Interfaith Guidebook

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A Guidebook for Interfaith Organizations Seeking

Jewish, Christian and Muslim Community

Table of Contents

1. Preface

2. Mission Statement and Project Description

3. Political-Psychological Theory Informing the Project

4. Approaches to Healing in Interfaith Organizations

5. The Psychodynamics of Interfaith Meetings

6. Contemplative Methods that Help Healing

7. Advancing the Abrahamic Family Reunion


Joseph V. Montville

This Abrahamic Family Reunion (AFR) Guidebook is offered to people who participate in voluntary activities that promote respectful relationships among Jews, Christians and Muslims in the United States, and indeed, wherever Abrahmic peoples meet in the world. It is also offered to individuals who engage professionally as mediators or facilitators in interfaith dialogue and to seminaries and schools and departments of religious studies that are concerned with the ethics and methods of interfaith reconciliation as part of their teaching responsibilities.

The Guidebook, and a companion web site-abrahamicfamilyreunion.org–attempt to combine insights from political psychology and its understanding of the basic human needs of individuals and groups for the respect of other individuals and groups, with the spiritual and emotional needs nurtured in religion. Put simply, there are iron laws of human nature: every individual, tribe and nation craves recognition, acceptance and respect. In addition, we want and need to be valued and connected to others and a higher purpose in life, and, if at all possible, be loved.

This iron laws idea came to me at a meeting in Shannon, Ireland in 1986 that launched the Irish Peace Institute, jointly created by Limerick University in the Republic and Ulster University in Northern Ireland. While the occasion was conflict-specific–Catholics and Protestants–the formulation was meant to be universal. It sprang from research and practical work I had done on the Arab-Israeli conflict and the tensions over time in the United States-Soviet relationship starting in the late 1970’s with the American Psychiatric Association and Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. In these ethnic and sectarian conflicts, it was clear that their resolution defied traditional diplomacy and deal-making.

Wounds to the self-worth of a people inflicted in political battles and warfare could not be negotiated away in peace treaties, although any arrangement that ended the killing of innocents was to be welcomed. Study of the history of Muslim-Christian-Jewish relations revealed that once the prophets died, the religions they inspired evolved into political movements with assassinations and power struggles among alpha-males and sometimes their female supporters coveting leadership positions and their perquisites. Islam came into its own on the battlefield in Arabia. The Prophet Muhammad was a skilled military leader out of necessity. Emperor Constantine the Great gave Christians an army in 335 CE and they never stopped conquering. The Jewish people did not acquire an army in the first millennium of the Common Era until the 1940’s. But they made up for lost time–and lost souls to Christendom–in 1948 in creating militias and the Israel Defense Forces.

The point is if we consider Christianity, Islam and, in modern times, Judaism as armed political actors, not unlike states, it is possible to adapt aspects of the political psychological theory of healing history in international and interethnic conflicts to interfaith challenges. Specifically, where Christians committed aggression against Jews and Muslims, Muslims against Christians historically and Jews via military attacks and terror, and Jews-Israel-against Christian Arabs and Muslims through offensive and defensive wars, there have accumulated memories of violence and loss for which there has been minimal if any acknowledgment of wrong-doing or apology.

In the pages that follow, readers will find the mission statement and a brief description of the Abrahamic Family Reunion project; a précis of the political-psychological theory that  has shaped the project; and a book chapter on the potential power of healing wounded history in both official Track One and unofficial Track Two diplomacy. There will also be sketches of some of the NGO’s in the AFR network that organize and conduct interfaith dialogue and engagement in collaborative work and community service. This will be followed by a primer on the dynamics of interfaith meetings-how emotions manifest themselves among people who feel hurt, wounded or disrespected. And how dialogue facilitators need skills to steer participants to safe harbors. Then there will be a brief description of contemplative practices that can help participants in Abrahamic dialogues reach deeper, more spiritual levels of sensitivity and interconnectedness.

The last chapter in the Guidebook, “Advancing the Abrahamic Family Reunion: Historical Context and Shared Pro-Social Values,” offers another book chapter, “Jewish-Muslim Relations: Middle East,” published in 2008 in The Crescent and the Couch: Crosscurrents between Islam and Psychoanalysis, Salman Akhtar, editor. This piece attempts to frame the Abrahamic Family Reunion project in its historical and analytical context.

The last but perhaps most valuable part of this Guidebook is a set of three independent but clearly serially connected papers on the pro-social or ethical values in Judaism, Christianity and Islam that lay the irrefutable basis, we believe, for the conviction that the peoples of the three Abrahamic traditions are indeed a family. The dominant values are love of God and love and care for neighbors and strangers. More specifically, this faith-based caring extends to the least among us in society, the widows and orphans, the poor and the sick, the unemployed and the imprisoned. It is extraordinary how these caring values flow seamlessly from the Hebrew Bible through the New Testament and find themselves powerfully reaffirmed in the Qur’an. These three papers rich with supporting citations from the sacred texts and literature were researched and written by Lynn Kunkle, PhD of American University.

The ultimate message of the sacred literature is that all human beings are innately precious and valuable in God’s eyes. God created no person, tribe or nation to be despised. The logic of this conclusion is that all races and religions are equally valuable and this includes Hindus, Buddhists, followers of East Asian faiths or no faiths at all. The Abrahamic Family Reunion project concentrates on Jews, Christians and Muslims because their lack of reconciliation poses a serious threat to world peace. But success in the Abrahamic family reunion will be a model for all ethnic and sectarian conflict healing approaches.

Mission Statement And Project Description

The Abrahamic Family Reunion (AFR) project offers ways to use psychological and spiritual approaches in reconciling conflicts among Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the United States.   AFR emphasizes our shared values of compassion and justice, explores positive historical precedents, and acknowledges collective traumas. By providing resources for organizations in its network, AFR seeks to enhance the possibility of contrition and reconciliation among civil and religious representatives of the three Abrahamic traditions. AFR is a network of organizations bound together by the notion that all peoples seek and deserve dignity.

The Abrahamic Family Reunion (AFR) Project helps foster understanding and healing between and among followers of the three Abrahamic faiths.  Unlike traditional interfaith dialogue programs, the focus of the AFR Project is on the historical roots of Jewish-Christian-Muslim animosities from psychological and spiritual perspectives.  That is, it asks which historical clashes from the very beginnings of the Abrahamic relationships set the stage for the resentments, fears, and hatreds that have endured to the 21st century.  On the positive side, the approach also studies periods in history that can be recovered as precedents for mutual respect and creative coexistence.

The first task towards achieving the Project’s goals is to establish a network of authentic representatives of religious and civil communities, synagogues, churches, mosques, and organizations that are willing to participate in discussions within their respective communities.  The initial target areas are the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, New York and Boston. Using a variety of resources to stimulate discussion (research papers, DVDs, and study guides) facilitators encourage participants to share candidly their feelings, beliefs, and preconceptions about the other two faith traditions based on a challenging history.  Participants are then asked to discuss what they need to hear from the two other faiths to believe that the Abrahamic family reunion is possible.  The next step will be to build relationships between and among local interfaith communities and extend the discussion between the faith groups.

The Esalen/TRACK II project is guided by the Project Director’s study of the political psychology of ethnic and religious violence and more than twenty-five years of practical experience in intensive workshops with representatives of groups in conflicts, but primarily with Israelis and Arabs. This study and experience was begun during his career as a diplomat in the Middle East and North Africa and in the Department of State. It continued and intensified after he left government service. (Please see brief bio of Joseph Montville below)

The AFR Project does not presume to enter into or resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict; however, this work is undertaken with an acknowledgement of the special and painful history that exists between Jews, Muslims and Christians in the Middle East.  The complex history of the relationship starts with the political conflicts between the Prophet Muhammad in the 620’s CE and certain Jewish clans in Medina that the Muslims ultimately put down with violence. After building an empire that extended from the Atlantic to China, losses to Christian armies starting with the Battle of Vienna in 1683 began a long decline in Muslim power that accelerated with the surge of European Christian imperialism in the late 18th century.  The creation of Israel in 1948 was experienced as a humiliating defeat by Christian powers of Arabs and Muslims.

Of the three dyadic relationships, the longest problematic historical relationship is that of Christians and European Jews (as opposed to Jews from Muslim countries). Contemporary research indicates that Christian-Jewish enmity got its start in the wording of the Gospels of John and Matthew that laid the basis for a Church dogma of permanent condemnation and punishment of Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. This dogma, however, was formally abrogated by the Catholic Church in the document Nostra Aetate (In Our Time) issued by Pope Paul VI at the Vatican II Council in 1965 in the wake of the Holocaust.

Christian persecution of European Jews throughout history has inevitably seeded deep distrust among Jews in Israel and the Diaspora of Christian motives and, indeed, the ability of Christians to understand fully Jewish fears for survival. To build working trust in the Jewish-Christian relationship requires a separate healing effort that is necessary for reconciliation and a meaningful role for Christian support of Jewish-Muslim reconciliation processes. There are Christian-Muslim issues that need resolution, but they seem to be the least complicated in the triad.

