Beyond 11 September: Assessing Global Implications
29 November - 2 December 2001
Geneva

This was an unusual meeting to respond to an urgent situation. Convened by the World Council of Churches, some 20 participants from all regions gathered in Geneva at short notice to reflect, together with WCC staff, on the consequences of the 11 September attacks and the subsequent military retaliation. Because of the short notice, many of those originally invited were unable to attend and many of those who did attend had to re-arrange busy schedules to do so. Rather than seeking to produce a statement or to arrive at consensus on recommendations for churches, the meeting was intended as a privileged opportunity to reflect, to analyze, to brainstorm and to try to discern together the meaning of these events. Discussion was lively and far-ranging. Questions about the possible consequences of 11 September led, perhaps inevitably, into reflections on theology, globalization, power, and many other subjects.

In terms of methodology, a few individuals were asked to lead off the discussion of particular issues by posing questions to the participants. Those presentations, as well as a background paper prepared by Dwain Epps and closing reflections by Konrad Raiser, are included as annexes to this report.

Rather than summarizing the proceedings, this report seeks to bring together comments and insights by participants around certain themes. In a few cases, individual speakers have been identified. For the most part, individual contributions have been grouped together.

Most of the participants felt that this meeting had been a particularly rich opportunity to come together to analyze, reflect and discern together the impact of recent events on the course of the world. They urged WCC to convene similar types of meetings in the future, recognizing the need for critical new thinking on major global issues. While political leaders often have to act quickly in responding to world events, churches can offer space for quiet reflection to discern the "signs of the times" which are not immediately apparent. In the words of Isaiah "In quietness will be your strength."

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  • How do we understand what's happening?
  • Need for new thinking and alternatives
  • What is terrorism?
  • What's news in the world as a result of 11 September?
  • What isn't new?
  • What role does religion play in this conflict?
  • What does this mean for inter-faith relations?
  • Global governance, multilateralism and how to hold the US accountable
  • What does security mean in the post-11 September world?
  • How has 11 September affected the economy?
  • What does 11 September mean for human rights?
  • What about the impact on humanitarian response?
  • A symbolic conflict?
  • What happens next?

    ANNEXES

  • WCC general secretary Konrad Raiser's concluding remarks
  • I Annotated Agenda
  • II Notes on issues of international political economy raised by September 11
  • III Implications for human rights by B. G. Ramcharan
  • IV Challenge to religions
  • V Global governance
  • VI "WAR WITHOUT END" Background paper on geostrategic aspects
  • VII Humanitarian questions

  • How do we understand what’s happening?

    Initial discussions revealed important differences in perceptions of both the attacks of 11 September and the military actions which began on 7 October. Bishop Mano Rumalshah’s reports of conversations in the bazaars of Peshawar revealed a different perception of reality than those experienced by a Scottish congregation or a senior United Nations official.

    A central theme of the meeting was the inadequacy of traditional analytical tools and categories comprehensive enough to make sense of what is happening. One participant suggested that it is too early - less than 3 months - since the 11 September attacks and we probably will not be able to grasp the full dimensions of their meaning for some time. At a global level, participants asked ‘how can we divide economics from global governance, peace from security, human rights from theology?’ At a more down to earth level, participants from Asia and the Middle East compared mainstream and marginal discourses on the events, noting that while Asian governments, for example, were quick to become US allies in the war against terrorism, there is a different perception and reaction from those marginalized from political power.

    One participant referred to television newscasters occasionally apologizing for blurred images coming from Afghanistan by commenting that "clear images blur our perception of reality." The danger of over-simplifying reality in the search for clear and simple answers was a constant thread in the discussion. In particular, use of the word "terrorism" came under particular criticism (and is further discussed in the following section.)

    Konrad Raiser stressed that one’s perception of what happened determines what response is seen as appropriate. For some this was an act of terrorism which is understood as the most irrational evil act which in turn legitimizes an irrational response. But the problem with responding to terrorism is that "you are in danger of becoming what you fight against." A second perception of the 11 September attacks is that they were a "declaration of war against civilization." If this is one’s understanding of the conflict, then the appropriate response is one of self-defense which in turns leads to a military response and consideration of the action as a "just war." But he argued that none of the traditional features of war seem to apply in this case and that response with traditional military strategic measures is inappropriate. A third perception of the attacks is that they were a criminal act and that they constituted crimes against humanity. This category is clearly established in international law and there are judicial means to respond which have been used in other cases of crimes against humanity. In other words, the way in which the initial attack is defined determines the appropriate response and the justification for this response.

