Father Canon White: "The key subject is how to reduce violence"
WSN: When did you start working as a group in this context?
Canon White: We started originally in 2004, but in many respects the work started under the old regime over 10 years ago. I started to work with Sheikh Abdul Latif Humayem back then.
We went to Billy Graham together, we went to the Archbishop of Canterbury; thus, we had a real working relationship. When the war happened, it wasn't as if I was starting fresh, and I was not seen as one of the coalition - a newcomer - because I had been there before. They knew me.
Sponsored by the British government in 2004, we had the Baghdad religious code back then and we tried all sorts of things, and we were with some of the senior leaders but also with a more grassroots group. We had several meetings, we met regularly, we continued meeting. The key moment came one morning back in 2007 as we were trying to get the work going. On this morning, Sheikh Latif spoke of what had happened in 2004 and 2005. Then he skipped forward and said that we need to see what is happening now in 2008.
Our work at this level started in 2007. We met first of all in Baghdad, and Robert (Bud) McFarlane joined us in Iraq for that meeting. We met many other times. We met in Denmark, with leaders of other faiths. There have been times when we involved the others, and we still do. We have a co-working group in Baghdad. One deals with media and one with international, women and children's issues. We also had one that dealt with economic regeneration and reconstruction, but it became clear that in all the talk about reconstruction, we were expected to find all the money to do the reconstruction. But Iraq is not poor. It actually has quite a lot of money.
WSN: You started to work directly with the senior leaders?
Canon White: Lately we have focused on this group, but it was originally a lot bigger .It does not really work from grassroots up there. It has to be top down. They are all my friends, and we have a level of trust.
WSN: It has become a personal relationship already?
Canon White: Yes, and it is with me, not with an institution. Therefore, if I don't do it, it does not happen. It is very important to have Bud McFarlane with us, because it gives us a link with the Americans, and the fact is that the Americans are the key players.
WSN: What are the key subjects you cover when you gather the group?
Canon White: The key subject is how to reduce violence and in addition to this work, we are also involved in individual kidnapping situations and hostages, and we are also involved in various ceasefires.
WSN: Are you working with the Sheikhs to mediate in specific cases?
Canon White: Yes, and at the end of the day only the senior religious figures can do anything to help.
WSN: Is there a real rift between Sunni and Shia in Iraq or has this matter been blown out of proportion?
Canon White: It is a huge one in Iraq, but here they have grown together, and when the Iraqis look at the people in this room, they look at them to lead.
WSN: Do you plan to continue the meetings for the near future?
Canon White: Our plan is to continue the meetings, because we have realized that all of our reconciliation is a process and not a one-time event. Various people thought that if they had one meeting, there would be peace all over the world. But it is not like that. Everything is viewed as a long-term commitment.
WSN: From your experience on the ground, what is your message to the United States and Europe?
Canon White: There is a massive lack of understanding of the Americans and Europeans and one of the main points is that those who cause the problems can also be the solutions, and we have seen huge problems caused by religion and therefore, religion can also solve the problems.
WSN: How do you assess the situating in Iraq now?
Canon White: Things are still very difficult but the security is improving, and it is possible to actually get these people to do something.
WSN: What is it that we don't understand about Iraq?
Canon White: The power of religion, not only in Iraq, but all over, in various places. Religion has power and that power can either create something constructive or destructive, and often it's very destructive. The fact that I understand them is not because I am a religious leader, but because I spent lots of time with people in Iraq. I was accepted because I am a religious leader.