They sought to issue a joint statement of condemnation of the terrorist attacks. Nineteen Christian and a dozen Muslim delegates -- members of the clergy, scholars and theologians -- assembled. But the delegates smashed into a roadblock.
The Islamic delegation agreed to condemn the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, but insisted on condemning Israel for its alleged "terrorism" in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. George Freeman, the general secretary of the World Methodist Council, said, "The Islamic Community wanted the document to say something about Palestine, but that wasn't something everybody could agree with."
Mohammed Said Noamani of Iran's Organization of Culture and Islamic Relations insisted, "America has contributed to many terrorist attacks in the world: Vietnam ... the continuous support for Israel against the Palestinian people. For that reason, America cannot be the champion of the struggle against terrorism in the world." So the summit concluded with a watered-down statement generally condemning violence against innocents, but failing to specifically condemn the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
President George W. Bush repeatedly calls Islam a "religion of peace." But how many Arab leaders or Muslim clerics residing in the Middle East said, "The act committed by these people -- in the name of my religion -- is a sin, an act of pure evil that denies the perpetrators admission to Paradise"? Oh, certainly, Arab leaders and others issued statements condemning the attacks, but take a look at the fine print.
For example, Saud al-Faisal, the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia (a "moderate" ally of the United States), said, "Our action should be directed at the criminals, and we shouldn't seek revenge. Instead, we should punish the guilty and bring them to justice." But he also added, "Israel is a terrorist state, based on occupation, and is ruled by a world-famous terrorist." The foreign minister urged the United States to avoid "the Israeli version of terrorism, which defines resisting occupation as a form of terrorism." This is "moderation"? Other "moderate" leaders, scholars and commentators in the Arab world, while condemning the Sept. 11 attacks, insisted on accusing Israel of committing terrorism.
Hours after the United States-led coalition bombing of Afghanistan began, an Arab news organization aired videotape of Osama bin Laden, a speech he apparently filmed before the airstrikes against Afghanistan. On the videotape, bin Laden never denies his involvement in the terrorist attacks. In fact, he praises the terrorists and says, "When Almighty God rendered successful a convoy of Muslims, the vanguards of Islam, He allowed them to destroy the United States. I ask God Almighty to elevate their status and grant them Paradise. He is the one who is capable to do so."
Bin Laden expects God to grant these terrorists admission into Paradise. Again, how many Arab leaders and Muslim clerics in the Arab world issued a statement denouncing bin Laden's interpretation of the Koran as "perverse," a "sacrilege" or a "sin against Islam"?
Now, before we brand the Islamic-Christian Summit a complete bust, note that the delegates did agree on one thing. They condemned Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi for his alleged "racist" remarks.
Berlusconi's crime? After the terrorist attacks, he said, "We should be conscious of the superiority of our civilization, which consists of a value system that has given people widespread prosperity in those countries that embrace it, and guarantees respect for human rights and religion. This respect certainly does not exist in the Islamic countries."
About Berlusconi's remarks, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the archbishop of Milan, said, "The terrorists must be identified and disarmed, but that cannot be done if an entire culture, religion or nation is held responsible." How dare Berlusconi suggest a superiority of the West, where the people elect their representatives, and where citizens enjoy individual rights such as the freedom to worship any God, or no God? How dare he argue the inherent superiority of freedom? Who does he think he is?
In his latest videotape address, bin Laden warns America, "As for the United States, I tell it and its people these few words: I swear by Almighty God who raised the heavens without pillars that neither the United States nor he who lives in the United States will enjoy security before we can see it as reality in Palestine and before all the infidel armies leave the land of Mohammed ... " The failure of Arab leaders and Muslim clerics in the Arab world to denounce Osama bin Laden as an infidel suggests two things. Either many agree with his goals, if not his tactics; or, Arab leaders fear reprisals if they condemn bin Laden. Either way, bad news.
Islam now stands at a crossroads. And the burden rests on the majority who call Islam a "religion of peace" to show us that they mean it.