Divine Intervention: Regional Reconciliation through Faith

By Smock, David | Harvard International Review, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Divine Intervention: Regional Reconciliation through Faith


Smock, David, Harvard International Review


Religion historically has been a major source of international conflict, and its role as such has been reinforced in recent years. Hans Kung has asserted that the "most fanatical and cruelest political struggles are those that have been colored, inspired, and legitimized by religion." In his famous essay, "Clash of Civilizations," Samuel Huntington went so far as to argue that the great divisions among humankind and the dominating sources of conflict in global politics are based on culture, which is primarily differentiated by religion. Huntington's opinion, however, is an exaggeration of the importance of religion in international conflict. In fact, most assessments of religion in international affairs tend to oversimplify the causal interconnections between religion and conflict and often disregard important alternate variables.

While much has been made of religion as a source of international conflict, considerably less attention has been given to religion as a source of international peacemaking. There are two principal varieties of religious peacemaking. The first involves religious and faith-based organizations engaging in peacemaking activities. Probably the most illustrative case of this type of peacemaking was the mediation by the Catholic organization Sant'Egidio that ended the 1992 civil war in Mozambique. The second type of religious peacemaking promotes understanding between religious groups that are in conflict. Inter-faith reconciliation in a post-conflict period also falls in this category. This article will analyze both types of religious peacemaking and will explore country case studies from the Balkans, Africa, and the Middle East.

Bosnia and the Promise of Faith-Based NGOs

Recognizing that many faith-based nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have attempted to promote post-conflict reconciliation in Bosnia, the US Institute of Peace commissioned a study measuring the success of these efforts. The guiding research questions were: How effectively can faith-based NGOs advance reconciliation in Bosnia? Can faith-based NGOs be effective agents of inter-faith reconciliation, particularly when they share a religious identity with one party involved in the conflict? Are these NGOs more likely to be agents of reconciliation or contributors to additional division? The research was undertaken over a 15-month period by Branka Peuraca, who studied the work of Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox Christian, Muslim and Jewish organizations (including Catholic Relief Services, World Vision, United Methodist Committee on Relief, Islamic Relief Worldwide, and local NGOs such as Abraham).

The number of international and local faith-based organizations operating in Bosnia is impressive, as is the number contributing to ethno-religious reconciliation. Some of the early efforts at reconciliation proved to be ineffective, and in some cases, counterproductive. Some Muslim organizations were even suspected of having ties to Islamic terrorist groups in Algeria, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan. Despite these few stumbling blocks, the overall assessment was positive. Many faith-based NGOs have made a significant contribution to ethno-religious reconciliation in Bosnia. This has included the formation of Bosnia's Inter-Religious Council, composed of leaders from the four religious communities. NGOs like Catholic Relief Services, World Vision, and the United Methodist Committee on Relief encourage inter-faith collaboration in planning local, educational, and infrastructural projects. In the course of planning and implementing local development projects, ethno-religious enemies end up cooperating with each other. Other projects like the Pontanima Choir, initiated by the Order of Franciscans in Sarajevo, have directly aimed at interpersonal reconciliation.

The inter-faith dialogue work in Bosnia organized by Reverend David Steele of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is worthy of mention. …

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