The Abrahamic Family Reunion project has already begun research and writing of papers on the origins and difficult histories of the relationships based on the best scholarship available that will be presented in language accessible to the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish lay publics. The research and production of the materials will continue throughout the project as questions arise that need answers, until a “guidebook” for Abrahamic reconciliation emerges. We anticipate the steady expansion of the Abrahamic network beyond the Five Cities throughout the United States. Our experience and research to promote healing in Abrahamic history and reconciliation will be available to Europe, the Middle East, Asia and wherever help is needed and requested.

This is a big, ambitious project inspired by the enormity of its task and the hope it offers to a fearful world.

JVM  October  2008

Joseph Montville is director of Toward the Abrahamic Family Reunion, the Esalen Institute project to promote Muslim-Christian-Jewish reconciliation.  He is also  Senior Adviser on Interfaith Relations at Washington National Cathedral, and has appointments at American and George Mason Universities. Montville founded the preventive diplomacy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in 1994 and directed it until 2003. Before that he spent 23 years as a diplomat with posts in the Middle East and North Africa. He also worked in the State Department’s Bureaus of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs and Intelligence and Research, where he was chief of the Near East Division and director of the Office of Global Issues. Montville has held faculty appointments at the Harvard and University of Virginia Medical Schools. He defined the concept of “Track Two,” nonofficial diplomacy. Educated at Lehigh, Harvard, and Columbia Universities, Montville is the editor of Conflict and Peacemaking in Multiethnic Societies (Lexington Books, 1990) and editor (with Vamik Volkan and Demetrios Julius) of The Psychodynamics of International Relationships (Lexington Books, 1990 [vol. I], 1991 [vol. II]). In July, 2008, The International Society of Political Psychology awarded Montville its Nevitt Sanford prize “for distinguished professional contribution to political psychology,” at its annual meeting in Paris.


Political-Psychological Theory Informing the Project

Joseph Montville

The Psychology of Enmity

There is impressive evidence of the dominance in universal human needs not only for food, shelter, and physical safety, but also for recognition, acceptance and respect, what I call the iron laws of human nature in individuals, tribes and nations. The most persistent evidence of the sources of continued antagonism and inclination toward violence comes from documentation of wounds to the self-concept or self-esteem of identity groups–ethnic, religious, linguistic, indeed, whatever trait a group considers its most noteworthy characteristic. Thus the new realpolitik, in my opinion, recognizes that conflict resolution and peace building can succeed only if the circumstances that originally produced a people’s sense of victimhood are recognized and dealt with. There is a need for healing processes that go far beyond problem-solving and deal-making.

At the intersection of psychology, religion, political violence, and eventual peacemaking is the critically important phenomenon of dehumanization.  This occurs when one group or nation prepares its people for repression of or aggression against another group leading quite possibly to all out war and even genocide.  Dehumanization is a group psychological process that combines unconscious denial and repression of truth, depersonalization and compartmentalization of moral reasoning. One of the most well known examples of the latter is found in Robert J. Lifton’s The Nazi Doctors, based on extensive interviews with German physicians who worked in the death camps, support staff for the most meticulously organized genocide in recorded history.  The doctors found ways to wall their minds off from the moral demands of their Hippocratic Oath to serve all humankind and above all do no harm.  As I wrote in another essay, the Nazi doctors’ “consciences appeared to be separated into the half that accepted systematic murder and the other half that enjoyed a quiet evening at home with wife, children and dog.”

Learning to Fear and Hate People not Like Us

The late John Mack, professor of psychiatry at Harvard and one time president of the International Society of Political Psychology, wrote that:

“In the representational phase [of psychological development] the dichotomization of experience becomes elaborated through language into familiar paired opposites, such as tall and short, strong and weak, good and evil, dark and light… Thus notions of good and evil, me and not me, self and other, our people and them, God and the Devil, become powerful organizing representations in the realm of human relationships, and serve as the perceptual foundation for the organization of the internal and external worlds and constitute the psychological foundation upon which social organization takes place.”

Up until about age two, a child’s sense of “ethnicity” is based on family contexts.  There are familiar clothes, foods and smells, songs, dances, religious rituals, or sports. These are value-neutral in terms of relationships with other people outside the family or extended family setting.  Beyond two, the child starts picking up signals from family and other group members that some people out there are not like his people.  They do not wash very much and they tend to smell bad.  They are tricky, not to be trusted.  In other words the construct of the inferior or dangerous other enters the growing child’s consciousness.

The dichotomous us and them begin to be rooted.  This, in turn, lays the basis for nationalist identification.  People need to feel that they belong somewhere.  The ethnic group or nation is the basic political unit of identity, and nationalism is the manifestation of the sense of collective identity. It presumes membership in a specific group defined by overlapping shared characteristics like religion, language, common history, laws, social institutions and customs.  Nationalism as defined here is neither good nor bad, but normal.  Indeed, psychotherapists have found that patients who have no sense of belonging to some identifiable group show symptoms of schizophrenia. Extreme nationalism is another story.  It is a state of collective mind that is filled with rage alternating with despair, and it can create an environment that can lead to political violence and war.

Extreme nationalism is a result of painful, traumatic experiences in history or in recent times, or both, with each reinforcing the sense of loss, which has not been mourned. Extreme nationalism is usually nourished by a powerful sense of injustice on the part of the victimized nation or identity group, and a feeling that the outside world does not care about the injustice it has suffered.  The historic wounds are felt as assaults on the self-concept and therefore ultimate safety and security of the victim group.  Its very existence could be threatened. Such assaults generate an automatic instinct toward counter-aggression, or revenge. The situation is also psychologically intolerable because one of the principal characteristics of victimhood is the fear that the aggressor is only waiting for a chance to commit another act of violence. Thus the group, tribe or nation is in a more or less permanent state of vengeful rage and fear of further attacks.

History, of course, is the story of victims and victimizers.

This chapter from Reconciliation, Coexistence, and Justice in Interethnic Conflict: Theory and Practice edited by Mohamed Abu Nimer lays out a theory of healing history, with stories from real life, which has world-wide application including in the Abrahamic relationship.

Justice and the Burdens of History

Joseph V. Montville


Justice may be one of the most useful concepts in coming to grips with the challenge of peacebuilding.  A good deal of the discussion of justice focuses on retribution, how a social system protects its members from various forms of harm or transgressions by other members.  Here the threat and imposition of punishment against perpetrators is seen as basic to the functioning of a society.  Recently, there has been increasing interest in the concept of restorative justice that goes beyond simple punishment to seeking healing of conflicted relationships as the most reliable way of defending against recurrence of crime. This essay deals with an aspect of restorative justice as it relates psychologically to the dignity and self-esteem of individuals and the design of reconciliation strategies for peacemaking.

In its most general sense, justice implies order and morality.  That is, justice means predictability in the daily life of a community and its individual members and the observance of basic rules governing right and wrong behavior.   Justice serves the interests of life and the advancement of the human species, because it is perhaps the most fundamental element of peace.  Indeed, it is a truism that there is no peace without justice.  But from both a moral and dynamic perspective, it is very important to define peace and justice not only as the absence of war and the enforcement of laws, but also as progress toward the optimum environment for the fulfillment of human developmental potential.

Observers of human behavior in society, from Hobbes and Marx to Freud and Durkheim, have worked to construct analytical theories to predict human behavior and the course of politics and history.  More recently, the eclectic community of scholars who have created the discipline of political psychology have illuminated the conceptual landscape by combining the knowledge of human development and motivation with the knowledge of social systems and institutions.  One of political psychology’s most important contributions has been the development of human needs theory to explain the biological and psychosocial imperatives of human existence and how frustration of natural instincts and needs leads to conflict and reactive violence. Human needs theory is essential to understanding the genesis of political conflict in general and of ethnic and sectarian conflict and violence in particular.  It is also critical to the design of effective conflict resolution intervention strategies in the cause of genuine peace and justice.

Human Needs and the Defense of the Self

Adapting Abraham Maslow’s (1954) graduated listing of needs genetic to every human being, there are (1) the basic physical survival needs for food, shelter, clothing, reasonable health, and safety from attack.  Then come (2) the relational or social needs for affection and connectedness to nuclear family and wider identity group.  The more psychologically complex needs for self-esteem and the esteem of others-for dignity-which are critical for a basic sense of security follow as (3), and the self-actualization stage, or the opportunity to fulfill one’s developmental potential, is at (4) humankind’s luxury aspiration.

In preindustrial societies the possibilities for individuals discovering their gifts for science, the arts, scholarship, athletics, or other life skills are harshly limited by the need to devote most of their waking hours to securing enough food and maintaining shelter to stay alive and physically functional.  In industrial societies there are far more opportunities to discover individual talents because of the division of labor and variety of specialties the marketplace and community require.  Yet even in these cases, sudden loss of a job or serious illness quickly knocks one back down to the level of survival anxiety unless there are family or social safety nets that guarantee basic needs regardless of the individual’s ability to earn.  Thus, as James Chowning Davies (1986) puts it: “Physical needs are well secured only where people are living in the most developed, integrated, prosperous, interdependent, and nonviolent industrialized societies-and only among perhaps 10 to 20 percent of the people living in these advanced, emancipated societies.  It has taken more than four hundred years-from the wars of the Reformation to the second generation after World War II-to secure the good life for what remains a minority in the most orderly and open conditions (p.51).”

