This week we’ve been discussing the “God Gap” in U.S. Foreign Policy – how religion is a key component missing from our diplomatic efforts and how utilizing local religious peacemakers can help close that gap.
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs released a study entitled, “Engaging Religious Communities Abroad: A New Imperative for U.S. Foreign Policy,” which claims that the key challenge in American foreign policy is to “understand the role of religion in world affairs and to constructively engage with religious communities around the world.”
The two-year study was conducted by a task force of 32 experts, including former government officials, religious leaders, heads of international organizations and scholars.
The report recommends the following (The Washington Post reports):
-Adding religion to the training and continuing education of all foreign service officers, diplomats and other key diplomatic, military, and economic officials. That includes using the skills and expertise of military veterans and civilians returning from conflict zones.
-Empowering government departments and agencies to engage local and regional religious communities where they are central players in the promotion of human rights and peace, as well as the delivery of health care and other forms of assistance.
-Address and clarify the role of religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy. Cizik said some parts of the world — the Middle East, China, Russia, and India, for example — are particularly sensitive to the U.S. government’s emphasis on religious freedom and see it as a form of imperialism.
There are many ways in which our government can incorporate religion in the diplomatic process. In particular, local religious peacemakers who work on the ground in war-torn communities can play an invaluable role in resolving conflicts.
For instance, Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye are two of Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action who were initially on opposite sides of a violent Christian/Muslim conflict in Kaduna, Nigeria. They came together to create an interfaith organization that trains community members to be civic peace activists and were instrumental in ending the conflict. In January, there was a violent crisis involving Muslims and Christians in another part of Nigeria. If the government utilizes the local religious leaders of that region – who have the trust of the community and knowledge of the conflict – they may find a permanent solution.
Israel/Palestine is another area where diplomats would be wise to listen to local religious leaders. Osnat Aram-Daphna, principal of Jewish school, and Najeeba Sirhan, principal of an Arab school, promoted dialogue and understanding through education until Osnat’s death in 2008. Using religion as a connecting force, they created a partnership between their schools and communities that can serve as a case study for those working to resolve the conflict.
Although the report is controversial, it is clear that understanding religion and engaging local religious leaders is crucial to diplomacy, and we hope the U.S. government will put the task force’s suggestions into practice.
In other news, a teenage girl was fired from Hollister for wearing a headscarf, Muslims turning to home schooling in increasing numbers and the Oregon Legislature repeals ban on religious dress in public schools.
Come back for more news and views next Friday!