Pair try to pull apart feuding Muslims, Hindus

by Dave Newbart

One is a professor of political science at Notre Dame , the other a Presbyterian minister in California who grew up in Chicago.p. But both are focused on peace for Kashmir, an area torn by fighting between Muslims and Hindus and the governments of Pakistan and India.p. The men, Dan Philpott and Brian Cox, have been traveling to Kashmir for three years to promote an idea known as faith-based diplomacy.p. At four-day seminars they bring Muslims and Hindus together and draw on religious teachings of reconciliation and forgiveness to encourage both to put aside their differences and make peace. While the effort is a small one in the decades of conflict, two wars and thousands of deaths in the area, Cox and Philpott believe they are making a difference.p. "We see dramatic examples of people’s hearts being changed,‘’ said Philpott, an assistant professor of political science and a faculty fellow at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame . "Peace will only come about as the result of many factors, but if we can play some role in bringing parties together, and create a public movement for reconciliation, hopefully that will give leaders hope for a settlement.’‘p. So far, 330 people have attended the seminars, including one in September that brought Muslims and Buddhists together.p. The effort began in 2000 when the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy, the Washington-based group where Cox is vice president, decided to bring its program to Kashmir. Cox, 53, recruited Philpott, 36. The two had worked together in Sarajevo to bring together major religious leaders in 1996.p. They invited younger professionals outside the government for the seminars. Most are between 20 and 40 years old and come from religious groups, law firms, universities, non-governmental organization, and even media outlets.p. "You can come up with the best political settlement in the world, but if there is no recognition on the ground, it could undermine the political settlement,’’ said Cox, pointing to the eventual failure of the Oslo accords between Israel and the Palestinians.p. One of the early invitees was Firdous Syed, a former Muslim militant leader who oversaw 3,000 men in a "Muslim crusader force.‘’ Another was Raouf Rasool, a Muslim who edits Kashmir Images in Srinigar, the capital.p. "Initially people were very skeptical,’’ said Rasool, who is currently getting a degree in peace studies at Notre Dame .p. But when they realized the two men were not trying to convert them and genuinely sought peace, they were more receptive, he said. At the seminars, Philpott and Cox talk about the importance of reconciliation in Christianity and Judaism.p. Philpott tells the story of a Kashmiri Pandit (Hindu) who, like 140,000 other Pandits, was forced to flee the Kashmir Valley in the early 1990s following Muslim violence. Tens of thousands were killed and an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 remain in refugee camps, Philpott said.p. At the beginning of the seminar, the Pandit denounced the Muslims in attendance. But after hearing their stories — including accounts of oppression against Muslims by India’s government — he apologized and pledged to work for peace.

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