NEW HAVEN, Connecticut (Reuters) - Christians and Muslims mistrust each other so much that a few terrorist attacks could trigger dramatic and violent religious tensions, a Jordanian prince told an interfaith conference on Tuesday.
Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal, sponsor of a Muslim appeal to Christian leaders to work together for peace, said the two religions must work together or face possible violence that risks turning into genocide.
The warning was a stark reminder to the 150 participants, theologians and faith leaders who came to discuss common views on love of God and neighbour, of the dangerous potential religion can have when intertwined with political conflicts.
"Christians and Muslims routinely mistrust, disrespect and dislike each other, if not popularly and actively rubbish, dehumanize, demonize, despise and attack each other," said Ghazi, a special adviser to Jordan's King Abdullah.
A recent global survey showed that 60 percent of Christians disliked Muslims and 30 percent of Muslims reciprocate, he said. "With such an explosive mix, popular religious conflicts, even unto genocide, are lurking around the corner," he said.
"God forbid, a few more terrorist attacks, a few more national security emergencies, a few more demagogues, a few more national protection laws, and then internment camps, if not concentration camps, are not inconceivable in some places."
Participants at the conference, the first of several due to bring Islamic and Christian leaders together in coming months, said Ghazi's warning sounded stark to an American audience but reflected fears often heard in the Middle East.
"The fears are real," said Scott Alexander, an Islamic studies professor at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.
"If you compare what popular culture thought of Jews in the 1920s to how Muslims are represented in popular culture now, there are some very stark similarities said Hisham Hellyer of Warwick University, an expert on Islam in Europe.
FACTORS IN RELIGIOUS TENSIONS
Ghazi said five main factors were driving religious tensions in the world -- the status of Jerusalem, U.S. foreign policy, terrorism, fundamentalism in all faiths and missionary activity by various religions.
The 138 Muslim scholars who launched the so-called Common Word dialogue appeal to Christian leaders intended it as "an extended global handshake of religious goodwill friendship and fellowship" between the world's two largest religions.
The appeal is at the heart of a recent upswing in interfaith consultations that included an unprecedented conference hosted by Saudi King Abdullah in Madrid this month with Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and others.
The Common Word group, named after the title of its appeal, plans to meet Anglicans in Britain in October and Pope Benedict and senior Vatican officials in Rome in November.
Most U.S. participants at the conference are Protestant leaders, including evangelicals. Some evangelical preachers have been hostile to Islam and seen Washington's war on terrorism in religious terms, but several leaders support this dialogue.
Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, said he attended to "engage in what is clearly a major issue in our world today, Christian-Muslim relationships."