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Religious Leaders Back Bush, but Also Call for Peace and Justice

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Religious leaders of many faiths are throwing their support behind President Bush as he seeks a response to the terrorist attacks that have rocked the nation.

But at the same time, many members of the clergy are urging a peaceful resolution to the crisis that began with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

Leaders representing numerous faiths counseled and prayed with Bush at the White House on Sept. 20 and said there should be a response to prevent further acts of terrorism.

But the religious leaders — including the rabbi of a prominent Washington synagogue as well as reverends, bishops, Muslim and Sikh leaders — issued a measured statement after meeting with Bush.

“We have both a moral right and a grave obligation as a nation to protect the sanctity of life and the common good,” they said. “We should respond not in the spirit of aggression, but as victims of aggression who must act to prevent further atrocities of terrorism.”

Rabbi Joshua Haberman of Washington Hebrew Congregation, the largest Reform congregation in the nation’s capital, said the president was trying to strike a balance between alerting the country to the threat at hand and reassuring people of their safety.

“We have disavowed vengeance,” Haberman said, but added there was no alternative to a strong response.

“If we do nothing, we invite further acts of aggression,” he said.

Meanwhile, several rabbis have signed on to a letter backed by religious leaders calling for “sober restraint” as the United States determines its next step in response to the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.

Some 1,500 clergy across the United States have added their names to the letter, which calls on Americans to “dig deep to the roots of our faith for sustenance, solace and wisdom.”

The clergy who attended the meeting with Bush — during which they prayed with the president and sang “America the Beautiful” — represented a spectrum of faiths. They ranged from Roman Catholic cardinals in black-and-white collars to a yellow-robed Tibetan Buddhist and a Hindu leader in a traditional blue sari.

“Islam was hijacked on Sept. 11, 2001, on that plane as an innocent victim,” said Imam Hamza Hanson, a teacher of Islamic law and theology from Heywood, Calif. “But Islam has not died.”

Dr. Rajwant Singh, president of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education, welcomed Bush’s calls for religious tolerance in the face of retribution attacks on Muslims and Sikhs in the United States.

The Sept. 20 meeting came just hours before Bush warned Afghanistan’s Taliban regime of possible retribution if it does not hand over Osama bin Laden and end its support for terrorism.

“These demands are not open to negotiation or discussion. The Taliban must act, and act immediately,” Bush told a joint session of Congress. “They will hand over the terrorists, or they will share in their fate.”

Bush warned the nation of a long campaign against terrorism, promising to “starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest.” He called upon countries across the world to join the United States and promised to pursue those that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism.

Bush also asked Americans to continue praying for the victims and for the country. “Prayer has comforted us in sorrow, and will help strengthen us for the journey ahead,” he said.

“In the name of God, we too demand that those responsible for these utterly evil acts be found and brought to justice. Those culpable must not escape accountability. But we must not, out of anger and vengeance, indiscriminately retaliate in ways that bring on even more loss of innocent life.”

Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun magazine, signed on to the letter. He is concerned that the White House’s strategy is not headed in the right direction.

Lerner believes “pinpointed action” against the terrorists would work in the short term, but much more should be done to examine the roots of terrorism.

“If you want to eliminate terrorism, you have to address the circumstances that have generated this — and that means looking at the U.S. role in the world,” Lerner said.

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