March 16th, 2009
01:11 PM ET

In Belfast, picture an end to religious civil war

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/europe/03/15/northern.ireland.violence.arrests/art.petrol.bombs.afp.gi.jpg]
Eboo Patel
Interfaith Youth Core
AC360° Contributor

Picture religious violence. What images come to mind? A plane crashing into the World Trade Center on 9/11? A videotape confession by a suicide bomber?

The perpetrators of religious violence are masters of marketing. They want you to see them commit acts of violence, and they want you to associate it with their religion. In fact, the violence is in many cases simply an excuse for the image. The goal is not the murder of a few, it is the poisoning of many with the pictures of violence, with the ultimate hope being the incitement of a religious civil war in cities like Baghdad.

Now picture interfaith cooperation. Did your brain-screen go fuzzy? I wish interfaith images came just as readily and were just as clear as images of religious violence. In fact, I believe one of the reasons we lack a strong, cohesive interfaith movement is because of the absence of such clear visual reference points.

But there is cause for hope from, of all places, Northern Ireland. When I visited Belfast last year, an official told me that bombs used to go off so frequently in the city that people wouldn’t even look up from their newspapers. The tension was still thick between Protestants and Catholics; the situation, he told me, could well go either way.

It looks like Northern Ireland chose the path of peace. The murders of two British soldiers and a policeman last week – the types of acts that previously burned hateful, sectarian images into people’s minds – did not widen the faith divide in Ulster, it actually brought them together.

A community that has seen thousands of deaths over several decades of faith-based civil war, instead saw (as the New York Times here described it) “sworn enemies (filing) into a provincial church on Friday to mourn as one … Some who were there said that never in Northern Ireland’s modern history had there been quite such an improbably gathering of old foes.”

Old IRA guys mourned with diehard unionists. There were silent vigils held in Belfast and other cities around Northern Ireland. The Catholic priest who delivered the eulogy at the funeral said that an attack on the police (once a hated institution amongst the Catholic population) amounted to “an attack on the whole population of Northern Ireland.”

The images from Belfast, and what I recently saw in Bombay Revival, are images of hope. I hope they burn inside our brain as deeply as the pictures of religious violence.

Filed under: 360º Follow • Eboo Patel • Ethics • Faith
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Catherine Lynagh


    Your article was a great read and I couldn't agree more.
    Having lived through 20 years of the 'troubles', you were right on the mark.
    The recent events have seen the 20 somethings and 30 somethings of this generation unite against a common theme – 'no more violence'. As you are aware, if you recently visited NI, things have been great and 'normal' of late. We have a society now, like any other European city. A society which is enjoying the fruits of prosperity, in both economic and freedom terms.
    Perhaps it's a sign of the times, but something which I feel has made a real difference over the past few weeks is Facebook and other such sites. These sites have given people here, as I'm sure they do in other conflicts, a voice like never before. Within days, I watched as the many groups against violence sprung up. Each day more and more people joined, and one really got a sense of solidarity like never before.
    The voices of the past were being drowned out, and for this Belfast girl, it was a very, very pleasant thing to see. Happy St Paddies.

    March 16, 2009 at 5:20 pm |
  2. Diane N.

    A hard lesson always learned. You can be divided by your religion but never by who you are as a people on the whole.

    March 16, 2009 at 2:53 pm |