Towards an Ethics of Solidarity
The fifth World Social Forum was held in January in Porto Alegra, Brazil, bringing together groups from civil society who are interested in combating the ill-effects of capitalist imperialism. The following report covers a panel on "International ethics, religious conflicts and peace", whose emphasis was the relationship of religion to violent conflict and how violence can be overcome.
Religion, Conflict and Peace Discussed at World Social Forum
"When some two years ago in the West Indian State of Gujarat a train compartment was bombed and 58 people were killed by unknown offenders, local and regional newspapers published the headline '58 people killed by Muslim extremists'. As a reaction, more than 2000 innocent Muslim Indians were chased, raped and killed in a most cruel way in the week after the bombing," Siddharta, leader of Fireflies, an interreligious Ashram in Bangalore, India, recounts. "What is the magma within religion that is capable of such a brutal eruption?" he asks.
Siddharta is speaking at a panel discussion on "International ethics, religious conflicts and peace" at the fifth World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Organized by a global ecumenical coalition that includes the World Council of Churches (WCC), the panel explores the role of religion in conflicts, and seeks to identify resources within religion for overcoming violence.
"Religious conflicts are a reality that societies all over the world have to live with," says another panel speaker, Rifat Kassis from Palestine. The international coordinator of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) points to areas like Northern Ireland, the Sudan, Sri Lanka, and emphasizes: "What is happening in the Middle East is not unique."
As for Brazil, a country proud of its cultural mix and the peaceful coexistence of people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, it is currently witnessing a denial of afro-Brazilian religions and traditions and a growing wave of discrimination and violence against its black population. "Statistics show serious discrimination against black people whose ancestors entered this country as slaves," reports Ordep Serra, a Brazilian minister of the afro-Brazilian Candomblé religion. "Black people belong only to the lower classes. They are victims of violence."
Relational Ethics and a Relational Spirituality
Religion has sometimes justified or even fuelled conflicts outside the purely "religious" sphere, also involving political and economic issues and powers. At the same time, a wide range of believers all over the world are becoming increasingly aware of the relationships between religion, violence and power and have developed ecumenical and interreligious initiatives for peace.
Further examining the reasons for violence in the name of religion — the magma — professor of theology Ulrich Duchrow from Germany links newly erupting religious aggression to the presence of a new economic paradigm. "The market is driven by the neoliberal paradigm whose psychological basis creates aggression and competition rather than solidarity. Within this climate, the other is seen as a permanent threat."
For Duchrow, individualism is a key issue. "We won't survive with an ethics that is considered as 'individual private value judgement'," says Duchrow, quoting sociologist Max Weber. "If we consider ethics as a condition for life, we mustn't see each other as atomic individuals or as rivals but as closely connected beings. A future ethics must be relational, it must be an ethics of solidarity."
Not only ethics, but also spirituality require openness towards the other. Facing a world that today is ruled by a single empire and its allies, "One voice consisting of churches and social movements is required to confront the fundamentalism of the market," Duchrow says.
From his interreligious perspective, Siddharta emphasizes that a relational spirituality would also "overcome the boundaries of different faiths". And Palestinian Christian Kassis admits that: "Even if we focus on Christianity, we should not think that our religion is the only peaceful one."
How would improved mutual understanding contribute towards a culture of peace? From his particular context, Kassis stresses that it would prevent fear of the unknown. The unknown other becomes the feared enemy. "If you don't know any Arabs, you could get the idea from certain media that every Arab is a terrorist," he explains. In this context, the EAPPI is a visible "sign of hope" in conflict areas. Accompaniers "undertake advocacy efforts, carry out non-violent actions and, by their mere presence, promote peace and show a love that knows no boundaries."
The sharing of initiatives from different contexts enables people to realize the richness of religious diversity, fostering a culture of peace and struggling to overcome violence. "There will be no peace and no justice if the present situation does not make you angry. The anger about things going wrong in the world is the motive for change," Ordep Serra concludes.
Henrike Müller is a curate from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover currently working in the office for Media Relations of the World Council of Churches in Geneva.