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Faith leaders call for de-escalation after missile strike kills Iranian general

Religion News Service | 1/10/2020, 6 a.m.
Concern about the growing tensions between the United States and Iran has been bubbling within the Vatican, as Pope Francis ...
Rev. Barber

Concern about the growing tensions between the United States and Iran has been bubbling within the Vatican, as Pope Francis and other faith leaders urge global leaders to employ self-restraint and dialogue.

“Dear brothers and sisters, in many parts of the world there is a terrible feeling of tension in the air,” Pope Francis told the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square after his Angelus prayer on Sunday.

“War brings only death and destruction,” Pope Francis continued. “I call upon all parties involved to fan the flame of dialogue and self-control, and to banish the shadow of enmity.”

Though Pope Francis did not refer directly to Iran or the United States, the timing of his words coincided with the rising hostility between the two countries, which led Vatican observers to view the pope’s words as a direct appeal to the two parties in question.

On Dec. 3, President Trump ordered a targeted strike in Iraq against Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who the president said posed an “immediate threat” against American lives.

Gen. Soleimani, who kept a low profile for most of his influential military career, was considered a terrorist by the United States, but not by a large part of the international community, including Iran, where he was deemed something of a “national hero.” After the assassination, the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, promised a “tough revenge” America.

Progressive faith leaders, such as the Rev. William J. Barber II, a member of the national board of the NAACP, decried the missile strike as a rash decision.

“Please don’t just blame Trump for where we are now,” tweeted Rev. Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign. “Name all those who have lied for him, upheld him, covered for him, put false religion around him, & enabled him. If we end up in war, there must not be selective amnesia. Anyone who didn’t speak up bears the blame.”

The Quakers’ advocacy arm in Washington, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, condemned what it called the assassination of Gen. Soleimani and called on Congress to “assert itself as a voice for peace, for the good of people here and abroad.”

Others, such as Imam Mohammad Elahi, a Shia interfaith leader in Detroit who was reportedly born in Iran, also stressed the need for peace.

“The Quran reminds us that this life is a testing struggle and the patients are promised God’s good news!” he wrote. “Let’s pray no more war escalation between Iran and the US! There was no reason for any of these tensions!”

Another Muslim voice, Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, suggested in an Arabic language tweet that President Trump may attempt to use the event to “cover his impeachment trial and re-election campaign in 2020.”

But several evangelical leaders who have been stalwart supporters of President Trump, defended the assassination.

The Rev. Franklin Graham, son of famed evangelist Billy Graham and stalwart supporter of Trump, tweeted his affirmation of the strike, broadcasting the White House’s justification for Gen. Soleimani’s death, but did not specifically discuss the potential for war.

“Qassem Soleimani was responsible for countless deaths inside & outside Iran & was actively planning more terrorist attacks,” Rev. Graham tweeted. “We need to pray that God would give (President Trump) wisdom & protect him, his family, & our troops in that region from evil.”

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