    Participants noted the lack of adequate political analysis on the consequences of the attacks on US domestic and international politics, the need to address the global project of al Qaida and the psychological dimensions of the conflict, and to deepen analysis of the symbolic level of conflict. One participant noted the use of masculine imagery by both US President George Bush and Pakistani President Musharref and the need to further consider the relationship between nation, state and religion in construction of this kind of virile identity. The extraordinary role played by the media in this conflict and the need for further critical thinking about the media were underlined.

    Need for new thinking & alternatives

    Participants agreed not only that there is a need for deeper analysis of the events associated with 11 September, but a need to invest more energy and resources in developing creative thinking on the range of issues discussed at the meeting. Dr. Patricia Lewis noted that Institutes for Strategic Studies are well-funded and disproportionately influential in shaping governmental policies while think-tanks devoted to alternative perceptions of security tend to be poorly funded. There is a need to put more resources into supporting the development of progressive ideas. Non-Euro-centric models for development of such ideas need to be developed where the voices of the grassroots can be heard.

    "Who is to be included in the world we talk about?" asked Jean Manipon, from the Philippines, urging that more attention be given to questions of cultural identity and to the inclusiveness of the concepts we use. Glenda Wildschut noted the important developments, growing out of the South African experience, in conceptual thinking about justice with the movement from retributive to restorative justice. She asked whether similar developments could be expected from supporting alternative centres for creative thinking. Bertrand Ramcharan reviewed the important role which churches had played in creating the UN Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights and later in creative thinking about development. He urged churches and particularly the WCC to reclaim this role of developing important new thinking on current issues. We not only need to develop new thinking, but also to be creative in exploring how to move new concepts to the top of the international agenda.

    What is terrorism?

    The issue of the meaning and use of the word "terrorism" generated considerable debate and participants urged further analysis of the definition, anatomy and genealogy of terrorism. Several participants commented on the paucity of statements by churches on the nature of terrorism although, as the discussion, revealed, the issue is complex.

    "The word terrorism doesn’t exist in Pakistan and Afghanistan," Bishop Rumalshah reported. "Terrorism is a response by people who have no other alternatives." Several participants commented on the relationship between poverty, injustice and fanaticism. They also commented on the popularity of Osama bin Laden as the one who dared -- and succeeded - in defying the world’s superpower and the brisk sale of t-shirts adorned with his likeness in some parts of the world. However, many cautioned that "Osama bin Laden is not the spokesperson for the world’s poor" and that we should be careful in drawing simple connections between the poverty and injustice and terrorist actions.

    Many participants pointed to the contradictions in the use of the label "terrorist.". "At one time," Glenda Wildschut reported, "Nelson Mandela was seen as a terrorist." Soritua Nababan recalled that Indonesian freedom fighters against Dutch colonization were called "terrorists." Konrad Raiser noted that terrorism is a word used more by the powerful than by the weak, perhaps because the powerful sense that their power is illegitimate and call terrorism those who attack their legitimacy. Several participants pointed out that the current anti-terrorism campaign could become a kind of continuation of the West’s earlier campaign against communism.

    While churches condemn terrorism as a perversion, Pablo Richard pointed out that "Latin America is facing the effects of US state terrorism." He pointed out that the first "11 September" took place in Chile in 1973 when the US intervened to overthrow a democratically-elected government. He also questioned why we use the word terrorism to refer only to the acts of a few individuals while "for the poor each day is a day of terror."

    The theme of US involvement in terrorism was a pervasive one throughout the meeting. Professor Rudolf El Kareh asked why in the past 10-12 years have America’s "friends" become its enemies. Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, and Osama bin Laden were all supported by the United States but were later labeled as terrorists when US political interests changed. Many participants pointed out the connections between bin Laden and the US government, noting the US role in creating and arming his fighters in the early 1980s.

