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Examining the evidence, peace by peace

David Suchet tells Philip Halcrow why he made a podcast series about conflict and co-operation between Judaism, Christianity and Islam

One of the causes of antagonism is the misuse of doctrine

QUESTIONS have been playing on actor David Suchet’s mind. ‘From the beginnings of my conversion to Christianity in 1986,’ he says, ‘I’ve been troubled by the antagonism between the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. They all come from the same root in the Old Testament. So if we all believe in the same God, and if we know God to be the God of love, compassion and patience, where’s it going wrong? I wanted to investigate.’

So, David – who looked into many mysteries as a TV version of Agatha Christie’s detective Poirot – began making a series of podcasts. In David Suchet’s Questions of Faith, he explores the differences and connections between Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Even before making the podcasts, David’s personal story included not only Christianity but also the oldest of the three faiths.

‘I come from a Jewish background,’ he says. ‘My maternal grandfather was Jewish and my father was Jewish, but they married Christians; and, because the Jewish faith is handed down through the female line, the Jewish line in my family came to an end.

‘My brothers and I were brought up with no religion at all, but we still had close connections with the Jewish community in London. A lot of our friends were Jewish – and still are.

‘I knew less about Islam, but I’ve become more knowledgeable about it as our country has become multicultural.’

In making the podcasts, David heard the first-hand experiences of people who have been affected by or even promoted conflict between representatives of faiths.

‘During the series, I meet someone I rather naively call a preacher of hatred towards the West, Kamal Khatib, who believes that the world should be a caliphate. I asked him if he was genuinely at war with the West, and he said “yes”.’

David also talks with Canon Andrew White, formerly the Anglican ‘vicar of Baghdad’, who ministered to the people of the Iraqi capital while religious conflicts raged round them and sometimes resulted in their deaths. The clergyman, who now divides his time between England and Jerusalem, acknowledges that when religion goes wrong, it does cause war; but, consequently, good religion has to be the solution.

‘Actually,’ reflects David, ‘I think that many conflicts – and I was told this when I visited Northern Ireland – are as much to do with territory as with anything else. People just use religion to justify killing.’

Canon White talks about the importance of hearing the stories of ‘others’, and David says that, while making the series, he heard many different voices.

‘I describe my meetings with some people as a “tumble-dryer experience”, because I would go in with one attitude and, having knocked against various ideals and beliefs, come out with another.

‘For example, I met a lovely 93-year-old Quaker, Peter Rutter, who was a conscientious objector in the Second World War and ended up working in the Friends Ambulance Service. I felt that if I had been of an age and called up, I would have been proud to serve my country in fighting the just war against Hitler. So I went into that interview with a sense that I didn’t agree with conscientious objectors.

‘But I had a good time with him, listening to his conviction that the Bible’s command “Thou shalt not kill” means that it’s not for us to take the lives of other people. I heard how his conviction led to his being marginalised by many people. Yet he stuck to his beliefs. It impressed me so much that I had to ask myself whether I would have been a conscientious objector. I still doubt I would have been, but he made me think much more about it.’

In fact, the podcasts contain quite a bit of jaw-jaw about more than war-war.

‘Good news does not make headlines, but there are huge efforts being made for peace between religions,’ says David. ‘When I was in Israel, I met hip-hop artists who sang for peace. I met three chefs from the three different faiths who come together to cook for peace. And I came across Bassam Aramin and Robi Damelin, a Palestinian Muslim and an Israeli, who both lost children in the conflict but have joined together to go around the world preaching peace.’

If David was personally troubled by conflict between faiths, then he also takes the potential solutions personally.

‘One of the causes of antagonism not only between religions but also within religions is the misuse of doctrine, where we simply say that we’re right and they’re wrong,’ he says. ‘I would like to see people following the command to love God and love our neighbour. And Christians know that Jesus’ teaching to love our neighbour also means loving our enemy.

‘After making this programme, I hope that I am less judgmental and more able to embrace people who differ from me.’

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