Davies also notes the sense of powerlessness that accompanies the inability of the vast majority of people to secure their basic physical and esteem needs.  It is clear that this level of analysis raises the broadest issues of social and distributive justice that are beyond the scope of this essay. The focus here is on identity and esteem needs, which are extremely vulnerable to political violence and aggression.  Sadly, for many nations and peoples, traumatic loss dominates their memory of history.  It is these losses, these wounds that constitute the burdens of history and the enduring sense of injustice that make peacebuilding so difficult for traditional diplomats and political leaders.

The psychology of victimhood is an automatic product of aggression and resultant traumatic loss in individuals and peoples.  The refusal of aggressors to acknowledge the pain of the hurts inflicted on victims, and therefore the absence of remorse by the aggressors, creates an overwhelming sense of injustice in the victims.  A society, a leadership, a world, and, indeed, a universe the victims had heretofore assumed would shield them from harm have all let them down.  Their new psychology would henceforth keep the victimized people highly suspicious and on permanent alert for future acts of aggression and violence.  It would also make them strongly resistant to pressures to make peace before the aggressors acknowledge the victims’ losses and ask forgiveness for their violence.  The victims’ collective sense of security in their identity, their self-concept,  their basic dignity, and a future for their children have been dealt a devastating blow.

This concept of victimhood psychology is derived from dynamic or depth psychology, especially the subfield called ego psychology or psychology of the self. But it is interesting, and gratifying, to note that some specialists in philosophy and law have come to similar conclusions about the harm to the victim’s self resulting from criminal acts.  Thus, Jeffrie Murphy (1988), dealing with the issues of forgiveness, mercy, and justice, sees the resentment in victims of crime, and their consequent demand for retributive justice, as defense, above all, of the self .  Murphy writes, “In my view, resentment (in its range from righteous anger to righteous hatred) functions primarily in defense, not of all moral values and norms, but rather of certain values of the self….I am…suggesting that the primary value defended by the passion of resentment is self-respect, that proper self-respect is essentially tied to the passion of resentment…”(p. 16). Gregory Rochlin (1978), emeritus professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School, has written from the perspective of a clinician at a community-based psychiatry department at Cambridge Hospital.  In Man’s Aggression: The Defense of the Self, Rochlin reported on his experience in treating patients in addition to his scholarly research.  He found that insults to or aggression against the self-concept produced an automatic reactive aggression in defense of the self.  His thesis is that narcissism, which he defined as love of the self, is a fundamental part of the human being’s psychological security system.  Narcissism is critical to the defense of the self.  Thus when the love of the self is jolted either through threat, insult or, especially, physical assault, there is an automatic, fear-based psychophysiological reaction. Everett Worthington (1998) has described the fear-based stress response system of the victim as elevations in epinephrine, corticosteroids, and other stress hormones.  This stress-response system can be mobilized by the sight of the aggressor, or hearing sounds associated with him or them, or simply through recalling from memory the original threat or attack.

The initial reaction of the victim is to avoid or withdraw from the offender.  If this is not possible, then anger (narcissistic rage), retaliation, or fighting (in defense of the wounded self) occurs.  And, as Worthington writes, “if such fighting is unwise, self-destructive, or futile, the person might exhibit the human equivalent of a submissive gesture-depression, which declares that the person is weak or helpless and needs succor; depression usually elicits help and inhibits aggression” (p. 113-14).  It should be noted that animals show similar patterns of flight, fight, or surrender as part of an instinctive physical defense system when under attack.

Thus in victimhood psychology, the individual or group, which by definition has sustained traumatic loss, is overwhelmed with a sense of existential injustice, and yet, in the absence of acknowledgment and remorse from the aggressor, still fears further attacks.  Memory sustains fear, which activates stress-related hormones, which overall mobilize individuals or groups into militance in defense of the self.  In this high state of narcissistic rage, sense of injustice, basic distrust, and continual fear, it is little wonder that ethnic and sectarian conflict has always been and continues to be so resistant to traditional diplomacy and negotiating processes.  As with individual victims of trauma, peoples and nations require complex healing processes to get beyond their psychological and physiological symptoms to become full partners in reconciliation and peacebuilding.

Individual and Group Reaction to Traumatic Loss

Conflict resolution and reconciliation strategies often must deal with contemporary victims of traumatic violence and loss as well as members of identity groups or nations that have a memory of violent aggression in the past decades or centuries.  This produces a victimhood psychology based on group memory of the violent loss accompanied by an enduring injustice. Sometimes we must deal with both historic and personal loss in the same people.  Thus Jews in Israel might be recent victims of Palestinian terrorist bombings in buses or outdoor markets.  But they also have an internalized memory of Christian oppression in Europe throughout the ages and the nightmare of the Holocaust.  Catholics in Ireland have burned into their memory Cromwell’s genocidal aggression, repression, and degradation in the 17th century, the passive British genocide of the potato famines in the 19th century, and the experience of combat with the British police and army in the twentieth century.  Palestinians share the collective Arab memory of humiliation by European imperialism starting with Napoleon’s landing in Egypt in 1798, and more specifically their own defeat, displacement, and expulsion when the Jewish state was formed in 1948. As China defines its future relationship with the rest of the world, it is haunted by the memory of humiliation by Britain in the Opium Wars of 1839 and 1856, and the futile Boxer Rebellion of 1899 against victorious Western powers. Japan’s “rape” of Nanking in 1937 only nourished China’s sense of victimhood and its determination under Mao Tse Tung to regain its self-respect and the respect of other nations by whatever means necessary.

Psychiatry and clinical psychology continue to be the most important sources of scientific knowledge of the effect of political violence and traumatic loss on individuals and nations.  Another Harvard psychiatrist from the Cambridge Hospital has written what may be the most definitive study to date on the effects of traumatic loss. It  is of equal value to individual rape or torture victims as it is to entire groups and nations that have suffered violent defeat.  In Trauma and Recovery (1992), Judith Lewis Herman has distilled a description of the effects of traumatic loss and a prescriptive approach that, as the cases below will attempt to show, is as relevant to ethnic and sectarian conflict resolution processes as it is to individual victims.

In a chapter entitled “Remembrance and Mourning,” Lewis emphasizes a theme derived from her clinical experience that has been dominant in the work of the leading psychiatric political psychologist, Vamik Volkan (1988, 1997), and this writer (Montville, 1993 1997).  She writes, “Trauma inevitably brings loss.  Even those who are lucky enough to escape physically unscathed still lose the internal psychological structures of a self securely attached to others.  Those who are physically harmed lose in addition their sense of bodily integrity…Traumatic losses rupture the ordinary sequence of generations and defy the ordinary social conventions of bereavement.  The telling of the trauma story thus inevitably plunges the survivor into profound grief….[which] is the most necessary and the most dreaded task…of this stage of recovery” (p. 188).

From the perspective of psychologically sensitive conflict resolution interventions, the challenge in dealing with victimhood psychology is that of reviving the mourning process, which has been suspended as a result of the traumatic experience, and helping to move it toward completion.  Storytelling is a central part of  the process, not only for the victim reconstructing the story, but also for the persons representing the aggressor group.  This form of telling and listening is best accomplished in the problem-solving workshop, the dominant tool of the conflict resolution practitioner.  But as will be seen below in the matter of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, storytelling can also achieve its purpose in large, public settings.

For contemporary victims of political trauma, the process of eliciting details of the violence and loss can be difficult.  Not knowing is one way of describing the victim’s strong reluctance to recall the terror and pain associated with the event or events.  For representatives of groups or nations that have suffered traumatic loss in the past, the memory of which is passed from generation to generation, the problem is somewhat easier to overcome.  But even here, it is critically important for the third party in a dialogue to show great sensitivity in assuring the workshop participants of the safety of the dialogue setting and constantly validating their personal dignity and the experience they are relating.

Storytelling is also a form of ritual testimony that has healing powers.  As Lewis (1992) writes, “Testimony has both a private dimension, which is confessional and spiritual, and a public aspect, which is political and judicial. The use of the word testimony links both meanings, giving a new and larger dimension to the [victim’s] individual experience” (p. 181).  Lewis cites a therapist working with Southeast Asian refugees who says that in the telling of the story it is no longer an account of shame and humiliation.  Rather it becomes a story about dignity and virtue.  Victims in the process restore and regain their lives so that they can move on.  There are several examples below of individual stories told in small workshops or as public testimony before a truth and reconciliation commission.

