Mennonites participate in controversial meeting
MCC’s fourth interfaith dialogue with Iranian president
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met with Jewish, Muslim, Quaker, and Mennonite leaders at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, New York, September 25, to discuss the role of religion in responding to global challenges and building peace between societies. This was the fourth time since 2006 that American religious leaders have met with the Iranian leader at his request.
Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann (president of the UN General Assembly) gave the opening remarks to the 300 international religious and political figures gathered to hear a response to the question, “What does my faith tradition bring to the struggle to eliminate poverty, injustice, global warming, and war?” Panellists were Kjell Bondevik (former prime minister of Norway), Patricia Shelly of Bethel College, Nihad Awad of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Lynn Gottlieb of the Jewish Renewal movement, and Ahmadinejad.
Arli Klassen, executive director of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), gave welcoming remarks on behalf of sponsoring organizations and lit an oil lamp as a symbol of faith.
Although a number of event participants raised concerns about religious freedom and human rights in Iran, Ahmadinejad did not directly address those issues in his remarks. He spoke in broad terms about “challenges facing the human community,” and criticized nations like the U.S. for maintaining nuclear weapons.
Due to time constraints, Ahmadinejad departed shortly after concluding his remarks without taking questions from the audience, as had been planned.
The controversial meeting sparked criticism from the Anti-Defamation League as well as various Jewish and evangelical Christian groups. Hundreds of protestors organized by StopAhmadinejadRally representing more than 50 Jewish, Christian, and human rights groups gathered outside the hotel where the dialogue took place.
“Ahmadinejad represents a rejection of everything these religious groups stand for,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL. “Their breaking bread with President Ahmadinejad is a perversion of the search for peace and an appalling betrayal of religious values.”
“I think [the event] was a valuable thing in terms of the objectives, which was to nurture peace by fostering understanding and human relationships,” said Robert J. Suderman, general secretary of Mennonite Church Canada. “What’s left is to build relationships with people on the other side of the street,” referring to protestors of the event.