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Cablegate: Dialogue of Religions Conference: Amir Welcomes

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 DOHA 001226

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

FOR NEA/ARPI THORNE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KISL IS QA
SUBJECT: DIALOGUE OF RELIGIONS CONFERENCE: AMIR WELCOMES
PARTICIPATION OF JEWS


1. (U) Summary. The Amir of Qatar opened the Third Conference on
Dialogue of Religions and welcomed Jewish participants for the
first time. (Though none came from Israel, there was a five-
member delegation of rabbis from the U.S.) In his opening
remarks, the Amir expressed liberal views on reforming Islamic
practice and improving Muslim societies through a deeper
understanding of other "religions of the book." There were fewer
high-level attendees at this year's event, in part because of the
presence of Jewish leaders. Prominent cleric Dr. Yousef al-
Qaradawi was the most noticeable absentee, having said he will
only interact with Jews who reject Zionism. Muslim and Christian
leaders in the opening session emphasized the value of dialogue;
a Jewish leader from France added the concept of belonging to a
state as well as a religion, saying that both institutions share
the goal of improving the human condition. End Summary.

2. (SBU) The Amir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani,
opened the Third Conference on Dialogue of Religions, billed as
focusing on religion's role in enhancing human values and
civilized behavior. Twenty-nine Christian leaders attended from
Europe, Africa, Asia, and North America. Seven Jewish leaders
attended, chiefly from the U.S. No Israeli Jews participated,
however. Post understands that it was the Amir's wish that
Israelis be invited, but resistance at the level of the
organizing committee, which was dominated by professors from
Qatar University, resulted in a downgrade of the status of the
Israeli invitees. They would not be panelists but could make
comments from the floor. On this basis, the Israeli delegation
declined to attend. The American Jews, though concerned about the
treatment of their co-religionists, were encouraged by Embassy to
attend, to ensure and build upon interfaith progress expected at
this year's event.

3. (SBU) The story of invitations for the Israelis an off-scene
drama, with the Dean of Sharia Law at Qatar University quoted in
local papers well before the event denying any Israeli
participation. Later, the GOQ took credit anyway for inviting the
Israelis, the local Arabic press prominently announcing that they
had been sent invitations. Any Jewish participation at all was
enough for cleric Dr. Yousef al-Qaradawi to follow through on his
threat to avoid any such interaction. One of his associates, Dr.
Ali Muhi-Eddin al-Qaradaghi (a fellow professor but not related),
was selected to give the Muslim portion of opening remarks.

Amir: Progressive Opening Remarks
---------------------------------

4. (U) The Amir's opening remarks took a liberal stance. He
highlighted three main tracks that are needed to support inter-
religious dialogue. The first track is the promotion of exchange
of knowledge among Islam, Christianity, and Judaism through the
translation of the basic texts into Arabic and foreign languages.
The Amir supported the establishment of joint institutions to
carry out this task. The second track is to focus on the social
and cultural issues needed to achieve rapprochement and
cooperation, especially including the role of women in society,
as a means to understanding the ethics of Muslim societies. The
third track is to find ways of joint cooperation in solving
chronic conflicts in order to realize peace and accord. The
Amir's opening remarks were followed by those of other keynoters,
with a French Jewish lay leader speaking first. An Egyptian
Catholic bishop and Qaradaghi came next, reflecting the order
their faiths were codified.

Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Introductory Remarks
--------------------------------------------- -----

5. (U) The Jewish leader, Bernard Canovich, from France,
introduced the idea that part of one's cultural identity is
national as well as religious. Both France's republicanism as
well as his own Judaism have the same goal, he said, which is the
betterment of the human condition. He related an eloquent story
from the Jewish tradition that dawn only begins when one
recognizes other persons as one's brother or sister.

