Religion and conflict

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Today's Times of London has a major story on a reconciliation program in Northern Ireland that has brought together Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants, including a woman who had prepared to be a suicide bomber. Here is the beginning of the story:

The night before Shifa Alqudsi was going to blow herself up in a bomb attack on the Israeli town of Netanya she stayed up explaining it all to her seven-year-old daughter Diana, telling her to look for a star in the sky when she wanted to speak to her.

Last week she told the story again, this time to the people she had wanted to kill, among them a soldier with a tale of how he once took part in an operation to murder Palestinians.

The encounter took place in an Irish peace centre on Donegal's north coast. Making peace the Irish way was at the centre of a ground-breaking meeting between 15 former Palestinian militants and the same number of Israeli war veterans who had only previously met sitting under olive trees at a checkpoint on the border with the occupied West Bank.

Quite remarkably, none of the following words appear in the 1,100-word article: Protestant, Catholic, Muslim or Jew. Instead there are code words like family, vicious cycle, enemies and political opponents.

Now, it is entirely possible that the organizer, Combatants for Peace, does not deal with religion in its reconciliation work. There is nary a mention of religion on its website, but it strikes me that religion is an issue that the reporter should have raised. Here are some of the questions I would have asked the participants and the organizers:

What role did religion play in your view of the other? Were you taught that violence was religiously justified? How important was religion in the Catholic and Protestant divide? How important is it in the Israel-Palestinian conflict? Given that Catholic priests and Protestant ministers were central in forging the peace in Northern Ireland, is there any attempt to get Jewish and Muslim clergy involved?

Without answers to these questions, there's a gaping hole in the Times story.

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