By Samantha Lin
ROME — This past academic year, the Interfaith Café series used its informal and dialogue-based approach to engage with different facets of interreligious dialogue.
The final Interfaith Café April 16 was no different than the rest in its creative approach to interreligious dialogue. Kieran Ramsey, the FBI legal attache to the U.S. embassies to Italy, the Holy See, Malta and San Marino, discussed the relationship between public policy and religion. This topic was chosen because in a globalized world, religion and interfaith dialogue do not exist in a vacuum, and governments worldwide often have to engage in interfaith dialogue in order to carry out their policies.
Joined by students from all over the world, from Israel to Slovenia, Mr. Ramsey spoke from an American perspective and made connections between the topic of “religion and policy” and diverse situations in other countries.
Mr. Ramsey discussed his involvement in the FBI investigation following the Boston bombing in 2013. Because the suspected bombers had ties to Boston’s Muslim community, Mr. Ramsey had to be sensitive in his collaboration with the community, making it clear to members that they were not being targeted because of their religion, but because the FBI was tracing the connections of the suspects.
Mr. Ramsey said he was comfortable with Islam, having spent time in for his work, and he did not have suspicions of the Muslim community. His time in Egypt gave him the tools needed to approach the investigation with a sense of respect for the community and an awareness of its members’ fears of being targeted for their religion.
The FBI has also established a process for reaching out to marginalized groups. Mr. Ramsey said in Boston, this process included reaching out to community leaders and, after the initial crisis and arrest of the perpetrators, sponsoring community events to try and encourage better relations between the Muslim community and the FBI. He said the FBI sponsored an iftar, that is the evening meal with which Muslims break their daily fast during Ramadan, and his colleagues were grateful to attend and to meet Muslims from all professions and walks of life. Such events help to break down stereotypes and improve communication, he said.
In view of building trust between the FBI and marginalized groups, the FBI also has reached out to leaders of these communities and organized events that offer a behind-the-scenes look at its work.
An appetizer was offered to mark this last Interfaith Café of the academic year. The Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See, Louis L. Bono, and members of the Russell Berrie Fellowship in Interreligious Studies attended.