half a year ago in a Danish newspaper and a Norwegian Christian publication and republished in several European newspapers, opened a vulnerability in the Muslim world, which leaves us with no other option than dialogue.
Muslims understand the caricatures as deeply insulting the Prophet, embodying everything that represents their faith and religious tradition. In such a situation it is difficult for ordinary Muslims to participate in a detached discussion on freedom of expression. Instead, I think it is more likely that the caricatures will feed the perception that Muslims are targeted now also in the centre of their faith, adding to the feelings of being targeted by the West in the Israeli-Palestinian and Iraqi conflicts.
The way some of the European newspapers have published the cartoons and commented on the need for them to be published gives the impression that there is more to it than an unbiased interest to open a serious discussion on freedom of expression. Provocation seems to be one component when interpreting this desire to republish the cartoons.
Our wish that freedom of expression be guaranteed everywhere is not to be negotiated. We have fought for this right and we should not give it up. When we discuss the right for freedom of expression, we must however also discuss the intent behind such a right. It is important to bring into the discussion on freedom of expression a commitment not to hurt the feelings of people where they are most vulnerable. One must ask oneself whether showing these images contributes to an important debate and whether the publication of the cartoons really defends human rights. There are parallels between cartoons denigrating a religion and the anti-Semitic cartoons of Jews in Der Stürmer, or the representation of Jews and Judaism in the Protocols of the Sages of Zion, to date still used in some Muslim quarters as a weapon against Israel.
A good example of the usefulness of dialogue on the conflict of the cartoons are the points for common reflection issued by The Contact Group for the Church of Norway and the Islamic Council in Norway:
The caricatures published in Jyllands-posten and in Magazinet offend religious feelings.
This issue of Current Dialogue contains a comment on the working document on Religious Plurality and Christian Self-understanding, published in the last issue of Current Dialogue, crafted by three WCC networks Faith & Order, CWME and Dialogue. The document will serve as a background document at the Assembly for the discussions on Christian identity and religious plurality.
You will in this issue of Current Dialogue find some of the papers from a dialogue between Iranian Muslims and the WCC as well as a short statement from the encounter.
An interreligious weekend organised mid-November 2005 by the WCC and the Interreligious Platform of Geneva focused on identity and plurality. It offered different expressions of how to celebrate and reflect on issues of living together in a way of respect and affirmation of plurality. Co-ordinator Ariane Hentsch reports on a youth forum, which was one of the major events. A document, which had been prepared for the entire weekend by a small interreligious group, served as a challenging text in a public conference and a colloquium on tolerance as well as in the youth forum. This text was finally lifted up in an interreligious celebration in the St. Pierre Cathedral and is presented also in this issue of Current Dialogue. We intend to publish more from the interreligious weekend “My Neighbour’s Faith and Mine – For Better or for Worse” later this year.
Other articles and information about books received in the Office should, provide interesting material for thought and for living peacefully with neighbours of other religions and convictions.