Middle East Violence Galvanizes Interfaith Leaders
KQED's STEPHANIE MARTIN: Government and military leaders are scrambling to stem violent protests overseas against a video that mocks the Islamic prophet Mohammed. The situation has also galvanized religious leaders, many of them based right here in California, to condemn the violence and renew their call for interfaith dialogue.
The Reverend Charles Gibbs heads the San Francisco-based United Religions Initiative, a global network of grassroots, interfaith organizations. Its mission is to promote peace worldwide through dialogue and cooperative action.
Reverend Gibbs, just today the U.N. human rights chief issued a statement urging religious leaders to help restore calm, which really speaks to the power that you and others can have in situations like this. Aside from simply speaking out -- what concrete actions can groups like yours take to respond?
CHARLES GIBBS: First of all, I think it's critically important that we build relationships across, what have traditionally been, religious divides. And we build the relationships, so that when a crisis like this erupts, people know who to talk to. There are lines of communication that can help create the possibility for a peaceful resolution, and also lay the foundation for ongoing dialogue that might help create the conditions so that these situations don't erupt the way they do.
What are you hearing from folks in your network today about how the dialogues are going?
GIBBS: In general, when I hear from our folks, all around the world, the voices are very clear and uniform in condemning the violence that has been aimed against U.S. embassies and consulates around the world. There also is a tremendous amount of sensitivity, particularly on the part of Muslim leaders wanting to feel that they're understood, in terms of what the slight to their prophet means to them.
MARTIN: The interfaith movement does have its critics, of course, and one common complaint you hear is that the religious leaders who are quickest to open these kinds of dialogues generally aren't part of the problem in the first place. You're preaching to the choir, so to speak. How do you get beyond that?
GIBBS: Well, first of all, if this is preaching to the choir, it's preaching to a choir that is remarkably young. Interfaith work really has mushroomed, honestly since Sept. 11. There was a long history before that, but not a lot of depth and breadth to the work, and as the interfaith movement has grown, I would say the boundaries of outreach have expanded. And there honestly is really solid work going on in many parts of the world, reaching out to some of the most conservative, and at times, extreme practitioners of a particular religion.
MARTIN: On the local level, what can people of faith do to work toward quelling the violence overseas?
GIBBS: I would say that this may not have an immediate impact overseas, but it can have a huge impact here. Reach out to your neighbors of different faith traditions. There's really good work, in this regard, being done by local groups like the San Francisco Interfaith Council, the Marin Interfaith Council. Connect with those groups and see what sort of programming they're doing.
MARTIN: I understand you have an online initiative where people can get involved.
GIBBS: Yes, it's a new program called Global Me. It's an invitation for people to come to see themselves as more and more global citizens, and also locally here in the Bay Area, an invitation to be involved in a monthly gathering that focuses on a particular issue here in the Bay Area and invites people to participate in the service project. Anyone can find more about that at our website which is uri.org.
MARTIN: Reverend Charles Gibbs, thank you.
GIBBS: Thank you Stephanie.
MARTIN: The Reverend Charles Gibbs is executive director of the United Religions Initiative, a global interfaith network headquartered in San Francisco.