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CNN SUNDAY MORNING

Interview with Charles Sennot

Aired March 24, 2002 - 11:01   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KATE SNOW, CNN ANCHOR: The sectarian violence in the Middle East has been going on for ages, but our guest today looks past Islam and Judaism and says the best way to understand the crisis is through the travels of Jesus.

Boston Globe writer, Charles Sennot does just that in his book, "The body and the Blood." Charles joins us live from London with his insight into the Middle East. Thanks for being with us this morning. Let me start with the news.

CHARLES SENNOT, EUROPEAN BUREAU CHIEF, BOSTON GLOBE: Thank you.

SNOW: Do you think that Vice President Cheney ought to head back to the region?

SENNOT: I do. I think that any effort we can make toward peace we should make, but I think Arafat also has to be capable of doing the things he needs to do to make that happen. There's a very intricate choreography involved in the next few days that I think are very important. I think Arafat will have to come in line for the meeting with Cheney.

He'll also, if he gets that meeting with Cheney, then be in Lebanon for the Arab Summit, then the Saudis will present their peace initiative, which has been very vaguely outlined so far, and from there we can see that these plans won't necessarily bring us toward peace, but I think they'll be important in terms of establishing a truce and trying to at least temporarily break this really ferocious cycle of violence right now.

SNOW: We see General Anthony Zinni in some video there. He's holding more meetings today. What do you make of his role?

SENNOT: I think he's playing an important role. Obviously, he's showing that Washington wants to reengage back into the peace process, wants to be more directly involved. But I think that we also have to see that this is a fairly last-minute effort, I would say. The Washington thinking has become much more engaged about the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, in part because of its goals in Iraq.

If we are indeed going to see a military action against Iraq, Washington is very aware of the fact that there's going to have to be movement on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. But in the big picture, I really question these motives. I mean if all of this is just part of a choreography, some critics would even say a charade, just to keep the illusion of things moving.

I think we're just postponing the next cycle of violence, you know. Negotiations take a long time. Negotiations take a very serious effort, and unfortunately the violence comes in lightning strokes and seems to derail it every time. I think Washington is going to have to show a greater determination toward being more even handed in this process if it's really going to see any substance come out of it.

SNOW: You mentioned the cycle of violence, and I want to pick up on that because I think a lot of Americans, probably a lot of people throughout the world, look at the Middle East and feel despair about it. It just seems to be this endless cycle of violence. How do you explain that, when you're trying to explain what's been happening there and then how does that instruct what can be done?

SENNOT: I think it's very easy to feel despair. Any of us who have covered the Middle East or anyone who's followed the Middle East certainly feels that now. We're at one of the lowest points we've been in 50 years. I think that's fair to say.

I think what I tried to do in my book, "The Body and the Blood," was to rethink the Middle East, to set out on the path of Jesus' life in the year 2000. I come at this as a traditional Irish Catholic, not particularly religious but I really wanted to look at what I call a journalistic pilgrimage through the Holy Land.

And because this is Holy Week, I think maybe there's a way for people to rethink the Middle East and that's to think that 2,000 years ago, the exact same issues were resonating at the time of Jesus. There was great debate about occupation. Then, of course, it was Roman occupation. Globalization was a big theme, with Rome bringing its taxation system, its government, and really everything about its culture to the Holy Land.

There was also religious extremism and there was a quest to control the Holy Land. So I think, you know, you could say well "wait, if it was happening 2,000 years ago, won't we just be despairing 2,000 years from now?" And I would argue that actually, even though there have been there cycles of great upheaval, especially 2,000 years ago, especially during the Crusades 1,000 years ago, and especially now in the Middle East, that doesn't mean that there haven't been long epics of peace. There have been and there have been epics of enlightenment and tolerance.

And I think that one of the things that we can do in looking at 2,000 years ago at the time of Jesus and comparing that to the Middle East today is try to find out the answers that exist for reconciliation, for forgiveness, and for finding solutions that exist in all three faiths. Christianity has its take on this, and Islam and Judaism also have these thoughts.

I think if we are in a religious conflict and I think there are many who feel we are headed that way, we're going to need religious leaders to be part of the solution, and I think that's a component of the peace process that has not been addressed and really needs to be addressed.

SNOW: You suggest that the religious leaders haven't really been involved in a way that they could be.

SENNOT: That's right. I think they've been negligent, and I think they've been silent and I think they've also been politicized. One of the things that is true about Judaism and is true about Islam is that in those faiths, the religious leaders tend to be more closely linked to the political structures, to the political establishment.

And I think that has really allowed the Middle East to be defined within the dichotomy of Islam versus the West, or Islam versus Judaism, and there's a great danger in this conflict becoming a clash of civilizations. That's an idea that I don't subscribe to, that I don't support and that I don't really believe in. I think it's a dangerous self-fulfilling prophecy and if we're going to back away from that, we're going to need to see much more courage on the part of the religious leaders to speak out about a conflict in a land that is holy to all three faiths.

I think we need to see Christian leaders be more prominently involved in this and we need to see, of course, Muslim cleric and you know, we need to see the Jewish religious leaders involved as well. If we can do that, I think if we could have a Camp David, this is of course the meeting last summer that collapsed miserably and ignited this intafada, if we could have a Camp David with religious leaders, I think we could see it take a next step and we could actually see us get out of this cycle of violence that seems almost numbing and it seems so confusing and really despairing to those of us watching it.

SNOW: Yes. Charles Sennot, European Bureau Chief for the Boston Globe, appreciate your time this afternoon, also the author of the new book, "The Body and the Blood." Thanks so much for being with us.

SENNOT: Thank you.

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