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Western culture worsens interfaith woes

Posted on: July 29, 2008 5:59 PM
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Western culture often exacerbates the difficulties Christians face in societies where they are in a minority, the Moderator of the Church of Pakistan said yesterday.

While headlines (at least in the religious press) of persecution of Christians in Pakistan are commonplace, Bishop Malik said at the daily Lambeth press conference yesterday that his daily experience of Muslim people is overwhelmingly positive, and that dialogue “is for us a daily business, a dialogue of life”.

“Always it is a small minority who disturbs the conversation,” he said, alluding to extremist violence. “But Western culture exacerbates it.” He said that the publication of anti-Islamic cartoons last year which prompted strenuous and sometimes violent protest from Muslims also attracted the ire of Christians in Pakistan who felt that they should not have been published.

Western foreign policy can also make life difficult for Christians who are living in minority communities such as Pakistan, and Iraq. When pressed for examples of clashes between the two faiths, Bishop Malik said that they had become more commonplace following the World Trade Centre attacks in 2001 and the subsequent foreign policies of Western governments on Afghanistan and Iraq. The depiction of all Muslims as terrorists and the West’s reaction to conflict in Palestine also contributed to feelings of resentment by many in the Muslim world, he said.

“They feel that the Western countries are not fair.”

Bishop Tom Butler, who accompanied Bishop Malik at the press conference, has oversight of the diocese of Southwark, where peoples of different faiths live “cheek by jowl”. He also appeared keen to overturn stereotypes of Muslim violence closer to home, and he contradicted the controversial claims of Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali of Rochester earlier this year that areas of England had become “no-go” for non-Muslims.

It may be the experience in Rochester, he said somewhat sceptically, but “certainly in England, it hasn’t been my experience. I’ve been a bishop for over twenty years, always in multicultural areas.”

So what of the call to the Anglican Communion by some for Bishop Gene Robinson to resign in part because, as one Sudanese bishop reportedly said, if the Christian world affirmed homosexuality it would give Muslims in Sudan “an upper hand to kill our people”[1]? Was there a risk of Christians allowing their agenda to be influenced unduly by an extremist position?

“Our policy has always been to support and build up the influence of mainline faith leaders,” Bishop Butler said, “so that they are better able to tackle extremism in their own faiths, including their own.”

While Bishop Butler acknowledged that there is a different dynamic of interfaith dialogue in societies where Islam is in the minority, rather than the majority, he said there’s a “particular Anglican way: of practicing interfaith relations, of “being a presence in every community of whatever sort, for the long term, to witness to our faith but to serve others for the common good.. This is a time when we can sit down together and wrestle with it without any of us losing our integrity.”

- staff writer