Promoting peace to counter violent extremism
Molloy Honor Student Theresa Mary Bissex, Partnership for Global Peace (PGJ) youth representative to the United Nations, wrote an article on promoting peace to counter violent extremism for the PGJ monthly newsletter. Bissex is on full academic scholarship, and is pursuing a B.S. in Music Performance with an Italian minor. She is also a member of the Molloy Honors Program, which provides interdisciplinary curriculum and many opportunities for service, education, and personal improvement.
Promoting Peace to Counter Violent Extremism
By Theresa Bissex
On Thursday, February 4, I attended a DPINGO briefing in the Focus of Faith series. The topic for the day was "Promoting Peace to Counter Violent Extremism" and addressed the responsibility of religious leaders, faith-based communities, and individuals of faith to advocate for peace and solidarity. The excellent panel addressed a myriad of crucial issues, including the need for accurate interpretations of religious texts and teachings, respect for the inherent dignity of each and every individual, and consensus among faith groups that they can seek a common goal without losing the sense of who they are. However, one point raised by the first panelist, Fr. Roger Landry, particularly resonated with me.
Fr. Landry emphasized the need for active promulgation of the immense good for which religious institutions and faith-based organizations have been responsible. He highlighted certain precepts promoted by religious faith throughout the centuries, including the tradition of forgiveness and reconciliation, the respect for human dignity, the culture of solidarity and charity, the education of scholars, citizens, and peacemakers, and the categorical condemnation of evil. However, Fr. Landry further pointed out that all too often, humanity, forgetting the great goods which people of faith have wrought, notices only the immorality of those who do not truly live by their faith. Citing Marc Antony from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Fr. Landry summarized: "The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones (Julius Caesar, III, ii).
Antony's statement is sadly accurate, but perhaps we should endeavor to prove him wrong. Evil cannot be ignored, but neither should goodness be stifled. Unfortunately, our modern world has taken Antony's/Shakespeare's words all too seriously. Our media feeds on scandal. Our politicians thrive on their ability to shock. Our citizens associate the violence of a few extremists with entire religious groups. In the meantime, deeds of honor and integrity pass relatively unnoticed. The quiet charity of "ordinary" people is ignored. The message of peace promoted by religious faiths is overshadowed. Antony's speech ("Friends, Ro-mans, countrymen!") consists of rhetorical devices and psychological manipulation intended to incite a crowd to serve his purposes, but it also poses some profoundly frightening questions. Why do we seek to broadcast the transgressions of our fellow human beings rather than acknowledging their goodness? Why is immorality so much more appealing than virtue? Why does negativity sell?
These questions need to be asked, but I can't pretend to have the wisdom to answer them. The only answer I can arrive at is this: human beings possess a paralyzing fear of the faults, failings, and darkness within ourselves. We are so afraid of self-reflection that we constantly turn outwards, searching for distractions, and what better distraction than the faults of others? By establishing scapegoats, we attempt to vindicate ourselves. If we continue to soothe our own egos by censuring others, we cannot promote peace, much less attain it. We must instead seek to bring ourselves to peace, and thereby grow in our capacity to spread peace to others and to our world.