26 October 2023, The Tablet

Religious leaders try to ease domestic anger inflamed by Gaza war

“No insult, no aggression, even if it affects us deeply, can be curbed by violence.”

Religious leaders try to ease domestic anger inflamed by Gaza war

Mourners outside Arras Cathedral held white roses during the funeral of Dominique Bernard, who was killed in an Islamist attack.
Abaca Press / Alamy

Religious leaders across the world have appealed for calm and reconciliation after outbreaks of violence fuelled by the conflict in the Holy Land.

Belgian and French leaders of Church and State urged restraint after Islamists murdered two Swedish football fans in Brussels and a teacher in northern France.

The killer of the two Swedes, who were in Brussels to attend a Belgium-Sweden football match, was shot dead by police.  He was an illegal Tunisian migrant who claimed allegiance to Islamic State and was reportedly seeking revenge for burnings of the Quran in Sweden.

“No insult, no aggression, even if it affects us deeply, can be curbed by violence,” the Belgian bishops said in a statement. “Certainly, a society without security is impossible. But a society without fraternity and solidarity is just as impossible.”

Just days earlier, a literature teacher in the French town of Arras was killed by an Islamist migrant from the Caucasus region, almost three years to the day after another teacher was beheaded for showing his class images of the Prophet Mohammed.

At the teacher’s funeral, attended by President Emmanuel Macron amid high security, the Bishop of Arras Olivier Leborgne urged the congregation not to be “led astray by those who would lead you down paths of destruction…to respond to barbarism with barbarism is to vindicate barbarism.”

In Austria, a pro-Palestinian demonstration outside the president’s residence in Vienna prompted the city’s mayor Michael Ludwig to meet religious leaders in order to ease tensions.

Those present included the president of the Islamic Community in Austria Ümit Vural, Rabbi Jaron Engelmayer from the Jewish Community in Austria and Fr Rudolf Prokschi, the dean of St Stephen’s Cathedral, who attended in the absence of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, currently taking part in the Synod in Rome.

Ludwig set up an independent “Council of Religions” (“Religionsrat”), to be housed next to the mayor’s office in the City Hall, to discuss any problems which may involve the 16 different religious communities in Austria.

“We will not be able to solve the Near-East conflict satisfactorily, but we can show that in Vienna religions work closely together and discuss the problems that crop up locally,” Ludwig said.

Religious communities in Vienna had a “moderating influence”, he pointed out. They did not pour oil on the fire but played a vital role in maintaining peaceful co-existence in society by promoting tolerance and understanding

The city has a history of inter-religious dialogue in the 60 years since the Second Vatican Council, largely driven by its geographical location.

Ludwig said that this was one of the reasons why since the 7 October Hamas terror attack on Israel there had been fewer anti-Semitic demonstrations and chanting than in other European capitals.

The new council was founded to emphasise that all religions in Austria work together and will not tolerate attacks, with plans to strengthen this message through the fields of education, culture and sports.  It will hold meetings for representatives of all 16 different faiths in Austria at least twice a year, with smaller group meetings as required.

In the US, Jewish leaders responded to the grief of Chicago’s Palestinian community mourning the death of a 6-year-old boy murdered in a suspected hate crime fuelled by the Israel-Hamas war.

A group of rabbis attended the funeral of Wadea Al-Fayoume, a Palestinian-American child who was allegedly attacked on 11 October by landlord Joseph Czuba, shouting “You Palestinians don’t deserve to live!”  His mother was also seriously injured.

Rabbi Ari Hart was one of several local Jewish leaders who came to show their support for the family and pray for peace.

Hart said it was his duty to attend the funeral and help comfort the mourners as a means to condemn the bloody murder and advocate for peace.

“We met with the imam, heard from the father, and stood with the boy’s community as they mourned this horrific loss,” he said.

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