Normally such confabs are snooze fests that produce resolutions which read as if they were written by committee — because they were. But a lot of ink and bytes have been spilled over this particular summit because the Indonesian and Australian governments cosponsored the event. About 100 religious leaders from 14 different countries were invited to participate in the deliberations. Only one country, Malaysia, refused to send delegates.
The question on the table was: Can religion be used as a force to fight terrorism by condemning it and steering the faithful toward a nonviolent course of action? Indonesia’s new ruler, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, called for religion to be a force for peace. And the conference of Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Catholics and others who attended seem to have agreed with this sentiment.
Australia’s interest springs from the Bali tragedy. A bomb set by Islamic radicals ripped through a popular Indonesian night club in October 2002, killing nearly 100 Australians on holiday there. As I have written, this shifted the politics of the whole nation. Aussies are looking for ways to cut down on terrorism, and have now tried to enlist various faiths in the struggle.
An editorial in the Australian sounded hopeful notes that the conference might “seed the kind of moderation and understanding that denies extremists their oxygen,” and “further the message the fundamentalists don’t want anyone to hear — that the great religions of the world are natural allies, not enemies.”
The can’t-we-all-get-along-ism is great sentiment, but it may be too rosy an analysis. At the end of the editorial, the paper defends the decision of the organizers to invite Australian Cardinal George Pell, “a mainstream conservative Christian leader,” but to leave off Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali, who reportedly described September 11 as “God’s work.”