    "Beware of simple explanations for terrorism," warned Patricia Lewis. "It is a more complex situation than a struggle between the haves and the have-nots."

    What’s new in the world as a result of 11 September?

    Another theme running throughout the meeting was the struggle to define what has changed as a result of 11 September. Does 11 September signify a radical re-definition of the world, does it mark the intensification of certain previously-identifiable trends, or is its significance the result of media attention?

    Patricia Lewis reminded participants that the world and the US have had terrorist attacks before. Even the World Trade Center itself had been the object of a terrorist attack and most countries in the world have experienced or been parties to various terrorist acts. This isn’t new. Rather, we treat this as a new phenomenon because of the scale of the attacks (the largest by a non-state actor), the audacity and symbolic importance of the attacks, and the scale of the response.

    Participants agreed, however, that a genuinely new element in the world is the realization of US vulnerability. "Before 11 September," Bishop Stephen reported, "Nigerians had seen the United States as the most secure country in the world. That perception was shattered by the attacks in New York and Washington." This seemingly invincible superpower suddenly became vulnerable.

    And in the United States, this feeling of vulnerability and related trauma is a new experience for most Americans. Victor Hsu commented that "this loss of innocence has created a suspension of rationality. There is a paranoia about bioterrorism, security breakdowns at airports, and two national alerts - a paranoia fueled by 24-hour newscasts. The US is now imbued with a sacred mission to save the world with a vengeance." Some observers noted their earlier hopes that this feeling of US vulnerability would lead to increased identification and solidarity with people who are vulnerable in other countries, but that the US had moved in a different direction since 11 September. "Will a perceived US victory in Afghanistan quench the thirst for revenge and punishment," one participant asked, "or will it lead to more wars?"

    According to Bernice Powell-Jackson, "this may be a kairos moment for US churches." But the US churches, like the US people, are divided and uncertain. US peace activists feel threatened and isolated for not being patriotic at a time like this. "Can US churches speak to the people rather than for them?" asked Margaret Thomas.

    Another major change resulting from 11 September is the increasing polarization between people, between North and South and between Christians and Muslims. In spite of efforts by political and religious leaders to prevent it, the polarization is being manifest as the Western world versus Islam.

    It is often said that September 11th marks a fundamental change in the political system, but most of the discussion at this meeting emphasized that the signs of a crisis have been there before 11 September. Konrad Raiser noted that a dramatic interpretation of the changes occurring as a result of 11 September leads us to think in terms of a war (a long war) between good and evil, of maximum sacrifice, of unconditional solidarity, and of being prepared for the final confrontation. The use of "secularized apocalyptic language" on both sides of the conflict contributes to the sense that life on the planet has dramatically and irrevocably changed. But the reality may be different.

    What isn’t new?

    The US military actions in Afghanistan need to be understood in a historical context. Dwain Epps’ paper "War without End," prepared for this meeting, highlights the long-term US policy of projecting its power in other regions. This paper traces long-standing efforts of the US military, strategic and political plans to render Afghanistan friendly and accessible to Western interests. The paper also details the global reach of US military power, highlighting the actions of the US Special Forces Command which has deployed large numbers of forces to almost 100 countries in recent years. It is likely that the global reach of US military policies will continue - and intensify -- as a result of the 11 September attacks.

    Many participants noted that the basic asymmetries of power in the world existed long before 11 September and will continue in the future. The US will remain the world’s "hyperpower" and the prime engine of globalization. While many have deplored the current economic recession, the fact is that the signs of an economic downturn were present long before 11 September. Bertrand Ramcharan noted that the international rules of the game won’t change as a result of the attacks, that poverty will continue to increase, and that international conflicts will continue to claim many lives. Poor governance will probably be exacerbated by the events of 11 September, but he noted that it was hard to uphold human rights before then and will continue to be hard in the future.

    What role does religion play in this conflict?

    In introducing the issue, Bishop Mano Rumalshah stated that "Western leadership, both political and religious, has been in a denial mode, at least in public, about seeing the place of religions in this complex cobweb... To deny the place of religious potency in human conflicts is being absurdly naďve."