At this point, the author recalls the story of a Croatian Protestant minister who described to a group of Serbs, Croats, and Muslims in 1996 how Serb militiamen cut a two-foot gash in his back with a bayonet and raped his daughter in his presence. His listeners were stunned by the brutality of the acts but also deeply moved by his courage and commitment to rebuilding community with the Serbs of eastern Croatia. The minister had regained his dignity and established himself as an exemplar of moral power.  Skeptics may still challenge the contention that the therapeutic treatment of individual victims of trauma can be used to guide the design and implementation of conflict resolution strategies in ethnic and sectarian conflicts. Thus, it is again gratifying to turn to another practitioner of the law for support of this thesis.

Public Acts of Healing

Justice Richard Goldstone of the South African Constitutional Court is a veteran of commissions of inquiry and international criminal tribunals.  In 1991, he organized and led an important commission in South Africa investigating public violence, and he headed the tribunal in The Hague for Bosnia and Rwanda from 1994 to 1996.  In January, 1997, Goldstone gave a speech at the United States Holocaust Museum entitled “Healing Wounded People.”  In light of the foregoing discussion on the psychology of healing, the following excerpts are quite remarkable.  Goldstone said:

“The most important aspect of justice is healing wounded people.  I make this point because justice is infrequently looked at as a form of healing-a form of therapy for victims who cannot begin their healing process until there is some public acknowledgement of what has befallen them….In South Africa, how do we deal with the past? Should we brush it under the carpet?  Why reopen the sores?  In Rwanda, how can we deal with a country that suffered one million dead in a genocide?  In attempting to answer these questions, the people who should be consulted more than anyone else are the victims.  What do they want and need for themselves and their families?…One thing I have learned in my travels in former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and South Africa is that where there have been egregious human rights violations which have gone unaccounted for, where there has been no justice, where the victims have not received any acknowledgement, where they have been forgotten, where there has been national amnesia, the effect is a cancer in the society and is the reason that explains the spiral of violence that the world has seen in former Yugoslavia for centuries and in Rwanda for decades, as obvious examples.”  [Author’s transcription of audio tape.]

The healing effect of truth and reconciliation commissions varies considerably from one set of victims to another.  The family of the late Steve Biko in South Africa has strongly criticized the provisions of the Truth and Reconciliation law that provides for impunity for military or police political torture or murder if confessed to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).  And a recent unpublished memorandum from Wilhelm Verwoerd in South Africa quotes a black South African saying, “What really makes me angry about the TRC and [its chairman, Archbishop Desmond] Tutu is that they are putting pressure on us to forgive….I don’t know if I will ever be ready to forgive.  I carry this ball of anger inside me and I don’t even know where to begin dealing with it.  The oppression was bad, but what is much worse, what makes me even more angry, is that they are trying to dictate my forgiveness.”

This is a valuable piece of evidence in support of the point Judith Lewis Herman makes in Trauma and Recovery.  In trying to work through the psychological impact of traumatic violence, victims may generate a fantasy of forgiveness-or be urged to forgive by outsiders.  In this situation victims imagine that they can rise above their rage and “erase the impact of the trauma through a willed, defiant act of love.  But,” Herman continues, “it is not possible to exorcise the trauma, either through hatred or love…the fantasy of forgiveness often becomes a cruel torture….True forgiveness cannot be granted until the perpetrator has sought and earned it through confession, repentance, and restitution” (pp. 189-90).

Yet, for all its obvious imperfections, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has made a major contribution to South Africa’s transition to majority rule.  Storytelling has had its impact.  A program on National Public Radio in Washington, D.C. in September, 1997, carried a statement by one of the members of the TRC named Mary Burton, a well-known human rights activist. She says:

“One of the amazing things is the effect that telling their story has on people…I think of three mothers, for example, of young men who were killed, who were really bowed down by not only grief but long grief; long, exhausted grief…They were witnesses when some of the police who were involved in the incident were questioned at a public hearing….I still couldn’t understand exactly why it seemed to have such a transforming effect on them, because on the final day of the hearings they went home singing and smiling and dancing….And one of them said to me: ‘Now everybody knows, my neighbors know, that my son was not a criminal.  He was a freedom fighter.’  For years she had been looked at as the mother of a criminal, and now she could hold up her head in her own circles.  And so for her it was the public acknowledgment that was important.” (Script, 9/15/97, p. 4.)

Even without expressions of remorse or repentance by perpetrators, a truth and reconciliation commission performs the crucial task of acknowledgment of the victim’s loss. The violation of basic human rights becomes a permanent part of the state’s public record, and the state assumes a protective stewardship for the victim.  This provides an essential assurance to the victims that their future safety is protected.  There is a noteworthy example of a public acknowledgment of the losses of one side in an ethnic conflict that was unilateral and not part of an interactive process.  Yet there is no question that this act, by a chief of state, was an important contribution to an evolving peace process between two war-time enemies.  On January 1, 1978, October, a widely read Egyptian magazine, published a New Year’s interview with President Anwar Sadat.  Far and away the favorite leader of political psychologists, it was Sadat who, in his stunning visit to Jerusalem in November, 1977, had told the Israeli Knesset that 70% of the problem between Israel and the Arabs was psychological.  In the January interview, Sadat again displayed his amazing insight into the victimhood psychology of Israelis, notwithstanding the fact that Israel had defeated Egypt militarily in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973.  (Many believe that Egypt nevertheless won a significant psychological victory in 1973, in the surprise Yom Kippur attack across the Suez Canal.  One of the consequences was the fall of the Golda Meir government in Israel.)

In the interview Sadat tossed several bouquets to his eventual Israeli partners in peacemaking.  Of Menachem Begin, “I have read his writings and concluded that he is a man with whom understanding can be reached.”  On Moshe Dayan and Ezer Weizman, “Dayan is a hawk which is natural after his great victory in 1967 and after what happened to him in the October [1973] war.  However, Dayan was flexible during our talks…. Weizman is a real gentleman and is witty.  [Noting that Weizman’s son had been seriously wounded in fighting along the Suez Canal]  How can a man like this not want peace.  There is a bereaved father and mother in every Israeli home.”

To the Israeli people as a whole Sadat said:

“All Israelis are under arms until age 55.  They know war and know it is loathsome.  Death is loathsome and destruction harder to bear than death.  Jews are victims of war, politics and hatred.  They have special problems, which we must know so as to understand their positions.  Jews have lived in fear for thousands of years, exposed to many massacres and persecutions.  When they established Israel, imagination became reality and fear a certainty.  They are strangers in a strange land.  They are surrounded by millions of hostile Arabs.”

It would be difficult to overestimate the impact of Sadat’s words on Israeli public opinion, and especially that of the political leadership at the time.  He undertook an act of clear and unambiguous acknowledgment of the pain involved in being Jewish (without so saying explicitly) in a Christian, European environment throughout the centuries.  He not only communicated to the Jewish people that he understood, but he also used his leadership position in Egypt and the Arab world-Cairo being the communications capital of the Arab world-to educate his own people in the psychology of Jewishness.  This act helped Arabs to understand a little better the vigor of Israeli aggressiveness in defense of the collective self and set the stage for the ultimate Camp David accords by providing a rationale for ending the state of war and making some sort of peace.  The robustness of Israeli-Palestinian attacks and counterattacks continued down through the signature of the Oslo agreements in 1993, but the state of (cold) peace between Israel and Egypt endured, even after Sadat’s assassination, despite provocation on other Arab fronts.

Private Acts of Healing

The problem-solving workshop or seminar for representatives of groups in conflict is practically always successful in beginning a healing process if the third party facilitators are psychologically sensitive.  The safe environment within which individuals can present grievances permits each side to gradually educate the other in the dimensions of loss felt by the other.  Quite naturally, one or the other side may become very defensive in the face of broadside accusations, especially if it feels that its losses in the conflict have not been recognized or appreciated, which in the beginning is almost always the case.  This situation can be characterized as a competition of victimhoods.  Indeed the sense that the other side never truly understands one’s fear and pain usually endures long into a reconciliation process.

However, there is one tool in the problem-solving workshop that consistently overcomes the defenses of sides that believe they are victims of unfair collective attack.  This is the telling of personal stories of loss.  As Justice Goldstone and other witnesses stated about the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, storytelling usually had a cathartic effect on the victim telling the story, which, as has been noted, became part of the official, public record of the state.  But in the private confines of the small, facilitated workshop, storytelling also penetrates the defenses of the other side that has stoutly resisted the broadside accusations. This writer participated in several workshops in which this phenomenon was apparent.

In a workshop in Austria in 1983, facilitated by an interdisciplinary group from the American Psychiatric Association, Israelis, Egyptians, and Palestinians met and unburdened themselves of broad political and personal complaints and they got along reasonably well as intellectuals, professionals, and former government officials.  But they did not engage at a profound emotional level until a physician from Gaza told the story of his nephew whose eardrum had been broken by an Israeli soldier who had struck him on suspicion of having thrown a stone.  The physician insisted that the boy of twelve years had not participated in the stone throwing.  He had just had the bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The story was painful-and entirely credible-for the Israelis.  The storyteller was their companion in the Austrian workshop. They shared meals with him, went on outings, and sang songs in the evenings after meetings with him.  There was no saving distance between the victim and the victimizers-representatives of the society that sent the military occupiers to Gaza.  The same would have been true if the victim had been an Israeli child harmed by a Palestinian aggressor.