6. (U) The Egyptian Catholic, Archbishop John Thabet Qelta,
arrived (after some length) at the point that engaging in
dialogue is a form of holiness. Without mentioning any specific
territory, he said that "all land is holy" because it is regarded
so by different religions. He spoke of the universality of
spirituality, and how the modern era as affected, in many cases
distracted, from the spiritual condition of humankind.

7. (U) Dr. Ali Muhi-Eddin al-Qaradaghi, professor of
jurisprudence and religion at Qatar University, argued that the
Quran is a "book of dialogue" with others. He noted that Muslims,
Christians, and Jews shared objectives at the 2000 Cairo
Conference on the Family. He called on people of different
religions to "defend what is right" rather than defending one's
own sect without discrimination. He noted however that
"resistance is legal" in all the prophetic religions in cases of
occupation by a foreign power, but that Islam denounces
terrorism, violence, and intimidation. He added that what is
happening in the Islamic world today is caused by injustice and
occupation. On this point, al-Qaradaghi appeared to be voicing
Dr. Yousef al-Qaradawi's position on the Israeli-Palestinian
issue, urging an end to Israeli occupation and giving
Palestinians their rights. He ended by calling on the "powers of
the world" to change their attitudes toward Iraq and Palestine.
Here, al-Qaradaghi seemed to be addressing in a more direct
manner what the Amir was alluding to in his third track - that
there can be no peace without addressing the Palestinian and
Iraqi issues.

Regional Politics Mixes with Religion
-------------------------------------

8. (SBU) Later sessions focused on the role of religion in
improving human civilization. However, one of the participants,
George Saliba, a Christian representative from Lebanon,
criticized the West for being unduly influenced by Israel. Mr.
Saliba commented that the leaders of the Western countries were
not true Christians because they are ruled by Zionists and
asserted that Zionists are "disastrous for Christians as well as
Muslims."

9. (U) There were elements of true dialogue, including the
progressive opening speech by the Amir and remarks by Princeton
University Professor and Rabbi Mark Cohen on how to revive
historically-tolerant Muslim-Jewish relations. But attitudes
toward Israeli politics and the inclusion of Jewish leaders, as
well as the lack of true religious luminaries, conspired to
deaden the conference. There were no breakthroughs or inspired
thinking. In the last session, as an illustration, a participant
from the audience stood up to declare the need to condemn
terrorism "in all its forms" including U.S. actions in
Afghanistan. How someone could have the energy for such a rant at
8 PM after two full conference days shows the uninspired nature
of the event.

Conclusion: A Center for Religious Dialogue in Doha
--------------------------------------------- ------

10. (U) The Third Conference on Religious Dialogue issued, at its
conclusion, a set of recommendations, the most concrete component
of which supported the Amir's proposal to establish a center in
Qatar for religious dialogue. The center would aim to deepen
"reciprocal knowledge" of the three monotheistic religions and
work toward comprehending and removing "historical handicaps" to
understanding. The conference's recommendations also call for
establishing in Islamic countries academic departments in
comparative religion, undertaking exchanges of religious
teachers, and "purifying" the media of negative religious
stereotyping.

No Announcement of Churches in Qatar
------------------------------------

11. (SBU) Perhaps knowing, in advance, that the atmosphere of
dialoque and the international exposure were not optimal, the
Amir did not officially announce the approval of concessionary
property leases for several Christian denominations in Doha, an
agreement that was signed in May 2005 (reftel). Local Christian
leaders had expected such an announcement. The Amir may do so at
a more auspicious moment, or he may determine that there is no
domestic political benefit in making such a public announcement.

Comment
-------

12. (SBU) The less-than-stellar level of participation, the
continued controversy in the press over invitations to the
Israelis, and perhaps also "conference fatigue" following the
massive G-77 Summit in Doha, contributed to a disappointing
Dialogue of Religions. Nevertheless, Qatar -- but in particular
the Amir -- deserves credit for trailblazing the inclusion of
Jewish thinkers on Arab soil.
UNTERMEYER

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