    This triggered considerable discussion as participants grappled with the extent to which religion is a factor in the present conflict. Soritua Nababan reported that "the initial sympathy and grief felt by Indonesians at the 11 September attacks lasted only a few hours. When US President Bush used the term "Crusade" it became a religious war."

    Keith Clements asked how do we give due attention to the real religious dimension to the conflict without exaggerating or discounting it? The tendency in Europe is to discount religious motivations and to emphasize that the real factors are socioeconomic. The question of how we identify religious elements is particularly difficult for Islam and Christianity which coexisted in the past because they occupied different parts of the planet, but today they increasingly share the same lands. Different faiths have different worldviews which must be considered. Soritua Nababan asked how do we free ourselves from identification of churches with the West and globalization and at the same time remain faithful to the universal church?

    Christians presently own 60% of the world’s resources and this basic inequality shapes relationships. Konrad Raiser highlighted the mirror image of Islam and Christianity, where both have experienced imperial rule and the memory of humiliation of being exposed to domination by infidels. Both sides have sought to use religion to justify their position. Osama bin Laden, quoted in the paper by Bishop Rumalshah, said "Every Muslim, the minute he can start differentiating, carries hate towards Americans, Jews and Christians. This is part of our ideology." US President George Bush has repeatedly characterized the conflict has a struggle between good and evil.

    What is the role of churches in understanding the role of religion in conflict and in increasing inter-faith dialogue?

    What does this mean for inter-faith relations?

    Inter-faith dialogue has become more difficult in some countries as a result of the 11 September attacks and aftermath. In both South Africa and Kenya, there has been an apparent reluctance by Islamic groups to join in inter-faith events on issues such as domestic violence since the 11 September attacks. In other countries, such as Scotland and Germany, interest in inter-faith dialogue has increased. For example, there had been a run on Korans in Germany and more people than ever before were interested in learning about Islam. Many Americans hadn’t realized that there are 5-7 million Muslims in the United States until the events of 11 September.

    "Could 11 September mark a new beginning between Islam and Christianity?" Bishop Rumalshah asked. He went on to argue that "the challenge to religions will therefore have to be that they not only cleanse their bloody past, by promoting peace and harmonious living in our time, but also by actively engaging in issues of advocacy and justice." He pointed the way toward developing our common humanity, affirming our common God, developing our common values, and understanding our common mission.

    Konrad Raiser noted the tendency in both Christianity and Islam to see power as total domination and to appeal to power in terms of total obedience. Both religions are deeply rooted in monotheistic and patriarchal cultures which have used exclusive language to draw lines of distinction against those worshipping other gods. But we have to learn to communicate with each other at a symbolic level. And we need to join forces with those in the Muslim community who also don’t want to be part of the self-perpetuating cycle of violence.

    Global governance, multilateralism and how to hold the US accountable

    Peter Weiderud introduced the issue of global governance by noting three approaches to international response: the need to meet the immediate threat - destroy the al Qaida network and stop further activities. This has basically been a military response, with the legal framework relating to UN Security Council Resolution 1368 of 12 September.

    the need to deal with the threat of terrorism - coordinate efforts to stop terrorist activities - money, space support, information-sharing, etc. This has been undertaken from a criminal law perspective and the legal framework relates primarily to UN Security Council Resolution 1373.

    The need to address the root causes and breeding grounds of international terrorism - social injustice, cultural arrogance, lack of coherence and illegitimacy in global governance. This needs to be undertaken with a perspective of conflict prevention and demands a comprehensive approach, including UN reforms.

    The issue of global governance led immediately to discussion of the unequal distribution of power in the world. In spite of US efforts to build an international coalition against terrorism, US foreign policy remains essentially unilateralist in nature. The central issue of foreign relations for all countries in the world has become how to relate to the United States. Specifically, how can the United States be held accountable to international law? What levers are available to the rest of the world to constrain the US sense of divine mission? How can the internationalization of US foreign policy be prevented?

    While some emphasized the need to exploit the new vulnerability of the United States to encourage a more multilateralist approach, others pointed out that there are many examples of continuing unilateral actions being undertaken by the USA.

