Theologians Discuss Religious Tolerance in Afghanistan

Washington -- A panel of theologians meeting at the State Department December 14 discussed how the values of tolerance and reconciliation that exist within their four separate religions can be applied to rebuilding Afghanistan.The roundtable discussion on Religious Reconciliation and Tolerance in Afghanistan included Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, Professor Uma Saini of American University, Professor Sulayman Nyang of Howard University and Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff of the American Jewish Committee.Prior to their remarks, Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky said the event commemorated the department's observance of Human Rights Week. "Freedom of religion and conscience is a cornerstone of human rights," Dobriansky said. "No government that denies this freedom -- so fundamental to every human being -- is adequately protecting an individual's core human rights." Without the freedom to believe and worship, to express religious beliefs and to participate in communities of faith, she said, "no one can be said to be truly free." Noting that Afghanistan is at "a pivotal point in its history," Dobriansky said that after more than 20 years of war and oppression, its people may finally be able to build a society that is based on the values of religious tolerance for all of its citizens -- men and women of different ethnic and religious affiliations and backgrounds."We must take this opportunity to promote and foster religious freedom for the people of Afghanistan by sharing a rich, collective heritage of tolerance and reconciliation," she said. style="mso-spacerun: yes"> Dobriansky added that one way to pursue this objective is to overcome obstacles to promoting the valuable role religious values can play in foreign policy."This includes making clear that all countries should be built on certain universal principles," she said. "A cornerstone of those principles is the solid belief that true freedom doesn't mean freedom from religion, but rather freedom of religion. With this, religious pluralism and a real possibility of coexistence will follow."Land, who is a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and an ordained Southern Baptist minister, said Christianity believes the world would benefit from circumstances in which no government is represented by any one religion.What he does find unacceptable, Land added, is state persecution of citizens who choose not to follow a state-supported religion. Applying Hindu teachings and philosophy to the discussion, Saini said it is the duty of each individual to be a good human being, regardless of his or her faith and prayer, and that by following this practice we can create a civil society.Nyang, speaking from an Islamic perspective, noted the different traditions that exist within the different Islamic groups in Afghanistan. He also pointed out the Marxist secular fundamentalism that occurred during the time of the Soviet occupation of the country, and the seeds of intolerance that had been planted later by the Taliban.Resnicoff, who recently retired from a 28-year career as a Jewish chaplain in the U.S. Navy, spoke of the difference between peace and absence of war. One of the most difficult challenges facing mankind, he said, is the tension that exists between peace and reality.(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: