Peacebuilding necessarily involves cooperation between all sectors of society. While the world looks in anguish at the horrors of multiple conflicts in the home of the Abrahamic faiths, the evidence on the ground suggests that such conflicts are stoked by an array of other factors, not least a dearth of civic values and near-absence of the rule of law. In what way has—and in what way can—religion play a positive role in bringing peace to the peoples of the Middle East?

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Session 4B on Middle East Peace Initiatives: Assessing the Role of Religion was moderated by Ms. Natascha Schellen, Communications Advisor, WFWP Europe and Vice-President, WFWP Germany.
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The panel in Session 4B on Middle East Peace Initiatives: Assessing the Role of Religion.
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Mr. Oraib Al Rantawi, General Director, Al Quds Center for Political Studies, Jordan (Centre) and Dr. Jihad Naaman, Professor, Lebanese University, Lebanon (Right).
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Mr. Oraib Al Rantawi, General Director, Al Quds Center for Political Studies, Jordan (Centre).
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Left to right: Dr. Jihad Naaman, Professor, Lebanese University, Lebanon, Hon. Tahani Abu Daqqa, Former Minister of Sports, Palestine and Rev. Anders Gadegaard, Dean of the Cathedral, Evangelical Lutheran Church, Denmark.

Moderator: Ms. Natascha Schellen, Communications Advisor, WFWP Europe; Vice-President, WFWP Germany

Mr. Oraib Al Rantawi, General Director, Al Quds Center for Political Studies, Jordan

Hon. Tahani Abu Daqqa, Former Minister of Sports, Palestine

Dr. Jihad Naaman, Professor, Lebanese University, Lebanon

Rev. Anders Gadegaard, Dean of the Cathedral, Evangelical Lutheran Church, Denmark

Jihad Namaan, an author of 40 books in French and Lebanese, made a poetical plea for peace by underlining the example of Lebanon, a country that historically hosted a pluralistic and multireligious society. Be it the vision and permanence of Judaism, the respect for the ancestors in paganism, the songs of peace in Islam, or the love and forgiveness in Christianity - in all traditions, Mr. Namaan said, elements for peace could be found. However, he also emphasized the fact that as men and women we are all first and foremost human beings regardless of our diverse cultural backgrounds.
 
The next speaker, Oraib Al-Rantawi, represented the Jordanian think tank, Al Quds Center for Political Studies. He took a rather down-to-earth approach by identifying how religion has been turned into a tool for politics in the Middle East. Mr. Al-Rantawi analyzed how Western democracies allied with Arab regimes in order to counter the USSR's rising influence at the end of the 1970s, which led to the strategic support of jihadist activities in Afghanistan. As a result, he stated, hardline interpretations of Islam, namely Salafism and Wahabism, have become dominant in most Arab societies as well as among Muslims living in the West. He further explained how the sectarian divide between Shia and Sunni Muslims has been used as an instrument for geopolitical aims by Iran, the Gulf region, and Erdogan's Turkey. Al-Rantawi concluded his presentation by suggesting that UPF could become a catalyst for peace by establishing a council of elders, or by introducing a task force aimed at protecting oppressed minorities in the region, particularly Christians. 
 
Tahani Abu Daqqa, former minister of youth and sports in Palestine, was the third speaker of the panel. Mrs. Abu Daqqa began her remarks by listing the fruitless international efforts aimed at bringing about a two state solution for Palestine and Israel. She made a striking point by stating that neither Judaism nor Islam would lead to peace, for peace can only come from the people and not from religion. However, what often hinders the path to peace is that Palestinians and Israelis do not know enough about each other. Mrs. Daqqa expressed her gratitude to the organizers as the conference gave her the opportunity to meet an Israeli Jew in person with whom she was able to sincerely exchange thoughts on how to achieve peace between their nations. 
 
The final speaker, Rev. Anders Gadegaard, stressed again the role of religion and interfaith dialogue for the realization of longterm peace. The Danish pastor has been involved with interfaith work on several platforms, including the World Council of Churches in Geneva. Rev. Gadegaard was involved with Christians as well as Muslims from the region throughout his work during the past 20 years. He made the point that religious leaders have not done enough for peace in the Middle East. In the pastor's view, however, too much faith is put in political solutions instead of relying on religion's own resources and fundamental values. Despite the fact that there are differences between the great Abrahamic faith traditions, there are also important similarities that allow for constructive and fruitful dialogue. According to Rev. Gadegaard, the religious practice of reconciliation, for example, needs to be translated into a political agenda. He suggested that religious leaders must play a more significant role for change to happen. He even proposed that Hamas and orthodox Jews should sit at the same table and together work out a solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
 
The panel discussion was rounded off with an engaging Q and A session with the audience. Mr. Al-Rantawi replied to a question on the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in the region, outlining their status in Turkey, Egypt, and its relationship to Hamas. Another question dealt with the source of extremism. Mr. Namaan and Mrs. Abu Daqqa identified poverty, social marginalization, and lack of education as primary causes for terrorism. Rev. Gadegaard, on the other hand, regarded religious scriptures to be the most crucial factor in instigating resentment and aggression, which urgently requires a critical reflection of violence-glorifying text passages in the Bible and the Quran. A Buddhist monk had the final word of the session. He reminded the participants that peace will only come to the world when we renounce the love for power and instead embrace the power of love. 

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