    The dependency of the UN on major powers and the influence that these major powers have over the UN is central to discussions about the future of multilateralism. While the United Nations principle of ‘one nation, one vote’ is still valid, the reality is that asymmetry in power is the dominant practice. Or as one participant put it, "While the UN Charter begins ‘we the peoples, in fact the UN represents "we the States, we the elites."

    The need for fundamental reform of the international institutions was emphasized by many: "we have talked about re-structuring multilateral institutions, but if that change doesn’t take place, we’ll be strengthening institutions that exclude many people." While several participants referred to impressive proposals to reform global governance, the lack of political will has impeded their progress.

    International law is not neutral as evidenced in discussions about the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty which makes it legal for five nations to have nuclear weapons and illegal for other countries to have them. While this isn’t "fair," Peter Weiderud argued that this isn’t reason to abandon the treaty. Rather we need to find ways to persuade the five nuclear nations to live up to their end of the bargain and move to reduce them. "A world without international law would be fully shaped by powerful states."

    Participants called for a public debate about the meaning of the rule of law in today’s world and how to ensure that relations between nations are governed by law rather than by the policies of the world’s most powerful states.

    What does security mean in the post-11 September world?

    Patricia Lewis introduced the issue of global security by reviewing the present insecurity of the world situation. She emphasized that disarmament was going badly before 11 September and that on several occasions, the US government had blocked further progress on specific disarmament instruments since the 11 September attacks. The basic security architecture dates back to the Cold War and has yet to be replaced with more appropriate measures. While there are many reasons to criticize the United States, she argued, critics also have a responsibility to put forward alternative proposals.

    Much of the ensuing discussion focused on the need for new paradigms and understandings of security. The fact that the world’s mightiest military power could be attacked by individuals bearing knives raises serious questions about the relationship between military strength and fundamental security.

    "How can we talk about disarmament without talking about sustainable development?" "We need to re-imagine the concept of security which is based on the paradigm that security rests on nation-states and that there is always a threat to be confronted." National security is an illusion and self-destructive; more conceptual work is rquired on human security, collective security and cooperative security.

    Global governance and security are needed for all the world’s people, including the 60% of people who are presently living on the margins of the system. Security is more than military security and must be analyzed in the context of globalization.

    Konrad Raiser argued that US vulnerability is an inevitable consequence of globalization. The belief in the US that its population was invulnerable to the effects of globalization has been challenged. While the immediate response was to think in military terms and the hasty development of new security laws, our discernment should lead us to conclude that there is no security against this kind of attack. You become more secure only in accepting your own vulnerability. Maximum security is possible only for people in total isolation. We need a new understanding of security and vulnerability. God became vulnerable to the utmost extent which was ultimately an act of liberation. Understanding the relationship between vulnerability and security leads to a different understanding of power - power not as the ability to protect yourself or to provide maximum security, but rather power in the energy of life in relatedness.

    Victor Hsu asked "how will people with political aspirations - people wanting to claim their heritage and identity -- hear this message? What is in it for them? If we shouldn’t confront power with power, how will the disenfranchised understand their role?" Similarly Bishop Stephen of Nigeria argued that "when faced with the reality of evil - when church buildings are burned down, for example - you can’t be analytical. How can people respond? They feel powerless and helpless. There is no other language for that than evil." Jean Manipon raised the question about the relationship between victimhood and vulnerability, noting that victimization is also experienced in the individual and collective consciouness.

    These questions generated considerable discussion about the meaning of national identity in a context of globalization, about how to transform the energy and anger in the face of evil into power to change the community, and the need to understand the dynamic of victimhood. Not all victims become Osama bin Ladens and 11 September was in a sense, an experience of collective victimhood. The identification of an individual as a victim is a way to state a claim for countervailing power. But by claiming victimhood a person doesn’t escape from the struggle for power. In fact, the superior power needs a victim to accept being a victim in order to legitimize its power. To break this cycle, proponents of non-violent action insist that when an individual refuses to be degraded to a victim, that is when weakness and vulnerability are discovered in what appears to be overwhelming power.

    How has 11 September affected the economy?

