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by Tausch, Arno
11 February 2002 14:22 UTC
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Iranian President Condemns Violence in the Name of Religion
c. 2001 Religion News Service 
NEW YORK -- In a plea for international understanding and in a potent symbol
of what appears to be growing international multifaith dialogue, Iranian
President Mohammad Khatami has condemned any religious justification for
terrorism and praised Christian thinking that promotes religion as "a venue
for social solidarity." 
Speaking Nov. 12 at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City,
the Iranian leader rebuked "vicious terrorists who concoct weapons out of
religions," calling them "superficial literalists clinging to the most
simplistic ideas." 
"They are utterly incapable of understanding that, perhaps inadvertently,
they are turning religion into the handmaiden of the most decadent
ideologies," he said, addressing U.S. religious leaders and others at a
symposium convened by the World Conference on Religion and Peace. 
"While terrorists purport to be serving the cause of religion and accuse all
those who disagree with them of heresy and sacrilege, they are indeed
serving the very ideologies they condemn." 
Khatami's address at the cathedral, as well as earlier appearances last week
at the United Nations with other world leaders and at Seton Hall University
in New Jersey, seemed to further enhance his growing stature in the United
States as a moderate Islamic leader committed to a dialogue with the West --
coincidentally or not, at a time when the United States is seeking broad
international support for its campaign against terrorism. 
A rapprochement between Iran and the United States is still a ways off: The
United States and Iran do not have diplomatic relations. The United States
says Iran provides state-sponsored support for groups that oppose Israel.
Khatami, meanwhile, has said the United States needs to "own up" to mistakes
in the Middle East and has criticized the U.S. bombing campaign in
Afghanistan for its effects on the civilian population there. At the same
time, Khatami, a Muslim cleric, has strongly criticized the Taliban for what
he says has been their gross distortion of Islam; most Iranians are Shiite
Muslims and are at odds with the type of Islam practiced by the Taliban. 
Khatami was also the one who suggested the United Nations take up the theme
of a "Dialogue Among Civilizations" and his appearance at the nation's
largest Episcopal cathedral with a group of U.S. Christian and Jewish
leaders served as a powerful example of deepening dialogue between leaders
of different faiths since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. 
In his keynote speech, delivered in Persian and translated into English,
Khatami linked the nihilist philosophy of the terrorists with that of the
19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, a prominent critic of
Christianity. In contrast, Khatami said he finds hope in religion --
something that he said "goes beyond philosophy, theology and rituals.
Religion provides both an origin and an end, a safe haven." 
"We should all seek refuge in this chaotic time in the house of God," he
Without naming specific Christian theologians, Khatami praised 19th century
Christian thinkers who believed "that religion should be seen as a venue for
social solidarity. Now that the world is on the verge of social chaos,
struggling with violence, the notion of Christian solidarity should prove
helpful in calling (the world) to peace and security." 
Khatami suggested one specific area where Christians, Jews, Muslims and
others could begin a discourse: on the religious foundation for human
rights. He said much of the contemporary dialogue on human rights has been
in secular circles, but he said now is the time "to free human rights from
the bounds of diplomatic negotiations and regard it as a discourse for
defending human life, dignity and culture. Doing so, we ought to realize its
deep religious aspect." 
But in the end, Khatami's address was largely a call to other religious and
political leaders to find a safe space for dialogue between peoples and
nations, and suggested that religious space was just the place to do that. 
"The house of God adopts architecturally different shapes in different
lands, just as it admits various names in various languages," Khatami said.
"Whether we call it a mosque, a church, a synagogue or a temple, we are only
using different names. Let us all call unto God and ask Him to bestow us
with a language to be understood and a capacity to listen and understand." 
One of the religious leaders responding to Khatami's address, Dr. William F.
Vendley, secretary general of the World Conference on Religion and Peace,
praised the Iranian leader's call, saying that "partnership among the
world's religions must be a hallmark of our shared future." 
"Our religious communities are the deepest repositories of human memory,"
Vendley said. "It is a memory that calls us to labor to build communities of
justice and mercy in every time and place." 
The Right Rev. Mark Sisk, the Episcopal bishop of New York and the host of
the event, said religious leaders have too often been willing "to allow
those with the loudest voices to define the religious traditions that we
each hold so dear."
"It is time -- it is past time -- when we should take this most treasured
gift from those who use it for their own hate-filled purposes." 

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