Don't use Jesus and Mohammed to back war, protestors told

London, England - Among the hundreds of thousands of anti-Iraq war protestors who marched in Britain and the USA this weekend, the issue of how religion was being used to justify war and terror proved a major concern.

Speaking to some 40,000 people in London’s Hyde Park on Saturday, ex-MP Tony Benn declared: “I do not believe that Jesus Christ ordered [President] Bush to go into Iraq. I do not believe that Mohammed wanted people to die in buses and on the [London] underground.”

He said the conflict was “corrupt” and “unwinnable”, adding: “It is a war for oil and power and they are trying to present it as a religious war.”

Among the other speakers at the rally were Stewart Hemsley of Pax Christi, the international Catholic peace movement, former Catholic priest and CND general secretary Bruce Kent, and representatives of both the Muslim Association of Britain and the Muslim Council of Britain.

Meanwhile in Washington DC, over 200,000 people marched past the White House, many carrying “who would Jesus bomb?” placards. Military veterans and parents with buggies rubbed shoulders with clergy and demo veterans in tie-dyed gear.

According to the Washington Post, “It was the first time in a decade that protest groups had a permit to march in front of the executive mansion, and, even though President Bush was not there, the setting seemed to electrify the crowd.”

Baptist pastor and activist the Rev Jesse Jackson made an explicit link between the resources poured into military spending, racism, and the lack of money to assist the poor and vulnerable in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

There were also sizable anti-war demonstrations in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco on the West Coast. Around 60 per cent of Americans now question their government’s policy on Iraq.

However, many are asking now what can be done to end the occupation, stem the insurgency and support democratic change in Iraq. Some protestors in London told Ekklesia that they were uncomfortable with a simple “troops out” slogan.

The longer-range issues have been addressed by four Church of England bishops in a detailed new report entitled Countering Terrorism: Power, Violence and Democracy Post 9/11.

The bishops call for a recognition of the West’s failing, the strengthening of ‘just war’ criteria, a truth and reconciliation process, and a major policy shift in the light of lessons learned in Iraq.

They also highlight the dangers of the US religious right and its theology of war, ‘the complex relationship between religion and violence’, and the misuse of biblical texts to justify aggression.

The UK Christian think tank Ekklesia welcomed the seriousness and commitment of the document, but noted that there is little recognition of the role that principled Christian non-violence could play in generating alternatives.

The bishops’ report draws on the work of Middle East policy experts and respected theologians like Stephen Sizer, Nigel Biggar and Michael Northcott (who contributed to a recent Ekklesia book on atonement and violence).

But Canon Andrew White, an Anglican priest heavily involved in Christian-Muslim relations and political diplomacy in Iraq and Israel-Palestine, has expressed concern that the bishops’ call for a Western apology for the war will weaken the position of local Christians.