February 14, 2003

Panel Links Iraq, Religion, Violence

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A group of scholars met in Anabel Taylor Hall yesterday to discuss the relationship between religion, violence and the impending war with Iraq.

The event, titled “Religion and Our Response to Violence: A Panel Discussion,” was a part of the Week Against the War.

“Since a war with Iraq is being justified by some as a necessary response to a perceived threat of more violence and terrorism, let us have a discussion of how religious traditions inform our understanding of, and therefore our actions toward the anger and violence we find not just outside of ourselves but also within ourselves,” stated Anke Wessels, moderator and director of the Center for Religion, Ethics and Social Policy, in a flyer promoting the event.

The discussion began with the chaplain of Cornell Catholic Community, Rev. Michael Mahler. He presented the Catholic stance on the war with Iraq. He mentioned that there were two contradictory yet parallel views of war held by Catholics. Some follow Jesus’s absolute nonviolent position, he said, while others believe in a just war as a last resort and only if certain criteria are met.

“I think we are not close to exhausting alternatives to war, and I think those who say we have are dealing with a lack of vision and creativity in terms of looking at alternatives,” Mahler said.

Prof. Asmas Barlas, politics, Ithaca College, discussed the Muslim perspective on living in an America on the brink of war with an Islamic country. She argued that “violence breeds violence.” She focused on U.S. foreign policy and American citizens’ apathy toward political impetus.

“[War with Iraq] is immoral, unjustified and unnecessary,” Barlas said.

Tibetan Buddhist chaplain Tenzin Gephel’s speech focused on the Buddhist principles of compassion and natural law. Gephel’s solution was a nonviolent reaction and increased dialogue.

Janet Shortall, associate director of Cornell United Religious Work (CURW), gave a Unitarian perspective to the discussion. She pointed out that the United States has been raging low-intensity warfare with Iraq by blocking trade.

“The war has already started. People have been dying for years,” Shortall said.

Shortall used her experiences in Nicaragua to frame her current understanding of the situation with Iraq. Her talk focused on the overwhelming guilt and emotions felt by many Americans.

The last speaker was Kenneth Clarke, director of CURW. He argued that America has a “tragic bent toward violence.” He argued that violence is celebrated in American popular culture, and that America’s history propagated violence since the institution of slavery. He also pointed out that a disproportionate amount of black, Latino and poor white people are enlisted in the armed services.

After the speeches, the audience was allowed to question the panel and give their own opinions.

“The talk had a good variety of speakers, each with a very unique opinion but all focused on the same common goal — a nonviolent solution to the current crisis,” said Keith Corrigan ’05.


Archived article by Jonathan Square