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March 6, 2004
Release Number: 04-03-17


Panel wrestles with religious-violence issues

Baghdad, Iraq - Drawing upon their common belief in God, an informal
panel discussed whether it is possible for Jews, Christians and Muslims
to promote reconciliation in a war-weary land where religion is often
times blamed for the violence.

Recently, Bruce Feiler, the author of "Walking the Bible," sat down with
Imam Mohammed Al-Ubaidy, spiritual leader for the 14 Ramadan Mosque here
and Maj. Dean Bonura, the brigade chaplain for the "Ready First" Combat
Team at Firebase Melody in eastern Baghdad to pose this question and
discuss a few others.

"All of us at the meeting were very hopeful about the possibilities for
peace and stabilization in this region," Bonura said. "This discussion
only reinforced what I have already discovered in every conversation I
have ever had with religious persons in Baghdad: everyone wants to see
an end to senseless violence."

It seems reasonable for people who share a common belief in the same God
to figure a way to discourage violence by those who would try to
perpetuate their former power base in the name of God, Feiler said.

If Islam is truly about peace, then Muslim leaders should unite and
collectively disavow the violence that others are doing in the name of
their religion, he said.

Bonura suggested to the group that "perhaps we are approaching the issue
in the wrong way. When we consider the prophets and the various sacred
texts of the three major religions in the world, we recognize there is
less agreement about doctrinal things."

For example, he said, "we may believe in the same God, but we differ
about Jesus. However, maybe all three religion's mutual tie to the
ancient patriarch, Abraham, can provide a starting point?"

Feiler, the author of "Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths,"
said, "Abraham may be a flawed vessel, but he's the best vessel for
reconciliation we have. The answer is found in what Abraham offers, a
rare vision of hope that, despite setbacks, we may be able to redefine
what we think about our neighbors, our future and ourselves."

The imam warmed to this idea, but the panel concluded all these things
take time.

Besides talking about violence and religion, the panel posed complex
religions questions to one another.

"Not everyone is ready to set aside their personal concerns for the good
of the many," the imam said.

"Someone greater than" Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani,
Iraq's most influential Shiite Muslim cleric, "will have to intervene in
order to bring about real progress concerning our self-government," the
imam said.

"Why don't the Christian people follow the orders of the God so that we
might enjoy more peace?" he asked.

"Unfortunately not every Christian follows the commands of God, and,
besides, there are many Americans who follow another religion or no
religion at all," Bonura responded.

As for the violence, no religious person is immune.

"Imagine, if you will, an empty room," suggested Feiler. "You are told
to move to one side of the room if you have violence in your religion.
And, if you have no violence in your religion, move to the other side.
One side of the room is empty. We're all guilty."

The discussion ended with Jew, Christian and Muslim believers clasping
hands in a sign of solidarity.

Although the discussion did not come up with solutions to the problems
facing Iraq, the consensus reached by the panel was one God, different
faiths - but a common commitment to peaceful coexistence, mutual
support, understanding and engagement - dialog without antagonism.

Note to editors: Photo and cutline available; see below.

GERCKEN AT (914) 360-6725/7743.


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