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Religion and Society

On the Roads that Led Oasis to the Balkans

The two days of work of the international committee of Oasis in Sarajevo on 16-17 June on the subject of The Temptation of Violence: Religions between War and Reconciliation dismantled piece by piece the widespread commonplace that in the monotheistic religions are to be found the seeds of violence, which is causing so much bloodshed even today. They explored the complexity of the nexus between religions and violence without pulling any punches, uncovering a complexity that deserves to be analysed with the contribution of everyone. This is something demanded by history and current affairs.

Oasis reached Sarajevo by different routes that all aimed for that place, the painful city, the flagship that has run aground amongst the Balkans.

 

After the visits to Milan, Tunis, Beirut, Amman, Cairo and Venice of previous years, Oasis found in Sarajevo, indeed, an ideal place to address the subject chosen for this edition of 2014, The Temptation of Violence: Religions between War and Reconciliation, a question imposed by the dramatic facts of the Middle East, by the news that reaches us from Syria and Iraq, a stage in line with the previous halts dedicated to the exploration of what is at stake in the East and in the West, between secularism and ideology, from the Arab revolts to their global repercussions, and on to religious freedom, education and witness…

 

 

Past and present history led to Sarajevo, shedding light on how war has changed and how violence can be justified through religious faith. Here on the River Miljacka, the assassination of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, unleashed exactly a hundred years ago the First World War, which was destined to break up the equilibriums of Europe but also the face of the Middle East (one may think here of the end of the Ottoman caliphate, the birth of political Islam and of Arab nationalism); and here only twenty years ago the twentieth century ended with one of the most cruel and fratricidal wars, a wound that is still bleeding today in the memories of those who survived it.

 

Oasis was also pushed towards this Balkan city by its intention to understand the lesson that can be offered to many European countries – which are constantly searching for a framework by which to organise common life in plural societies – by the experience of Islam in Bosnia, which is organised into an institutionalised community that takes part in public life within a ‘secular’ context.

 

And lastly Oasis was drawn to Bosnia-Herzegovina also by interest in the lives of Christians who live in contexts where the majority of people are Muslims, an aspect which from the outset has characterised the Foundation and the review created by Cardinal Scola when he was Patriarch of Venice: the number of Catholics who today live in the Bosnian capital, less than a half compared to before the outbreak of the war, bears witness to the trials that this community has to address every day ‘to survive’.

 

Academic figures, exponents of civil society, ecclesiastics, from Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Spain, France, Belgium, Nigeria, India, Iran, Canada and the United States of America, at work on Monday 16 June and Tuesday 17 June together with representatives of local institutions and associations, shared in-depth analyses and personal experiences according to a particularly intense programme.

 

 

Cardinal Angelo Scola spoke about the event of Christ as ‘an objective overcoming of the logic of violence and as such a measures the past and the future of human history’ in his opening paper in which he dwelt upon the possible contribution of Christians to the encounter of men and women of different religions: ‘The definitive dismissal of the logic of violence that the paschal event brought with it is also the principal contribution which we as Christian believe that we can offer today to inter-religious dialogue. This was the great insight of Assisi and the message that Pope Francis has just repeated in the Holy Land, launching from the esplanades of mosques ‘a grief-stricken appeal to all those people and communities who recognise themselves in Abraham: let us love one another like brothers and sisters! Let us learn to understand the pain of the other! Nobody should exploit the name for God for violence! Let us work together for justice and for peace’’. ‘Oasis, which was born to be near Eastern Christians’, the Archbishop observed, ‘cannot ignore their cry of pain and the cry of pain of entire peoples, in Syria, in Iraq, in Nigeria, in Palestine, everywhere that terrorism rages’. Easy solutions do not exist and should be looked for together with Muslims, Cardinal Scola emphasised: ‘But between the suffering caused by evil endured and the hopeful waiting for revelation of the righteous there is immense work to be done: our task as men of good will’. This is a task, the President of Oasis concluded, founded upon witness that needs dialogue, as method, and the courage of forgiveness.

 

 

The Archbishop of the city and the Reis-ul-ulema Husein Kavazović jointly made an introduction to the deliberations. The head of the Islamic community in Bosnia-Herzegovina spoke about Sarajevo past and present, identifying in its capacity to accept difference the specific feature of his city of multiple religious component parts, and Cardinal Vinko Pulić did not conceal together with the hope that animates him all the suffering of which he’s carrying the burden: the last war is always present, it cannot be removed from people’s memories, and the recent dramatic flood has once again crushed the country, destroying twenty of his forty parishes.

 

There then followed an examination of the jihad both with reference to the Sunni tradition, which was engaged in by Asma Afsaruddin, a professor at Indiana University, and to the Shiite tradition, engaged in by Mathieu Terrier of the École Pratique des Hautes Études of Paris. From here there was an analysis of the legacy for the Middle East of what happened in Sarajevo in 1914, with Martino Diez, the scientific director of Oasis, to then discover what war became after the fall of the Berlin Wall with Henri Hude, a professor at the Saint Cyr Military Academy of Paris, and to examine how war is able to reshape identities with Ugo Valisavljevic, the Vice-Rector of the University of Sarajevo. The path through the war arrived to the reflection of René Girard, presented by Bernard Perret, the Vice-President of the Association for Mimetic Research of Paris, with a final look at the document of the International Theological Commission on monotheism and violence with Javier Prades, the Rector of San Damaso University of Madrid.

 

 

The second day, on the other hand, was dedicated to the study of a number of cases: the war in Bosnia with Cardinal Pulić, the Archbishop of Sarajevo; the Bosnians and the challenges of the present day, with Fikret Karćić, a leading intellectual of the local Islamic community; and Muslim ‘Gandhis’ with Ramin Jahanbegloo, an Iranian who teaches at York University in Toronto; non-violence and fundamentalism in contemporary India with Cardinal George Alencherry, the Major Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamali in Kerala; the threat of Boko Haram in Nigeria with Msgr. Matthew Kukah, the Bishop of Sokoto; and religious violence and inter-community relations in Egypt after the revolution of 2011, with Christian Cannuyer, the editor of the review Solidarité-Orient of Brussels.

 

 

As is always the case, one of the key moments of the meetings of the committees of Oasis is the discussion of the papers drawn up beforehand by those taking part, the sharing of reactions to the speeches by the experts heard together, and more personal testimonies by people of what they have experienced in their countries. The ‘utility’ of the method of Oasis, indeed, lies specifically in having thought of itself, and presented itself, as a ‘communion’ subject. This was brought out by Tewfik Aclimandos, an Egyptian political scientist, during the debate: Oasis is by now a network of friends who make available – starting with different fields of expertise and geographical origins – their ‘knowledge’ to each other because they are convinced that cultural work is a privileged location for the fostering of encounter between Christians and Muslims. This is a friendship that cannot withdraw from an increasingly courageous analysis of reality. The city of Sarajevo, which in the severe countenances of its inhabitants seems to hide a secret from outsiders, was especially welcoming to Oasis. With its thoroughness in wanting always to start afresh, when it has been trodden down, the city relaunched the endeavour of Oasis.

 

A large number of the papers given during the meeting of the committee will be published in the next edition of the journal Oasis, which is published in a number of languages, and many of the contributions to the debates will be found in the online newsletter (www.fondazioneoasis.org).

 

 

@marialauraconte

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