On 16 October, a side event entitled “To Safeguard Future Generations: Multi-Faith Responses to the Threat of Nuclear Weapons” was hosted by the Permanent Mission of Austria and co-sponsored by the Permanent Missions of Nigeria, Thailand and South Africa as well as the NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace and Security. The speakers—including representatives of Buddhist, Islamic, Catholic, and Evangelical faiths—all agreed that the use of nuclear weapons is morally unacceptable.
“Even though the issues of nuclear weapons are hard to see compared with other issues such as immigrants and AIDs, nuclear wars are real possibilities, and … they could happen at any moment,” said Dr. Ira Helfand, a representative of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.
He added that any use of modern nuclear weapons in conflict would inflict tremendous harm on human beings due to the further development of arms technologies since the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks.
“They could change the whole system of the planet and [cause the] extinction of the human species in the end”, he said, urging the spiritual leaders in attendance to continue their active efforts to prevent such catastrophes from occurring.
In the discussion that followed, the participants of various religious faiths agreed that the horrific and indiscriminate effects of nuclear weapons on civilians and the environment placed such arms in conflict with their religious beliefs and principles. Their particular visions of how to achieve a peaceful world without nuclear weapons, however, differed slightly in their details.
Imam Saffet Catovic, a representative of the Islamic Society of North America, said nuclear deterrence policies contribute to the further spread of nuclear arms by sending the message that “if you want to do something we don’t like, and you don’t have a nuclear arsenal, we can invade you.” The concept of deterrence, he said, “leads to proliferation because it makes the mindset that nuclear weapons are the source of power, and therefore, necessary.”
Rev. David Charters, representing the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See, referenced a statement by Pope Francis on nuclear weapons: “the threat of their use, as well as their very possession, is to be firmly condemned.” Rev. Charters went on to denounce not only the use of nuclear weapons, but also their possession by Governments.
Dr. John Hartley of Evangelicals for Peace, however, argued that because nuclear weapons could not be “uninvented”, the goal should be to assure that they are never again used.
Ms. Hayley Ramsay-Jones of Soka Gakkai International addressed the separate issue of disarmament education, building on a discussion of how to advance moral policy positions by promoting pragmatic movements for peace.
“We need to go further, to attack the problem at its root,” she said. “The real enemy is the way of thinking that justifies the nuclear weapons. Disarmament education is critical because it could transform the way of how people think about peace.”
Dr. Helfand also stressed the importance of disarmament education. “The problem is that people do not understand what nuclear weapons could do, and people have mistaken faith in nuclear weapons”, he said. He contrasted common contemporary attitudes towards nuclear weapons with those of the 1980s, when, through widespread protests, people demonstrated their understanding that “nuclear weapons were imminent [threats] and would not protect us.” He stressed the importance of educating future generations about the consequences of nuclear weapons, adding that in a “bottom-up” approach, small organizations such as local churches could take part in disarmament education efforts as well as advocacy aimed at changing the mindsets of their political leaders.
The participants also touched upon the importance of viewing disarmament issues through an intersectional lens and of centering the voices of women and youth in related discussions.
About the Islamic Society of North America
This Muslim advocacy group formed to provide a common platform for presenting Islam, supporting Muslim communities, developing educational, social and outreach programs and fostering good relations with other religious communities and with civic and service organizations.
About Evangelicals for Peace
This network of evangelical scholars and activists is committed to the proactive pursuit of a comprehensive peace in keeping with biblical principles.
About Soka Gakkai International
This worldwide Buddhist network aims to promote peace, culture and education through personal transformation and social contribution.
Text and photos by Tomoko Hiramoto