King Abdullah called on followers of the world’s prominent religions to turn away from extremism, and embrace reconciliation, at an inter-faith conference in Madrid this week. He said that conflicts of history were not caused by religion, but by the misinterpretation of religion. Conference co-host King Juan Carlos of Spain said that the country has always sought international and inter-faith dialogue. Muslim, Christian, and Buddhist theologians at the conference stressed a call for gender equality, citing a history of marginalization of women in religion. Critics of the conference, however, have dismissed the gathering citing it as a propaganda gimmick by the Saudis.
Spain’s King Juan Carlos and several Saudi leaders agreed that their respective governments would work together to combat terrorism. In addition, Spain will support a Saudi initiative to create an international center to fight terrorism – a plan that is currently in progress. In another agreement, the two nations also signed a motion whereby Saudi and Spanish prisoners can complete their sentences in their home countries. The move is the first of its kind for the Saudi kingdom.
On Tuesday, Spaniards remembered the 2004 Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people and injured over 1,400. King Juan Carlos attended a memorial ceremony commemorating the terrorist blasts four years ago. The ceremony took place outside of Atocha station, which was the destination of each of the four commuter trains targeted in the attacks. Other memorials were held elsewhere in and around Madrid on Tuesday, seemingly drawing less attention as the years go by, and paling in comparison to the reflection on the first anniversary. The attacks were carried out by radical Muslim groups and persons wearing backpack bombs, and carried out on behalf of al-Qaeda. Last October, a Spanish tribunal convicted 21 of 28 defendants in the case of various charges. The verdict said that the cell acted to wage holy war, and failed to mention the Spanish government’s support for the Iraq war – an assertion that had been made by militants in a video found just after the bombings.