In this case, a Likud-associated Israeli in the workshop, who admitted to having made letter-bombs in London to be used against British targets during the mandate period, was clearly affected by the story of the deafened nephew.  He said he had good contacts in the Israeli defense ministry, and he provided a telephone number for the Gazan to call him directly if and when he ever endured another act of violence at the hands of the Israeli occupation force.  Thus a personal Israeli-Palestinian alliance was forged which, if nourished after the meeting, promised to endure.  Even if this alliance were to wither over time from lack of use, the exchange between the occupier and the occupied established a moral symmetry in the workshop that permitted subsequent collaborative engagement by all the parties in serious exploration of next plausible steps in the peace process.

In 1992, the writer was part of a third party team assembled by Vamik Volkan, M.D., founder and director of the Center for the Study of Mind and Human Interaction at the University of Virginia, to run a Baltic-Russian workshop in Kaunas, Lithuania. The dynamic in the early stages of the workshop was similar to that in the Austrian meeting of Arabs and Israelis.  The humiliation of Soviet occupation of the Baltic countries-Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia-was very fresh in Baltic minds.  Indeed, despite the global recognition of the three states’ independence there were still residual Russian military forces in each.  This situation generated enormous resentment.

For their part, the Russian participants, some who were residents in the Baltic states, some from Moscow, including government officials and the Russian Ambassador to Estonia, were very defensive. Some complained about the way the Balts used the term Soviet and Russian interchangeably.  They said the Soviets, the oppressors, were by definition multiethnic-Ukrainians, Georgians, Armenians, Uzbeks.  The Russians, on the other hand, were not only identifiable by their Russianness, but were also the greatest victims of the Soviet system. They were forced to sacrifice their standard of living so that other Soviet nationalities, including the Baltic peoples, could have a better life.

The broadsides continued to be exchanged, as in the Israeli\Arab workshop in Austria.  Then a Lithuanian-American woman told her story.  She had been a student in the medical faculty.  The day in 1939 that the Red Army entered Kaunas, she had been walking to the apartment building where her best friend, also a medical student, lived with her family.  As she approached the building, she saw a Soviet military truck pull up to its entrance.  Soldiers stepped out and entered the building.  Shortly thereafter, the soldiers reappeared, leading her best friend and her parents, who were put into the truck which sped away.  In the hushed conference room, the Lithuanian-American physician ended her story.  She never saw her best friend again.

This first-person account of painful loss, which could never be forgotten, did much to bring home to the Russians in the workshop the sense of helplessness and humiliation the Baltic people experienced because of the Soviet occupation.  Again there was no escape from this truth.  The Russians and the Latvians, Estonians and Lithuanians were taking meals together, and even singing together during evening recreation.  There was no chance to use the traditional psychological devices of avoidance or denial of unpleasant facts.  Thus the level of discourse changed meaningfully in the workshop.  A retired Russian NKVD (predecessor of the KGB) officer spoke as much to herself as to the others:

“Looking back over history it is hard to understand what happened, how and why.  My father was a military man.  His duty was to save the Baltics from fascism.  This seemed normal to us.  We did not know of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.  We were all unfree and victims.  Six people in my family were put in concentration camps.  This was, sadly, routine at the time.

After World War II, we set out to rehabilitate the countries that had suffered under fascism.  We saw the Baltic countries joining in this effort.  I first saw that the Balts were fighting Soviet domination at C.S.C.E. [Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe] meetings.  It was a slow realization for me and painful to understand.  I am ashamed of Russian behavior in Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries. We behaved badly in these countries.”     [Author’s unpublished memorandum]

There is much more about the Russian-Baltic Track II diplomacy interactions than can be described here.   Suffice it to say that these unofficial interventions were buttressed by the active role of the High Commissioner on National Minorities of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe.  The commissioner, former Dutch Foreign Minister Max van der Stoel, succeeded in emotionally defusing and legally moderating the language issues requiring Russian-speakers to learn Estonian or Latvian.  The third party assistance in the aggregate contributed to a relatively smooth transition in the three Baltic states.   Russians found ways to acknowledge and express levels of remorse for the moral debts the Soviet Union had accumulated in the Baltic states.  In the process these small states were able to sense that a measure of justice and equity was returning to their relationship with their giant neighbor.  However, they worked to fortify this new feeling of relative security by pushing eagerly for membership in the Council of Europe, the European Union, and even NATO.

This chapter concludes with an account of only partial success of reconciliation efforts in an enduring sectarian conflict, that of Northern Ireland.  There has been an impressive, one could say heroic, struggle to negotiate a settlement of the conflict as seen in the Good Friday agreement of 1998.  There have been enormously gratifying referenda in support of the agreement by all the major parties and the Protestant and Catholic voters.  These majorities in both communities have made the rational choice to end the sectarian terrorism, organize their self-government, and get on with their lives in the broader context of the European Union.  And yet, the burdens of history on this conflict have only received perfunctory attention.  There is an enduring sense of unatoned loss on the part of Irish Catholics in their struggle for justice and dignity under the long rule of Britain.  And there is deep-seated fear in the Protestant, unionist community because of the IRA reluctance to decommission its weapons.  Even if and when the disarming process begins, it is likely that the Protestants will continue to suspect the motives of the IRA culture.  And it is also likely that armed republican units will continue to exist for the foreseeable future.

The complexity of the reconciliation process for Northern Ireland-indeed for Britain and Ireland-was revealed in a long dinner conversation between a unionist and a Catholic nationalist, constitutional politician who were participants in a Track II workshop organized by the author in Strasbourg, France in 1993.  The unionist entered the discussion deeply suspicious of what his people called a “pan-nationalist conspiracy” that brought together the Catholics of Northern Ireland, the Irish Republic, and the Irish Catholics of the United States to work relentlessly for the reunification of the island of Ireland.  For Protestants, this meant not only losing their identity in a sea of Irish Catholics, it meant also the prospect of Catholic revenge against them for centuries of British depredations.

The task for the Catholic politician in this three-hour conversation was to ease the Protestant’s fears by explaining how he had personally suffered at the hands of the IRA.  He described attacks on his home, threats to his family, even the bones that IRA thugs had broken in his body.  The man had paid a big price for his commitment to constitutional government and nonviolence.  In the telling of his story, he convinced the unionist that there was not a pan-nationalist conspiracy.  This was significant because the politician went on to become a strong advocate of the peace process.  Yet he ultimately became identified with the opposition to the Good Friday agreement, reflecting the Protestant community that continues to be suspicious of  the motives of Catholics..

There are few experts on the thinking of the IRA and its splinter groups.  The most seasoned observers were profoundly impressed by the long effort of John Hume, leader of the constitutional Catholic Social Democratic Labor Party, to persuade the IRA, through Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, to declare a cease-fire and join the peace process.  John Hume and David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, had earned their Nobel Peace Prize.  Yet there has been little evidence of any of the healing necessary to begin a genuine reconciliation between Protestants and Catholics.  There is instead a deal, supported by majorities and sincerely friendly governments in London, Dublin, and Washington, D.C.

Yet the requisite acknowledgment of British/Protestant moral responsibility for past wrongs has not been part of the Catholic-Protestant dialogue among politicians in Northern Ireland.  There was the significant exception of initiatives taken by British Prime Minister Tony Blair in acknowledging England’s responsibility in the starvation of Irish men, women, and children in the potato famines in 1846 and 1848.  Blair also supported the building of a monument at Liverpool cemetery to the memory of the Irish famine victims buried there.  And he also reopened the official inquiry into British police responsibility for the killing of unarmed Catholic demonstrators on “Bloody Sunday,” in Londonderry in 1972.  It is safe to say that Tony Blair played a big part in the success of the pro-peace referenda among Catholic voters in 1998.  But from the psychological point of view, there is so much more to acknowledge.

There may be a clue in the assessment of Paul Arthur (1997), a highly respected Ulster University professor, and Catholic, who has won the confidence of unionists and worked mightily in Track II diplomacy.  In describing the impact of the Catholic hunger strikers in Belfast in 1980-81, Arthur notes that those who died were in a long tradition of Irish Catholics who offered up their lives in the struggle for dignity and justice against British rule.  The strike was redolent of martyrdom and religious symbolism even though IRA members were for the most part anti-Church and atheistic followers of  Marxist revolutionary ideology.

There was great drama in the strikes and deathwatches.  An iconography emerged with barbed wire from prison represented as crowns of thorns and the dying men seen in postures of crucifixion.  The sacrifice of the mass was being enacted.  Images and evocations of the Blessed Virgin as consoler were seen and heard.   The sense of persecution and loss, and almost spiritual and existential feeling of injustice, is the substance of the memory of the hunger strike, but also of the potato famine, and Cromwell’s armies in the 17th century.