    John Langmore reviewed the economic implications of the 11 September attacks, noting that in the short-term, there was the destruction of US property in the attacks and the still-unknown destruction of infrastructure in Afghanistan. In addition, there was disruption of economic activities (in sectors such as airlines, travel, tourism, insurance, etc.) and a fall in consumer confidence which led to declines in profits and layoffs. He noted that the argument that war comes along to relieve economic depression is simplistic; rather military spending is a diversion of economic resources from both consumers and from investment in productive capacity. In the longer term, state involvement in the economy has been strengthened as a result of the attacks and that within Europe, there is a willingness to contemplate substantial increases to overseas development assistance. He emphasized that military planners never, ever take into the account the long-term effects of post-traumatic stress syndrome on future generations.

    In the discussion participants focused on the underlying economic inequalities of the globalized world. The role of transnational corporations and their relationship to both governments and international institutions needs to be more clearly understood. Both macro and microeconomic analysis are needed in order to understand what these changes mean for people living on the margins of society.

    "Africans are already suffering. Now African governments are told to brace themselves for even harder times," Agnes Abuom commented. She went on to lament the disproportionate use of economic resources. "It’s hard to see the money being poured into anti-anthrax medications given the lack of drugs to combat HIV/AIDS." Similarly participants noted the discrepancy between the money raised to support the victims of the 11 September attacks and funds available to support both the reconstruction of Afghanistan and "forgotten" emergencies in other parts of the world.

    Glenda Wildschut affirmed that post traumatic stress syndrome will clearly affect generations traumatized by the events and aftermath of 11 September. She explained that post-traumatic stress syndrome requires a clearly-identified stressor which was certainly the case with the US attacks. But many people are suffering "continuous post traumatic stress syndrome" where there isn’t a single event which is a stressor but rather continuing acute stress caused by poverty, disease, death, etc. There is no agreement of the importance of this continuous stress syndrome or consensus on how it can be addressed.

    What does 11 September mean for human rights?

    Dr. Bertrand Ramcharan began by challenging participants to think about what they would have done had they been president of the United States on 11 September, noting that the idea of going after the perpetrators of the attacks is not a shocking idea. Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, had stated that anti-terrorism measures should not restrict human rights. In his past experience of working with the government of Algeria during a time of terrorist attacks, the United Nations had insisted that terrorism must be confronted within the law in full respect of human rights and principles of sovereignty. He went on to establish criteria for evaluating countries’ performance on human rights, with particular emphasis on the difficulties for Southern governments of meeting internationally-accepted standards. In terms of the impact of the 11 September attacks on civil liberties and the conflict between freedom and security, he suggested that the effect will be felt mostly by non-citizens in Northern countries.

    Several US participants remarked on the decline of civil liberties in the US since the 11 September attacks, particularly evident in the militarization of society, the silencing of dissent, the extensive use of national guards, the decision that suspects in the attacks would be tried by a military tribunal, and public debate on the justification of torture to extract information from detained suspects.

    Participants remarked that while human rights violations haven’t become much worse since 11 September, the possibilities for legitimizing human rights abuses have increased. Thus, the Sharon government labels the Palestinian leadership as "terrorist" and the Russian government seeks broader understanding of its struggle to subdue Chechen "terrorists." Tarek Mitri commented that the labeling of certain Islamic non-governmental organizations as "terrorist" had contributed to creating a climate of suspicion.

    Guillermo Kerber asked how a just trial could be guaranteed for the perpetrators of the acts? Like others, he raised particular concerns about the demand by the US government to have the trial in a US military court. In the discussion, questions were raised about what it means to bring people to justice and whether our legal institutions are capable of bringing about justice.

    What about the impact on humanitarian response

    Elizabeth Ferris presented an overview of some of the dilemmas involved in providing humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, highlighting the problems of involvement of the military in humanitarian operations, difficulties of access and security, and the impact of closed borders on the international refugee protection regime. Given the media-driven nature of emergency response, she noted that it is likely that other emergencies will be "forgotten" as international assistance is mobilized for Afghanistan. The cruel irony is that Afghanistan itself was a largely "forgotten emergency" until 11 September.

