Speakers offer perspectives on war from three faiths
Beware of simple solutions to complex problems, a speaker warned.
By PETER H. MILLIKEN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Any violence in response to terrorism should be undertaken regretfully and measured appropriately for the circumstances, religious leaders said here Wednesday.
"The only justifiable violence is for defense and furthering of life, because our primary value -- the most important thing -- is life. God created life, and we're supposed to make the best of it and to cherish it. It's precious," said Rabbi Joseph Schonberger of Temple El Emeth in Liberty.
"God is relying upon us to act on His behalf as stewards to make the world a better place," he said. Acts of aggression are prohibited by the commandment that says "Thou shalt not kill," he said. "Self-defense and the defense of people is OK, and when we go beyond that, we don't justify it," the rabbi said.
Islam does not permit its followers to engage in acts of aggression, but victims of aggression may respond appropriately, said Mustansir Mir, director of the Center for Islamic Studies at Youngstown State University. "Islam insists that any such response must be commensurate with the aggression that is committed against you. You cannot go overboard," he said. However, he added, "Forgiveness is the preferred response."
Dignity and justice: The Christian tradition focuses on two fundamental principles, upholding "the inviolable dignity of all human life" and establishing justice, said the Rev. J. Patrick Manning of Regina Coeli Parish in Alliance. "Justice, of course, is not the same as revenge," he said.
Father Manning said Christianity offers a marriage of faith and reason. "Reason would tell us that the extremes are unacceptable," he said. "We have to be a voice for the voiceless, and a defense for the defenseless," he added.
The occasion was a seminar attended by about 80 people at St. Elizabeth Health Center, during which participants discussed spirituality in the context of terrorism and war.
No simple answers: "Reason tells us that there are no simple answers to complex problems," Father Manning said, warning that oversimplification leads to extremism and the prejudices and excesses associated with it. The Ku Klux Klan, which links some of its ideology to religion, is an example of an organization espousing simplistic solutions to complicated problems, he said.
Terrorism "is transnational, and the first thing that we need to do is make sure that we don't identify with guilt by association those who happen to be of any particular background or any particular nation," he said. "To try to deal with a very complex issue in a simple way is really a travesty to all sense of justice and human dignity," he said.
Gabriel Palmer-Fernandez, director of the James Dale Ethics Center at YSU, quoted the writings of the fifth-century African bishop St. Augustine that among the evils in war are a love of violence and revengeful cruelty, and that "The warrior must kill, but must do so mournfully.''
As an example of military excesses, Palmer-Fernandez referred to some American pilots who he said spoke gleefully of firing upon a retreating Iraqi military convoy at the end of Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
"The worst abuse occurs when there are people who really gain a love for the violence because then, they lack objectivity for a mission that can be justified," Rabbi Schonberger said.