It is well that the 1998 peace agreement was made on Good Friday.  But the Resurrection  for the Protestants and Catholics of Northern Ireland has yet to take place.


The inescapable lesson of this analysis of the burdens of history on ethnic and sectarian conflicts is that even the most brilliant negotiator can at best help make a temporary deal between adversaries unless he or she also advances a genuine process of healing the wounds of history.  It is distressing, even tragic, that diplomats, most politicians, and almost all professors of political science and international relations are ignorant of this relentless reality.  The scientific evidence for the critical importance of healing is available as are methods and processes for carrying it out. Political leaders can acknowledge publicly the moral debts of their nations; senior clergy can do the same for their followers.  Historians can undertake their own truth commissions in reviewing and revising tendentious studies and textbooks the way French and German scholars did after World War II. Television documentaries and public affairs programs can address the burdens of history.  Educational tourism for both sides in an historic conflict can help people to come to terms with the past, or even rediscover some shared past glories with their contemporary enemies.  Poets, playwrights, painters, sculptors, and composers can use their media to communicate messages of atonement.

There have been brave, if fitful, attempts to integrate healing processes into formal peacemaking.  The important gestures of British Prime Minister Tony Blair toward the Irish cited above are an example.  Another example occurred when the U.S. State Department’s Middle East peace team of Dennis Ross and Aaron Miller tried, unsuccessfully, to arrange for Yasser Arafat to visit the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. in 1998.  The diplomats thought that Arafat’s symbolic acknowledgement of the burdens of history on the Jewish people might increase Jewish trust in the peace process.  Ironically, while Arafat was ready to make the visit, an official of the Holocaust Museum, unmoved by the gesture toward healing, blocked it.

But the struggle to raise public consciousness of the critical importance of actual healing in political relationships must and will continue.  Perhaps the skeptics will be impressed finally by the efforts of the halt and lame Pope John Paul II. In the Jubilee Year 2000, he is exerting every fiber of his body to travel to the appropriate sites to acknowledge the moral debts of Christendom to its victims throughout the centuries: the Orthodox, the Muslim and Christian victims of the Crusaders, those savaged by the Inquisition, but above all to the Jewish people.  Perhaps a new definition of realpolitik will emerge from these efforts that emphasize the essential role of reconciliation in diplomacy and peacemaking. Perhaps the idea of justice, in its broadest sense, will find its way into the thinking and agendas of diplomats and statesmen.

Further Thoughts on the Psychodynamic Theory and Practice of Healing History

Joseph V. Montville

Fear and Hatred of the Other

There is an account of an experiment that I have never forgotten to explain scapegoating under stress. Many years ago a scientist put two dogs on an electric grid with the current turned off. At first the dogs simply stood together in a normal, “social” manner.  Then the scientist started to turn up the current and the dogs became obviously distressed.  At a high point in the voltage, one dog attacked the other.  It is clear that neither dog had done anything else to provoke the other.  Both were innocent.  Both were also increasingly distressed, feeling that they were in real danger.  They also sensed that they had no control over their circumstances.  There was nothing they could do to stop the pain.  The situation was, indeed, out of control.  Either of the dogs could have taken the initiative to attack the other.  The instinct to attack came from a powerful urge to restore the sense of control by identifying whatever was available as the source of distress and attacking it to make it stop

Some examples of the dehumanization process referred to earlier include nineteenth and early twentieth century English political cartoons depicting Irish Catholics as knuckle-dragging primates with large heads and protruding jaws and teeth, very similar to caricatures in journals and magazines in the United States of African Americans during the same time period.

During World War II, the U.S. government distributed color posters to cities and towns throughout the country depicting Japanese soldiers as monkeys in trees.

Arab publications had a tradition of representing Jews as hooked-nosed, money-mad, conspirators who steal Gentile children to kill for blood sacrifices.

Arab anti-Semitic imagery mirrored European Christian depictions in the nineteenth century which were widely disseminated in the Middle East in the twentieth.

In the wars of former Yugoslavia there were vicious stereotypes of Orthodox Serbs-“Asiatic barbarians”–by Catholic Croatians, who in turn were collectively called Nazis by Serbs.  Both “Christian” peoples, Serbs and Croats, had been ruthless in degrading and dehumanizing Muslim Bosniaks with the former justifying genocidal acts, as in Srbrenica, as revenge for Ottoman Turkish rule.

“Orthodox” Russian leaders have had no compunction about bombing Muslim Chechens who belong to a category of Caucasian and Central Asian Muslims Russians traditionally dismiss as “black asses.”

During the 1975-79 reign of terror by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, Pol Pot committed “auto-genocide” of educated Khmers whose ethnic and religious roots he shared, but his killers made a special effort to wipe out entirely the Chams, Khmers who were Muslims.

This is not an exhaustive list of dehumanizing tragedies.  The bad news is that throughout history dehumanization and its resultant brutality have been predictable as tribes and nations seek room to expand often through attacking neighboring tribes and nations. Identification of enemies, seeking out of scapegoats, blaming, dehumanization are regular feature of inter-group relations in times of distress or as a response to trauma.

For example, the fourteenth century outbreak of Black Plague in Europe. The disease first appeared in Constantinople in 1334 and moved westward through the Crimea to Europe where it raged from 1348-49.  It was a bacterial infection transmitted to human beings by fleas from infected rats causing delirium, black hemorrhages, swollen, suppurated lymph nodes, fever and blood poisoning.  Victims died within three or four days of infection.  There is a mordant irony in that the disease, scientifically the bubonic plague, was brought to Europe via rats and returning Crusaders.  Millions of Europeans died. As Avner Faulk describes the situation in A Psychoanalytic History of the Jews, the people:

“lived in constant fear , terrified of touching one another, deeply suspicious of everything and everybody…They searched for explanations and could not find any.  This lead to paranoia… Amid all the sufferings and upheavals, the Jews became the scapegoats.  The special ferocity of Christian hatred of the Jews was due to their terrible fear of the plague, which they could neither understand nor prevent.  The medieval Christians attributed it to the hated Jews and to the devil, which in their minds were one and the same.”

Jews were rounded up and burned to death in the German-Swiss cantons of Aargau, Bern, Basel, Zurich and in the Rhineland towns of Worms, Mainz and Cologne. On February 14, 1349, the entire community of Jews in Strassburg, 2000 people, were locked up in a wooden building in the Jewish cemetery and burned alive. Today, plague is easily treated with penicillin. There was a brief outbreak in India in 1994.

Medical miracles would be of little comfort to the Jews of twentieth century Europe, however.  The setting was very dangerous.  After World War I, Germany endured enormous stress having lost the war and been burdened with the humiliation of the Versailles treaty. There was enormous economic stress and destructive hyperinflation.  There were large refugee flows into Germany from Eastern Europe and Russia including many Jews.  The situation seemed to be out of control.

In the Munich archives there is a memorandum of a conversation in 1922 with Adolf Hitler who reportedly went into a rage at hearing the word “Jew.”  He said:

As soon as I have power, I shall have gallows after gallows erected.  For example, in Munich, in the Marianplatz, the Jews will be hanged one after the other and they will stay hanging until they stink. They will stay hanging as long as hygienically possible, and as soon as they are untied, then the next group will follow and we’ll continue until the last Jew in Munich is destroyed.  Exactly the same procedure will be followed in other cities until Germany is cleansed, purified of the last Jew.

The witch hunt in Salem, Massachusetts in the seventeenth century was an early America example.  Its twentieth century counterpart could be seen in anti-immigrant passion exemplified by the trial and execution of Sacco and Vanzetti in the early 1920’s or the Communist witch hunt spearheaded by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the late 1940’s and early ‘50’s.

As the psychoanalytic anthropologist Howard Stein has written:
“Insult, degradation and dehumanization are the early warning indicators in groups and nations that one part of a community is getting ready psychologically to kill another.  Religious values have a very significant role to play in highlighting and then reversing this destructive group process.  But first religions have to examine their own tendencies to marginalize, dehumanize and justify the killing of the “other,” to yield to the demonic in the sacred.”

Confronting Dehumanization and Victimhood  in the Abrahamic Family

The following are brief sketches of key themes in analyzing the unfinished business in Abrahamic reconciliation. Some, like the excerpt from Pope John Paul II, display the important act of implied of moral debt of Christendom to the Jewish people and the ethical basis for the embrace of other peoples. Others present the broad dimensions of victimhood psychology or the resources in sacred and scholarly literature that advance the healing process. We start with Christians.


In a special address Pope John Paul II made to the UN

General Assembly, on October 5, 1995, said:

“In the context of the community of nations, the church’s message is simple yet absolutely crucial for the survival of humanity and the world: The human person must be the true focus of all social, political and economic activity….This truth, when effectively put into practice, will point the way to healing the divisions between the rich and the poor, to overcoming the inequality between the strong and the weak, to reconciling man with himself and with God.  For men and women are made in the image and likeness of God. So people may never be regarded as mere objects, nor may they be sacrificed for political, economic or social gain.  We must never allow them to be manipulated or enslaved by ideologies or technology.  Their God-given dignity and worth as human beings forbid this.”

