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Iran in the crosshairs: How will the faith community respond?

September 4, 2007, 3:17 pm | Posted by Dan Nejfelt

Five years ago last week, Vice President Cheney started pounding the drum for war in a now-infamous speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention about the imminent threat Iraq posed to the Middle East and the United States:

Saddam Hussein could then be expected to seek domination of the entire Middle East, take control of a great portion of the world’s energy supplies, directly threaten America’s friends throughout the region and subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail.

Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction; there is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us. And there is no doubt that his aggressive regional ambitions will lead him into future confrontations with his neighbors, confrontations that will involve both the weapons he has today and the ones he will continue to develop with his oil wealth…

We are, after all, dealing with the same dictator who shoots at American and British pilots in the no-fly zone on a regular basis, the same dictator who dispatched a team of assassins to murder former President Bush as he traveled abroad, the same dictator who invaded Iran and Kuwait and has fired ballistic missiles at Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel, the same dictator who has been on a State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism for better than two decades.

In the face of such a threat, we must indeed proceed with care, deliberation and consultation with our allies. I know our president very well. I’ve worked beside him as he directed our response to the events of 9/11. I know that he will proceed cautiously and deliberately to consider all possible options to deal with the threat that an Iraq ruled by Saddam Hussein represents.

Many religious activists and leaders courageously and prophetically opposed the war, but on the whole the American religious community’s reaction was tepid and mixed. In March 2003, a Pew Forums on Religion and Public Life survey reported that

Nearly six-in-ten (57%) of those who regularly attend religious services say their clergy has spoken about the prospect of war with Iraq. But just a fifth (21%) say their priest or minister has taken a position on the issue. When churchgoers do hear a point of view, it mostly comports with the national stance of their religious faith: white Catholics and African-Americans are hearing anti-war

messages, while white evangelical Protestants are getting a pro-war point of view.

Five years later — almost to the day — President Bush made a disturbingly reminiscent case for war with Iran:

Iran has long been a source of trouble in the region. It is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. Iran backs Hezbollah who are trying to undermine the democratic government of Lebanon. Iran funds terrorist groups like Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which murder the innocent, and target Israel, and destabilize the Palestinian territories. Iran is sending arms to the Taliban in Afghanistan, which could be used to attack American and NATO troops. Iran has arrested visiting American scholars who have committed no crimes and pose no threat to their regime. And Iran’s active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust.

Iran’s actions threaten the security of nations everywhere. And that is why the United States is rallying friends and allies around the world to isolate the regime, to impose economic sanctions. We will confront this danger before it is too late.

I want our fellow citizens to consider what would happen if these forces of radicalism and extremism are allowed to drive us out of the Middle East…

Extremists would control a key part of the world’s energy supply, could blackmail and sabotage the global economy. They could use billions of dollars of oil revenues to buy weapons and pursue their deadly ambitions. Our allies in the region would be under greater siege by the enemies of freedom. Early movements toward democracy in the region would be violently reversed. This scenario would be a disaster for the people of the Middle East, a danger to our friends and allies, and a direct threat to American peace and security. This is what the extremists plan. For the sake of our own security, we’ll pursue our enemies, we’ll persevere and we will prevail.

As the Bush administration echoes its Iraq rhetoric in an effort to start war with Iran, will America’s clergy sit on the sideline or the fence, as most did in the run-up to the Iraq war? Or did they learn from the bloody lesson of Iraq that failing to oppose a war of aggression is to tacitly endorse it? As the Bush administration launches another attempt to scare us into another war, the time is at hand for clergy to answer this question in word and deed.

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