Leaders Discuss Role Religion Plays in Resolving Political Crisis
Janis D. Shields, Director Media and Public Relations (215) 241-7060 AFTER HOURS: (302) 545-6596
PHILADELPHIA - Mary Ellen McNish, general secretary of the international social justice organization, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), was among nearly 45 religious leaders of various faith backgrounds who met with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to discuss the country's current political crisis with the United States and the role religious communities can play to resolve it. The group spoke with the president on Wednesday, September 20, at his hotel near the United Nations.
"This is a beginning for open dialogue," McNish observes. "The president was glad to meet. He was genuinely interested in further conversation with the religious community and engaging in a real discussion with the U.S. government."
The Service Committee has worked for Middle East peace since the 1940s and is a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for its humanitarian work. Grounded in the principles of the Religious Society of Friends, one of the historic peace churches, AFSC embraces the meeting with President Ahmadinejad as an opportunity to foster mutual respect and understanding among two societies that have viewed each other with mistrust.
"President Ahmadinejad welcomed a future opportunity for continuing dialogue with faith leaders that would focus on a religious basis for peace and justice," McNish explains.
The meeting, which was organized by the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO), lasted about an hour. Religious leaders asked a set of questions about how religious communities can cooperate in a time of tension. In addition to McNish, officially representing AFSC were Paul Lacey, clerk of the Service Committee Board and Don McNemar, clerk of the Quaker United Nations Committee.
"In the United States, our viewpoint is shaped by the Iran hostage situation of the 80s," McNish explains. "We fail to see that a flashpoint for the Iranian people is the oppression they suffered under the then-U.S. supported Shah of Iran. Following the Shah's fall, the U.S. then supported Saddam Hussein and Iraq's aggression against their country."
Best known for launching massive programs to feed millions of starving children in post-war Germany, the American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization respecting the dignity and worth of every person. The search for Middle East peace has been a major focus of the Service Committee's highly regarded international affairs work.
"I was encouraged by the president's spirituality," McNish concludes. "Expounding from his own faith tradition he spoke of Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad as prophets and spiritual guides."
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The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization that includes people of various faiths who are committed to social justice, peace and humanitarian service. Its work is based on the belief in the worth of every person and faith in the power of love to overcome violence and injustice.