Pope John Paul II symbolically put an end to the pathological Christian/Jewish dichotomy when he recognized the legitimacy of God’s covenant with the Jewish people.  The next logical step would be for the Vatican to recognize the legitimacy of God’s covenant with the Muslim people.  While considering the matter, the papal advisers in Rome might examine the introspection of a Jesuit peacemaker. Father Raymond Helmick, a professor at Boston College, shares his thinking in a paper entitled “How Can a Catholic Respond, in Faith, to the Faith of Muslims?”  prepared for  a meeting with former Yugoslav Christian and Muslim divinity students in Caux, Switzerland in February, 2000.

“I do not have the experience of knowing God through the tradition of the Muslim faith… But as I see the piety and the life of faith of the Muslim community-imperfect, of course, like my own-I find myself bound, even in faithfulness to God as he reveals himself in my own tradition, to recognize him at work in the faith of Muslims.  This constitutes, I believe, no derogation of my Christian faith, but actually springs from it.”


I want to cite a very moving description by a Israeli colleague named Ofira Seliktar who wrote in 1984 about the Holocaust. I treasure it because it is the most painful, poignant statement-and for anyone studying psychodynamics getting painful, poignant statements is of enormous value in attempts to get to the roots of emotional dysfunction. She wrote:

“The Holocaust presents the Jews in Israel a problem-the inability of cognitively understanding the tragedy. The problem of anti-Semitism has always been a puzzling cognitive phenomenon to the Jews. The Holocaust, more than any other violence committed against the Jews is less explicable. The Israelis do not view the Holocaust as only a German atrocity committed against the Jews, but rather a culmination of centuries-long persecution of the Jews. Since the Holocaust is perceived as being outside the normative syntax of human relations which cannot be explained in rational terms, it is regarded as a mystical event. This view contributed to the current phenomenon in Israel of mystification of the persecution urge of the Gentile world toward the Jews. Accordingly, the Holocaust is the crucial but not the only indicator of the mystical and congenital spiritual deformation of Gentile society. Totally unrelated to what the Jews are or do, they are singled out to stay apart, condemned to an eternity of almost cosmic loneliness by the unaccepting Gentile world.”

The value of the utter frankness-the baring of the heart and soul–of the pain that Ofira describes is so important to Gentiles, especially Christians, to understand the depth of the wound and the task of healing that Christendom is almost totally ignorant of. I read this statement once to close colleague of mine in the State Department. He is a Jew, a very close friend, who was to go on to increasingly higher responsibilities in Middle East diplomacy. I read it to him and he started to quietly weep. He was a very secure person. He was not under pressure. His personal life was one success after another. But this statement of Ofira’s hit him right where his deepest pain lies. And I think he also cried because a Gentile, a Christian friend, was reading it to him in awe about the depth of the debt that Christendom owes the Jews of Europe.

It is frankly inconceivable that the Jesus we know in the synoptic Gospels i.e. Matthew, Luke and Mark, the Jesus of the social gospel, of love, compassion, tolerance and forgiveness, would condemn his people-“the Jews”-as children of the Devil as stated in John. The Gospel of John was written by an author as yet unknown perhaps seventy years after the Crucifixion. Scholars have speculated about intra-Jewish political pressures affecting the Jesus movement while the great majority of Jews chose not to accept Jesus as the Messiah prophesied in the Hebrew Bible. This could have inspired the polemical language in the Gospel of John. Furthermore external stresses had to be a factor since the Romans continued to brutally repress Jewish resistance to their rule and indeed destroyed the Second Temple in 70 CE and exiled the Jews from Jerusalem and Judea.

This is not simply a scholarly debate of no consequence for real life. This polemical anti-Jewish language in the Gospels laid the basis for a dogma in the evolving Church that became strongly rooted when St. Augustine wrote that Christians should not kill the Jews. Rather, they should be allowed to live, but with their heads bowed low in a state of permanent degradation. So that they never forget the crime they committed in killing Christ. That literally became the dogma throughout all of Christendom in Western Europe and the Eastern Church centered in Constantinople. It also became the basis for episodic persecution of the Jews, and pogroms, murders, and quasi-genocidal massacres because they carried the permanent stain, in perpetuity and collectively, for the murder of Jesus Christ. That is a terrible burden for a people to bear.


The Muslim dilemma in embracing the other is not unlike that of the Jews.  The guidance in the Koran is explicit even though there are apparent contradictions over the issue, again, of the supersession of Islam over Judaism and Christianity.   This and several other issues of Koranic values supporting the idea of democratic pluralism in Islam are examined in the impressive study by Abdulaziz Sachedina in The Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism.

Sachedina, a professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia, maintains that the cornerstone of the creative narrative in the Koran is the principle of diversity.  The Koran suggests that the variety in humankind is one of the riches in God’s world.  The guiding verse is:

O humankind, we have created you male and female, and appointed you races and tribes, that you may know one another.  Surely the noblest among you in the sight of God is the most godfearing of you.  God is All-knowing, All-Aware.  (K. 49:14)

Thus the principle that God is the God of all creation and one who recognizes and embraces all his children is clearly established.  Another key verse rejects the idea of exclusivism in Islam, offering salvation to, at least, the other people of the Book:

Surely they that believe, and those of Jewry, and the Christians, and those Sabaeans, whoso believe in God and the Last Day, and works righteousness-their wage awaits them with their Lord, and no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow.   (K  2:62)

Sachedina notes that the Koran is remarkably inclusive toward the human beings who were not People of the Book.  He says, “The unique characteristic of Islam is its conviction that belief in the oneness of God unites the Muslim community with all humanity because God is the creator of all humans, irrespective of their religious traditions.  The Koran declares that on the Day of Judgment all human beings will be judged, irrespective of sectarian affiliation, about their moral performance as citizens of the world community.” But Sachedina acknowledges that the liberalism of these verses caused discomfort for jurists who were trying to support expansionist political claims to exclusive choseness of the Muslims.

And there is a verse to support this position.  “Whosoever desires another religion than Islam, it shall not be accepted of him; in the next world he shall be among the losers.”  (K.  3:85).

Jews and Christians

Israeli journalist Doron Rosenblum has written that Israel’s existential fear for its survival has not changed in the 6o years since its founding. This feeling is directly related to the Jewish experience in Christian Europe. The memory of the Holocaust is a constant specter of Ashkenazi Jewish consciousness. How could it not be? How could a people selected as a matter of state policy for physical elimination from the face of the earth be expected to forget this fact and just get on with their lives? One cannot simply say that the Holocaust of Jews was a uniquely Nazi phenomenon. And the Nazis are long gone. Nazi-like Jew-haters can be found in all Christian communities, just as a reminder. But as unprecedented as Hitler’s policy was in its obscenity, it was not unique in the in the

experience of being Jewish in Christian majority countries down through the ages. Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church dogma systematically condemned the Jews as the killers of Jesus Christ. I was shocked to learn that the Catholic Church only annulled the blanket, perpetual condemnation of Jews for the killing of Christ only in 1965, as a result of the Vatican II Council, a full twenty years after the end of the Holocaust.

James Carroll has documented the best history so far of the systematic persecution of Jews by Christians in his masterful Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews: A History. I believe the book should be required reading for all Christians. The structural prejudice against Jews rooted in the language of the New Testament, especially the Gospel of John, should be part of the teaching lesson in every Christian Sunday School. Indeed, it should be part of basic education in public schools.

Christians need to know the origins of anti-Judaism which eventually became racist anti-Semitism in Europe. Christians-and I am a Christian admittedly flawed-need to know this history so that we can acknowledge our enormous moral debt to the Jewish people and express our remorse. Christians need to be able to discuss this history with Jews and to begin the process of persuading them that it may be safe to stop worrying about survival.

Christians and Muslims

Christians need to be able to discuss this terrible heritage with Muslims, so that Muslims have some context for understanding the motivation of Jewish nationalism in Europe, or Zionism, to establish a home in Palestine. The irony here is that Islam never had the pathological prejudice against Jews that Christianity did. Jews and Christians were recognized by Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, as “People of the Book,” who shared with Muslims the belief in one, God, and who were joined together in the fight against paganism and its many false gods. Reza Aslan’s No god But God : The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, is a brilliant and accessible study that is addressed to Christian and Jewish questions about the meaning and beliefs of Islam. It is especially strong on the Prophet’s respectful thoughts on Judaism, and the Torah, which was God’s first revelation to humankind.

The anti-Semitism in the Hamas charter which is an understandable preoccupation of Israelis and Westerners is almost entirely imported from European Christians, and it is used as a psychological weapon against militarily superior Israel. It has no basis in the Koran. Extremist Jews who believe and propagate the line that  Islam is innately anti-Semitic and extremist Muslims who distort Islam by making it sound anti-Semitic are both wrong, but they feed each others hatreds.  

