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Interfaith Leaders Gather at NAIN

July 28, 2010

From The Salt Lake Tribune Religious awareness and sensitivity are the missing ingredients in American diplomacy, professional peacemaker Douglas Johnston told interfaith leaders gathered in Salt Lake City Monday. Johnston, president and founder of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy in Washington, D.C., freely quotes the Quran, refers to Islamic history and praises the goodness and accomplishments of Muslims in his work in Sudan, Kashmir, the Middle East and even this country to engage Muslims and others in conflict resolution. Instead of asking how Jesus would react in certain situations, he gets participants to consider what the Prophet Muhammad would do. Because Islam literally means, “submission to God,” Johnston once told a hostile group of 57 Taliban commanders, religious figures and tribal leaders, meeting with him in the mountains of Pakistan, “we’re all Muslim.” “I was there to build upon common values, show respect and to create confidence,” Johnston told more than 100 representatives of the North American Interfaith Network, whose three-day gathering concludes today at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Salt Lake City. “It’s the only way to defuse rage.” Though a Christian, Johnston comes at diplomatic relations from a military and academic perspective. He is a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and holds a master’s degree in public administration and a doctorate in political science from Harvard University. He worked for the Department of Defense and founded the Kennedy School’s Executive Program in National and International Security. Yet he knows a lot about many faiths and does a lot of listening as he partners with local groups to develop proposals. In his keynote speech sponsored by Utah Valley University’s Religious Studies Program, Johnston said he first tested his ideas in Sudan a decade ago, where the war between the Islamic north and Christian south had brutalized the country for decades. Where other nongovernmental organizations flooded the south with services to victims, Johnston went north to find the root causes. There he found surprising openness among some Muslim leaders. Women didn’t wear burkas, for example, and were well-represented in the country’s Parliament and at the university. Click here to read the entire article.