On September 10th, 2006, I was a guest speaker at a gathering of around 500 Islamic men and women in Bankstown, raising funds for war-torn Lebanon. Unfortunately I was nervous and forgot to switch on my audio recorder, so you’ve only got the written transcript. This is a shame, as the group were very responsive – laughing at the appropriate points and applauding warmly afterwards. It was a great night.
We live in dark times, my friends, and the recent tragic violence in Lebanon is an indication of just how dark things have become!
It is hard for us to conceive, from this distance, what it must have been like for our sisters and brothers in Southern Lebanon, who endured a month-long military bombardment! The carnage, the destruction, the misery and the inhumanity have left none of us untouched, and yet … we realise that this is only a short chapter in a much larger and more miserable story that has not yet reached its conclusion!
The immediate future is unknown, but the indications are in no way encouraging. Somehow Israel has proclaimed its attack on Lebanon to be a victory, while the USA continues to posture for an attack upon Iran. And fuelling this insanity is an increasing amount of propaganda, coming from a number of directions, depicting this conflict as a war between religions – God forbid!
I’m not sure when this transformation happened, as in the case of the attacks on both Lebanon and Gaza, the initial issues were reasonably clear. Both conflicts concerned disputes over the integrity of territorial boundaries and the release of prisoners – a total of three Israeli prisoners on the one hand, and around 9,500 Palestinian prisoners, plus a number of Lebanese prisoners, on the other.
These were the issues. I’m not saying that they are easy issues to solve, but they are not hard to understand. They are significant issues – politically and historically – but they are not religious issues, except in so far as the level of human abuse involved is an offence to all religions!
How is it then that the violence in the Middle East has become a war of religions? It is my belief that the only explanation for this is that there must be some powerful groups with a vested interest in dividing Islamic people from Christians and Jews.
I believe it is deliberate, as the rhetoric and the propaganda and the way the media has twisted events, even in this country, is just too well-thought-through and too systematic to be the result of a simple misunderstanding.
I believe that there are forces at work – powerful and well-financed sources at work – trying to divide Christian people from their Islamic sisters and brothers, Christian from Muslim, Muslim from Christian, Muslim from Jew. And the truth is that these forces are currently proving to be very successful.
As some of you will know, I run a number of websites, and have a number of subscribers to my websites from all around the world, most especially from the US – around 5000 in all. Every day, it seems, I receive emails from some of the people on my mailing list, telling me that Muslims want to kill them!
Every day I receive these emails, and every day I write back: ‘brother, please tell me which of our Islamic brethren is trying to kill you? Brother, do you actually know any Islamic people? If so, have you asked them why they want to kill you?’
The answer I get back is always basically the same: ‘No, I don’t personally know any Islamic people, but I have been reading a lot about Osama Bin Laden!’
‘Brother’, I reply, ‘if we were Islamic, I think we would have much better grounds for believing that the people of the West are trying to destroy us! Afghanistan did not declare war on America. It was not Iraq that invaded the US. It was not Lebanon nor Palestine that invaded Israel. And I personally do not believe that Iran is about to initiate violence against anybody!’
Somehow everything has been twisted! Everything has been turned upside-down! Israel, the most militarily aggressive country in the Middle East, is somehow always seen as the victim. America, the most powerful country in the world, is somehow seen as being terribly vulnerable to attack!
It is rhetoric, propaganda, a twisting of the facts, and a number of downright lies that have brought us to this point.
And we know full well where this path is going to take us if we continue on it – into further violence and bloodshed.
For this reason, I appeal to you tonight, my Islamic sisters and brothers, to please resist the temptation to cut yourselves off from your Christian friends. I ask this humbly, recognising that so many Muslim people in this community feel themselves to be under siege and the victims of prejudice, and for good reason. Even so, I ask you, please do not give up on us.
Please be patient with those amongst us that are struggling against the weight of propaganda that is aimed at dividing us. Give us another chance, so that we might stand with you against this violence and inhumanity that threatens to engulf us all.
As I said, it is not our respective religions that led us into this violence. Ironically though, I do believe that our common religious values may be able to lead us out.
Christians, Muslims and Jews, at a faith level, are all ultimately committed to peace – to peace and mutual respect. These are values that are sacred to all of us. Perhaps some of us have forgotten this. With all the violence and inhumanity, we have forgotten who we are and what we believe. Please dialogue with us and help us to remember.
I was fascinated to read about some recent research done by a Professor Pape of the University of Chicago in the US. The Professor did a detailed profiling of Hezbollah suicide bombers, following the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. What Pape found surprised many – namely, that out of 38 suicide bombers he studied in detail, only 8 were Islamic. Three were Christians. The vast majority, it seems were people of no faith. What united them was not their common religion, but a common commitment to resist the occupation.
The study reminds me again that these wars are not about religion, and yet, as I read about Christian and Islamic people working together there in violence, I think, how much more should we be able to work together for peace – for the rebuilding of Lebanon, for an end to the Palestinian occupation, and for an end to all this bloodshed.
Salam Alaikum. Thank you for the hospitality you have shown me tonight.
Rev. David B. Smith (the ‘Fighting Father’) – Parish Priest, Community Worker, Professional Boxer, father of four. Get a free preview copy of Dave’s book, Sex, the Ring & the Eucharist when you sign up for his free newsletter at www.fatherdave.org