    Several participants noted that military involvement takes various forms, from UN peacekeepers to policing functions to military forces. While it may be appropriate for UN peacekeeping forces to provide security to humanitarian workers, when such security is provided by a combatant force, it takes on a different meaning.

    The mixing of humanitarian and military operations gives rise to such contradictory terms as "humanitarian bombing" and some participants reacted strongly to the diminution of the term "humanitarian." Genevičve Jacques suggested that it is important to reclaim the term "humanitarian" by focusing on the needs of the victims. Others suggested the need for a forum to discuss the ethical questions arising from the distribution of humanitarian assistance.

    In discussing pressures for the 3.5 million refugees presently in Pakistan and Iran to return to Afghanistan, participants expressed concern that such a repatriation could be a de-stabilizing factor for the country. Participants also linked the humanitarian issues to security concerns discussed earlier, particularly the devastating impact of the proliferation of small arms.

    A Symbolic Conflict?

    In his closing reflections, Konrad Raiser argued that what is fundamentally different about this conflict is its symbolic nature. The targets of the attacks were symbolic in nature, the claims of Osama bin Laden are about symbols and the military response is being justified in symbolic terms. Unlike previous conflicts, this is not a struggle for resources, trade routes, or territory but for symbolic hegemony. This is one of the reasons that our traditional analytical models are inadequate to understand the conflict and why theology and religious insights are needed. All power is legitimized through symbols and religion is the strongest carrier of the symbolic. Religious communities are the trustees of basic values and the symbols that hold societies together. Moreover, all forms of human power are mirrors of how divine power is understood. Neither side can win in a conflict about symbolic hegemony. Rather, we need to reaffirm the alternative view of power as power shared in community and in recognition of the other.

    While we have been trained to deal with religion as a separate category from politics, economics, and psychology, in fact religion is an inescapable component of this conflict. It is impossible to understand the nature of this conflict for symbolic hegemony without incorporating religious insights and theology. But neither our theology nor our tools for political-social-economic analysis are adequate. For example, economic statistical analysis doesn’t tell us anything about people’s lives and feelings. But religion brings one closer to the feeling dimension of the conflict and may move us to insights beyond those obtained through detached statistical analysis.

    For churches, the fight between good and evil has already been decided; for Christians, the final event has already taken place in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. An eschatological realism thus leads us away from the idea that we must defend a particular nation or ideology and leads us into a process of discernment. From the perspective of the churches, we have reasons to refresh our hope.

    What happens next?

    A number of suggestions were made on how to follow up the many issues discussed at this meeting. On the programmatic level, participants urged WCC staff to continue their important on-going work on theological, economic, political and social issues. The crisis since 11 September has affirmed the Council’s long-term priorities. WCC was also encouraged to continue its advocacy work at the United Nations. UN representatives participating in this meeting affirmed the important role that the religious community plays in international policy debates. "Churches can say things that governments cannot," John Langmore remarked, "don’t underestimate your potential to bring about meaningful change." Konrad Raiser, speaking on a broader level, said that "we need to overcome our hesitancy to use our religious symbols and to re-open the political energy for life that they contain."

    Participants affirmed that now, more than ever, churches need to speak up about the present conflict and about the long-term political and economic inequities at the global level. The need for providing an ecumenical space for reflection, analysis, and discernment was particularly emphasized.

    Participants agreed that they would report on this meeting in their own congregations and churches and they encouraged WCC to facilitate the convening of similar international discussions at the regional level. WCC staff indicated that the reflections from this meeting would feed into on-going programmatic work in a number of areas, including the Decade to Overcome Violence and plans for a consultative process on the role of the churches in international affairs. Participants suggested that the report of this meeting be shared with the WCC Executive Committee and that it be widely disseminated among the churches.

    Thanks are extended to WCC International Affairs, Peace & Human Security staff, and particularly to Dwain Epps, for convening the meeting; to Genevičve Jacques and Clement John for moderating the meeting; to Bishop Rumalshah, Pablo Richard, Agnes Abuom, and Bishop Stephen for offering prayers during the course of the meeting; to Isabel Csupor for providing administrative support; to Elizabeth Ferris for writing this report; and to all the participants whose contributions provided much food for thought.


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