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That's not faith, that's provocation

That's not faith, that's provocation

Gordon Urquhart
November 12, 1999
Title: That's not faith, that's provocation
Author: Gordon Urquhart
Publication: <http://www.guardianunlimited.co.uk/Archive/Article/,4273,3929396,00.html>
Date: November 12, 1999

Catholics and Muslims are uniting in a pernicious new alliance

Religion in the UK: special report

There was a time when dialogue between religions had a goal of international peace and understanding. In the past decade, however, a new and potentially dangerous form of interfaith collaboration has emerged. On Sunday, religious leaders from different traditions will gather in Geneva for the World Congress of Families II. The aim of the event is to affirm that 'the natural family is the fundamental social unit, inscribed in human nature and centred around the voluntary union of a man and a woman in a lifelong covenant of marriage'.

Its purpose is to 'discuss ways to counter 85 anti-family initiatives advanced at the UN and other world bodies', including 'the myth of overpopulation', preserving traditional roles for men and women, the rights of the traditional family, the struggle against legalised abortion - all served up with a generous helping of anti-gay propaganda.

Costing $1.5m and expected to attract 2,000 delegates, the congress is the most important manifestation to date of this new form of interdoctrinal collaboration based on the deeply conservative values which unite the most reactionary believers of different faiths - in particular fundamentalist Christians and Muslims. According to Allan Carson of the Howard Center, a conservative American think-tank, one of the two sponsoring bodies of WCFII, 'the contemporary 'coming together'... occurs only among the most orthodox of each group, people that are least likely to compromise''.

They are united not only by moral principles but also by the fundamentalist rejection of separation between church and state; they are therefore committed to imposing their views by political means.

It comes as no surprise to find that Christian traditions represented at the congress include evangelical Protestants and Mormons: the Mormon NGO Family Voice is the second major sponsor (entertainment for the event is provided by Ma and Pa Osmond). It is disturbing, however, at this showcase of international fundamentalism, to find that the Catholic church is strongly represented - and at the highest level: the opening speaker is Cardinal Lopez Trujillo, the president of the Vatican's Council for the Family and one of John Paul II's right-hand men.

Although the Holy See now prefers to appear as a simple participant in this new form of interfaith collaboration, in fact it was the Vatican, under the instigation of John Paul II, which first enlisted the support of fundamentalist Muslim nations for its conservative policies in the run-up to the Cairo UN Conference on Population and Development in 1994. Determined to oppose women's rights, reproductive rights, sex education, contraception and gay and lesbian rights in the conference document, Rome was desperately short of allies among western nations. With fundamentalist Muslims, however, they saw eye to eye on all these issues.

Following Cairo, the Vatican launched a vast programme of contacts with fundamentalist Muslim countries, based on commonly held moral values. The alliance was further strengthened at the Beijing Women's Conference of 1995 when personalities from the US Christian right, such as Allan Carlson and James Dobson of the powerful Focus on the Family organisation, added their enthusiastic support. Two years later, the first World Congress of Families was held in Prague with a host of Vatican dignitaries. Conservative groups from all over the world sent delegates. Among participants from the UK were Valerie Riches, spokesperson for Family and Youth Concern, much-quoted by the Daily Mail on moral questions, and Dr Majid Katme, the Muslim coordinator for the pro-life organisation, SPUC.

Katme has played a key role in lobbying Muslim nations on behalf of the Vatican at UN conferences and is therefore an authoritative spokesperson for the new multi-faith coalition. Responsible for 'all these destructive, disease-ridden, immoral, anti-God, and anti-family values' in UN documents were 'a gang of extremist feminists who are sick and twisted in their minds, perhaps having had very bad life experiences'. Katme advocated the need for 'A BATTLE PLAN (emphasis in original)... in order to oppose and expose this filth'.

Vatican officials cannot be unaware of the potential dangers of the explosive cultural brew they have concocted. In this country we recently witnessed the direction the new interfaith cooperation could take when British Islamic leaders declared a fatwa against the American writer Terrence McNally for depicting a homosexual Christ-figure in his play Corpus Christi. Anti-abortion killings in America which have been linked to the teachings of Catholic pro-life groups are another troubling precedent. The official church has washed its hands of this kind of violence in the past. Currently, however, the protagonists of the congress are loudly proclaiming their unanimity. Having fanned the flames of intolerance, it will be difficult for Rome to disclaim responsibility for an eventual conflagration. The Vatican's behaviour appears at the best opportunist and at the worst dangerously irresponsible.

Gordon Urquhart is the author of The Pope's Armada (Corgi)

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