From the Worldwide Faith News archives

WCC - Ecumenical group grapples with consequences of

From "Sheila Mesa" <>
Date Tue, 04 Dec 2001 10:42:44 +0100

September 11 attacks

World Council of Churches
Update, Up-01-42
For Immediate Use
4 December 2001

Security and symbolism: ecumenical group grapples with
consequences of September 11 attacks

cf. WCC Press Release, PR-01-45, of 28 November 2001

"We are faced with a conflict targeted at the symbolic level,"
stated Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser, general secretary of the World
Council of Churches (WCC). Speaking during a 29 November-1
December meeting in Geneva on "Beyond September 11: assessing
global implications", Dr Raiser said the attacks on the World
Trade Center and the Pentagon heralded a new type of war - one
not waged for territories or economic resources, but rather over
symbols. Our current tools of political, social and economic
analysis are inadequate to understand the nature of the current
conflict, which is about "symbolic hegemony" - the perception
that certain economic, military, and political systems and
beliefs are imposed on all parts of the world, he said. Yet it is
precisely this symbolic dimension that is a particular challenge
for churches, given that religion is "the major carrier of
symbolism", Raiser argued.  

The WCC meeting brought 20 participants from churches around the
world together to assess and reflect, with WCC staff, on the
consequences and long-term impact of the September 11 attacks and
subsequent military actions. The purpose of the meeting was to
begin to discern together the meaning of these events, rather
than to formulate a common statement or make an immediate plan of
action for the churches.  

Participants shared regional perspectives on the global
situation and then focused discussion in the following areas:  

Global governance: Mr Peter Weiderud, director of international
programmes with the Church of Sweden, analyzed three levels of
the events' impact on international law and global governance:

- dealing with the immediate threat, to which the response has
been primarily a military one;
- dealing with terrorism, which has a criminal law perspective;
 - addressing root causes, which is in the realm of conflict

In-depth discussion focused on the role of national governments,
the United Nations system, and the churches, including how
powerful countries could be held accountable under international
law, the need to affirm multilateralism, and to address the
increasing world polarization that is a consequence of September
Weiderud affirmed that the purpose of all measures of global
governance must be "to protect human rights and democracy, not
undermine their principles".  
Global Security: Dr Patricia Lewis, director of the United
Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), addressed
changing concepts of security, and the need for new
understandings of security to embrace human and collective
security rather than to rely on military power. Dr Raiser later
identified vulnerability and security as central issues, noting
that one of the few "new" consequences of September 11 was a
feeling of vulnerability among the citizens of the world's most
powerful nation.  

Human Rights: Dr Bertrand Ramcharan, United Nations deputy high
commissioner for Human Rights, stressed the indivisibility of
human rights, peace and security, arguing the imperative of
strengthening human rights in all regions. He pointed out that
the impact of the events on civil liberties and border controls
is particularly evident in Northern countries, where they most
affect non-citizens of those regions.  

Global Economy: Dr John Langmore,  director of the Division for
Social Policy and Development/ Department of Economic and Social
Affairs of the United Nations, assessed the economic consequences
of the September 11 attacks in the global context of inequality
of power and resources, and distinguished between short- and
long-term consequences. He noted a changing relationship between
markets and states as a result of the attacks; governments, he
said, are becoming more interventionist in the economic sphere.
This is a new development, given the globalizing tendencies in
which markets are supreme.  

Humanitarian Concerns: WCC staff member Dr Elizabeth Ferris
looked at humanitarian issues emerging as a result of the
military actions in Afghanistan. While many of these issues -
military-humanitarian interaction, security, landmines, access -
have characterized previous emergencies, they are dramatically
evident at the present time. Participants stressed the need for
new thinking about the ethics of humanitarian assistance, and
particularly the need to reclaim for the term "humanitarian" its
prior emphasis on neutrality and impartiality.  

Challenge to Religions: Bishop Manowar Rumalshah of Pakistan
introduced the topic of the challenge to religions, and
particularly to Muslim-Christian interfaith relations. He
suggested that to deny the potency of religion in this conflict
is naive. Participants grappled with the difficult question of
the extent to which religion is a factor in the present conflict.

Genevieve Jacques, director of the WCC cluster on Relations,
noted in her opening remarks that the social, political, and
religious issues and challenges discussed at the meeting are not
new; the difference is that after September 11, "the
contradictions are more visible than before". "We share more
questions than answers, but we have the common conviction that a
simplistic vision that this is a conflict of 'good vs. evil' is
not the answer," she noted.  

Participants felt that the concept of terrorism needs further
reflection since it is defined in different ways by different
people. So too does the concept of victim-hood, since it is
necessary not only to identify the victims of the attacks and
military actions in Afghanistan, but also to understand the
relationship between victims and oppressors.  
New "imaginations", the participants said, are needed to discern
the significance of these events. This requires financial and
political support for institutes and organizations exploring
alternatives to current systems of security; it will be
important, they added, to incorporate the perspectives and
strategies of grassroots groups as well as of intellectuals.  

There is no security against the kind of attacks that occurred
on September 11, suggested Raiser in his concluding remarks.
Understanding this axiom leads one to a different understanding
of power as being based not on the ability to protect oneself or
provide maximum security, but rather in "the energy of life in

"All power is legitimized through symbols, and the symbolism of
power has religious roots...All forms of human power are mirrors
of how you understand divine power," Raiser said. Because
religious symbols have been used both by those carrying out the
attacks and by those launching the military campaign, Raiser
thinks we need to learn to communicate between different symbolic
systems. And also that, because our traditional forms of analysis
are proving inadequate, religious insight and theology are needed
to understand this new - symbolic - form of conflict.  

The insights gained during the meeting will guide the on-going
work of participants and WCC staff in this area. Regional
meetings, with international participants, to discuss the
consequences of September 11 are planned. The report of the
meeting will be available shortly.  

For further information, please contact Media Relations Office, 
tel:  (+41.22) 791.64.21

The World Council of Churches (WCC) is a fellowship of churches,
now 342, in more than 100 countries in all continents from
virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is
not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The
highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately
every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in
Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general
secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.

World Council of Churches
Media Relations Office
Tel: (41 22) 791 6153 / 791 6421
Fax: (41 22) 798 1346

PO Box 2100
1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland

Browse month . . . Browse month (sort by Source) . . . Advanced Search & Browse . . . WFN Home