September 17, 2010 — Eliza Griswold joined us for a discussion on her new book, The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam. She is a journalist and a fellow at the New America Foundation. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, Harpers, The New Republic, among many others. She is also a former Nieman Fellow at Harvard University.
The discussion began with a brief introduction of the book by Ms. Griswold. The book is a report of her seven year journey across the area roughly 700 miles north of the equator spanning the globe where over half of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims and nearly 60 percent of the world’s 2 billion Christians live. She spoke of her desire to go to the places where Christianity and Islam had co-existed for centuries so she might better understand why there was currently such a focus on a perceived increase in violent conflict and rhetoric surrounding the idea of a “clash of civilizations.”
Ms. Griswold remarked that while many wanted to believe these conflicts are exclusively about the political economies of the regions, religion plays a significant role as well. She noted that while resource scarcity enflamed inter-religious conflict, it illuminated the idea that statehood meant nothing to many of these people who identified more as a member of their own “global tribe” of either Christianity or Islam. Ms. Griswold also voiced her skepticism of inter-religious dialogue as a force for conflict mitigation. She cited places where real solutions were found by the implementation of a third, non-religious element of common interest or survival, such as clean water projects. In addition, she stated that the tenth parallel was also the location of intra-religious conflict, as well as inter-religious conflict, and there was a power struggle within the two religions over who exactly was allowed to speak for God.
The Question and Answer session produced a number of discussions, including why isolated acts of religious intolerance here in the United States, such as a planned Qur’an burning, manifests itself into intense violence and anti-American sentiment in other parts of the world. The discussion also focused on the role of the U.S. government and NGOs in working with religious leaders who often have more authority in their communities than do their own governments which are seen as corrupt and failed Western systems. Finally, there was talk of why the voice of the religious radicals is so much more prevalent across the globe than their more moderate counterparts.
Security for a New Century is a nonpartisan discussion group for Congress. We meet regularly with U.S. and international policy professionals to discuss the post-Cold War and post-9/11 security environment. All discussions are off-the-record. It is not an advocacy venue. For more information, please call Mark Yarnell at (202) 224-7560 or write to [email protected]