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Cablegate: Chaplains' Visit Spurs Interfaith Dialogue and Better

VZCZCXRO4316
RR RUEHLMC
DE RUEHBP #1384 3391458
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 051458Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY BAMAKO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8480
INFO RUEHLMC/MCC WASHINGTON DC 0095

UNCLAS BAMAKO 001384

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL EINV ECON EAGR KISL ML
SUBJECT: CHAPLAINS' VISIT SPURS INTERFAITH DIALOGUE AND BETTER
UNDERSTANDING OF ISLAM IN AMERICA
1. (SBU) Summary. The visit of three U.S. military chaplains to
Mali launched useful discussions with military and civilian leaders
that emphasized the positive role of religion in America and

countered impressions held by some that the United States was
anti-Muslim. The chaplains, including the Command Chaplains for
EUCOM and AFRICOM and a Community Life Chaplain (and Imam) assigned
to Heidelberg, toured Mali from October 22 to October 26 to
participate in interfaith and bilateral dialogue. The inclusion of
an Imam allowed outreach efforts at venues beyond those normally
used by the Embassy, including participation at Bamako's Grand
Mosque's Friday prayers, visits to other mosques, and an interview
on Mali's leading Islamic-source radio station. The response of
Malian interlocutors was universally positive, with some noting that
the visit changed their perception of the war on terror and how
America views Muslims. End Summary.

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Christian and Muslim on a Single Mission
----------------------------------------

2. (SBU) On October 22, Navy Captain Mark Tidd, EUCOM Command
Chaplain; Army Colonel David Colwell, recently designated as AFRICOM
Command Chaplain; and Army Major Abdul-Rasheed Muhammad, currently
assigned as an Army Family Life Chaplain and Imam in Heidelberg,
visited civilian and military leaders in Mali to promote interfaith
and bilateral dialogue, and counter perceptions that the United
States was "anti-Muslim."

----------------------------------
Men of the Cloth Speaking Together
----------------------------------

3. (SBU) The Chaplains met with a variety of Islamic leaders in
Bamako, Segou, Djenne and Mopti. The group was widely welcomed in
mosques and meetings halls. At the Grande Mosque in Mopti, a group
of over 80 people waited more than an hour after prayers for a
chance to speak with the Chaplains. Religious leaders at each stop
stressed the tolerance of Malians and their happiness at receiving
Christian, and especially a Muslim, clergy from the U.S. Many
Malians expressed surprise that Christian and Muslim leaders were
serving side-by-side in uniform.

4. (SBU) Malian Muslim and Christian leaders used the meetings to
proudly assert the Malian tradition of nondiscrimination and
tolerance, stressing that families often intermarried, that many
families celebrated both Ramadan and Christmas, and that ethnic or
religious disputes rarely, if ever, escalate to violence.

5. (SBU) The week culminated when all three Chaplains, featuring
Chaplain Muhammad, appeared on Bamako's Islamic Council radio
station. The questions focused on Chaplain Muhammad's experiences
as a Muslim in the U.S. and the Christian chaplains' views on
religious tolerance. The broadcast, conducted in Bambara through a
translator, reached a large part of the greater Bamako region and
was subsequently rebroadcast on other Islamic radio stations in
Mali.

-------------------------------
Ministering to Those in Uniform
-------------------------------

7. (SBU) The group met with Colonel Satigui Sidibe Chief of Social
Services for the Malian Armed Forces, and with military commanders
in Segou and Mopti, to discuss both the role of chaplains in the
American Armed Forces and how the Malian Armed Forces addressed the
social and spiritual needs of its troops.

8. (SBU) Sidibe said the Malian military has recently come to
realize the importance of providing social services to those serving
in uniform, establishing his division only in 2006. Sidibe said his
unit received very limited training in Morocco, and would welcome
further visits and/or training opportunities to address the
provisions of morale and social services. Officers in the field
were equally curious about the role of Chaplains in the U.S.
Military, were very supportive of the visit, and encouraged the
Embassy to schedule similar visits in the future.

9. (SBU) Comment. The impact of the visit exceeded expectations.
The combination of individuals with both a religious and military
background gave the visitors access to and credibility with
audiences that would not normally attend other Embassy outreach
events. Malians noted time and again that the presence of Muslim
and Christian clergy, in uniform, together at the same table,
illustrated the tolerance and respect for religion of the people,
and more importantly, government of the U.S. - a message difficult
to sell when considering the stream of contrary stories from the
international media. The visit also set the groundwork for
additional contacts between the Malian Army Social Services
organization, the Chaplain's Corps and the Embassy.

McCulley

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