Muslims and Jews

Beyond the work of publishing basic knowledge of religious values and history to fight ignorance and negative stereotypes as well as deliberate distortions, research and programs that seek to recover from the past evidence of great achievements and cultural distinction are important for reconstructing a good sense of self for peoples and nations who have been battered by history and are burdened by a psychology of victimhood. The idea is to confront the deep pessimism affecting the peace process and the sense that Jews and Arabs could never build community together or even coexist creatively. The knowledge base for the project is the significant amount of scholarship that documented life in Al-Andalus, as the Muslims called it, which name survives in modern Spain as Andalusia.  As the project developed it came to embrace the entire medieval Mediterranean.

The foundation for much of this scholarship was the monumental five volume A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the World as Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza, by S.D. Goitein, from the University of California Press, beginning in 1967. Other important works include Eliyahu Ashtor’s The Jews of Moslm Spain, Maria Rosa Menocal’s, The Arabic Role in Medieval Literary History: A Forgotten Heritage and The Ornament of the World, the latter has been translated into eleven languages. There are several other valuable studies of this period.


Approaches to Healing in Interfaith Organizations

This chapter offers a small sample of interfaith NGO’s that are part of the AFR network and that illustrate the variety of ways that citizens engage in Abrahamic dialogue and community activities. We present them in their own words so that the Guidebook can have an authentic statement of the philosophies, goals and objectives of the organizations.

Abraham’s Vision

Co-executive director and founder Dr. Aaron Hahn Tapper, a professor of Jewish social ethics at the University of San Francisco and his partner, and co-executive director, Huda Abu Arqoub is a Jerusalem-born Palestinian specialist in education and conflict transformation who studied at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia direct Abraham’s Vision from San Francisco. An excerpt from the AV website:


Abraham’s Vision is a conflict transformation organization that explores group and individual identities through experiential and political education. Examining social relations within and between the Jewish, Muslim, Israeli, and Palestinian communities, we empower participants to practice just alternatives to the status quo.

We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit conflict transformation organization, dedicated to creating a new generation of leaders empowered and committed to improving our world. Our distinct vision is based on the following principles:

  • Equal Partnerships: We are committed to equal partnerships across ethnic, religious, and gender lines. This commitment is reflected in our organizational structure as well as our long-term programs, workshops, and presentations.
  • Experiential Learning: We are committed to creative forms of education that both recognize the importance of content-based teaching and value individual and group participant experiences.
  • Encounters: We approach inter-group encounters as a reflection of the political realities in which we live, utilizing them as a central element of our educational approach.
  • Political Education: We focus on individual and collective relationships within current political realities, placing the relationship between individuals and groups at the center of the educational experience rather than analyzing political developments as something separate from students.

The Boston-based Center for Jewish-Muslim Relations, founded in 2006, is managed by co- directors David Dolev and Aziz El Madi. Its mission was described in this document.

Open Letter – March 2006

The Center for Jewish-Muslim Relations hopes to build positive relationships between Jews and Muslims based on the common values shared by both faiths.  We hope to move Jewish-Muslim relations beyond political conflicts and prejudice. We believe that dialogue – not public defamation – is the appropriate sphere for raising and addressing concerns.

As Jews and Muslims attempting to forge relationships among our respective communities, we are deeply concerned by the atmosphere of mistrust and contentiousness that has emerged amongst some members of the Jewish and Muslim communities in Boston.

We condemn all forms of anti-Semitism, particularly any attempt to deny the Holocaust.

We condemn all forms of Islamophobia, particularly any attempt to equate the religion of Islam with terrorism.

We condemn the use of violence against innocent civilians regardless of whether it is perpetrated by a state authority, a group, or an individual.

We affirm that both Jews and Muslims have been and are the victims of prejudice and discrimination, and we have empathy for one another in this shared experience.

We believe that each of our communities is enhanced by mutual cooperation on issues that affect us as Jews and Muslims and as human beings.

We hope that the majority of Jews and Muslims will continue to work together to build bridges and condemn extremists that threaten our relationship and the wellbeing of our two communities, the Greater Boston community, and beyond.

In a major policy statement in 2007, the CJMR issued the following statement which was endorsed by a the leaders of  major Muslim and Jewish institutions in the Greater Boston area. Their names appear below.

A Special Message from the Center for Jewish-Muslim Relations Rosh Hashana 5768 and Ramadan 1428

We wanted to share with you a statement of local leaders and activists supporting dialogue and working together. CJMR Board members, together with leaders of the Boston Workmen’s Circle, the Boston chapter of the Muslim American Society and others, were instrumental in making this happen. We would like to encourage you to add your name and support this important initiative by emailing communityoftrust@gmail.com.

David Dolev and Salma Kazmi (former co-director)

Building A Community of Trust

We, members of the Jewish and Muslim communities, seek to build trust and mutual understanding and strive to forge positive relationships between our respective communities. We are determined to work together in order to replace fear, distrust, and misunderstanding of each for the other, where it exists – with hope and respectful communication.

As shared beliefs:

  • We affirm the common humanity of all racial, religious, and ethnic groups, and our common needs for safety, security and dignity.
  • We decry all forms of terrorism, racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim prejudice, or any other form of discrimination or stigmatization against any racial, religious or ethnic group.
  • We support the rights, guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, of faith communities to gather for worship.

To give expression to these beliefs:

  • We support existing efforts, and the creation of additional opportunities, for open and honest interfaith and intercultural dialogue in Greater Boston.
  • We will strive to address disagreements and community concerns in ways that promote reconciliation rather than conflict.
  • We urge leaders in our respective communities to publicly commit to these initiatives, and to seek additional means to build intercultural trust and mutual understanding.

We embrace a Greater Boston that is multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-religious, in which our diversity is respected and valued. We will together foster efforts to improve understanding and to decrease divisions between our communities. We will work towards a more harmonious Boston in which all people of good will share concerns in a civil manner, promote hope and not fear, and together enrich the civic life of our community.

Massachusetts Board of Rabbis, Rabbi Eric Gurvis, President; Rabbi Barbara Penzner, immediate past President
Robert Beal
Susan Calechman
David Dolev
Leonard Fein
Ruth Fein
Michael Felsen
Steven Fischman
Rabbi Ronne Friedman
Lisa Gallatin
Carol Goldberg
Avram Goldberg
Dr. David Gordis
Arnold Hiatt
Geoffrey Lewis
James W. Segel
Joel B. Sherman
Donald Siegel
Alan Solomont
Rabbi Toba Spitzer
Kenneth Sweder
Sidney Topol
Rabbi Moshe Waldoks

(Organizations listed for identification purposes only)
Dr Nabeel Khudairi – President, Islamic Council of New England
Ali Rabbani – President, Islamic Center of Burlington
Imam Talal Eid – Islamic Institute of Boston, US Commission on International Religious Freedom
Imam Taalib Mahdee – Masjid al Quran, Dorchester
Imam Faaruuq – Mosque for Praising of Allah, Roxbury
Dr Abdul Cader Asmal – former President, Islamic Council of New England
Anwar Kazmi – Board of Directors, Islamic Society of Boston
Hossam al Jabri – President, Muslim American Society, Boston chapter
Rashid Noor – President, Islamic Center of New England, Sharon
Ali Noorani – Executive Director, Massachusetts Immigration and Refugee Advocacy Coalition
Imam Basyouny Nehela – Islamic Society of Boston
Salwa Abdallah – Board of Directors, Islamic Society of Boston
Dr. Syed Razvi – member, Islamic Center of Boston (Wayland)
Mahmud Jafri – Co-Chairman, Muslim-Jewish dialogue of Greater Boston. Life Trustee, Islamic Masumeen Center of New England
Driss Djermoun – President, Islamic Center of Boston (Wayland) Salma Kazmi – Co-Director, Center for Jewish Muslim Relations
Mona Abozena – Board of Directors, Muslim American Society, Boston chapter
Imam Khalid Nasr – Islamic Center of New England, Quincy
M. Bilal Kaleem – Executive Director, Muslim American Society, Boston chapter

In Los Angeles, yet another major Jewish-Muslim collaborative initiative called NewGround was launched in 2007. Excerpts from news reports describe it.

City politicos celebrate launch of NewGround

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa celebrated the launch of NewGround, a joint undertaking of the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), at City Hall on March 8. The group will bring together Jews and Muslims in a community-building dialogue on issues ranging from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to immigration to homelessness.

“This is the city where we come together from every corner of the earth,” Villaraigosa said. “If there is one place in the world where Muslims and Jews should be able to forge common ground, it is here.”

City Council President Eric Garcetti hailed the group as leaders of the future.

“The stakes are high because the face of Los Angeles is the face of the world. The world is watching us,” said Garcetti, who hosted the gathering in the Tom Bradley Tower Room.

“We’re going from old ground in the Middle East, where we’re shackled by fear and bloodshed, to new ground in Los Angeles, where we can develop mutual respect and mutual trust and hopefully this project will blossom forth with the rays of hope from the people in this room,” said Salam Al-Mayarati, MPAC’s executive director.

Preparation for NewGround included a six-month study conducted by two scholars — one Muslim, one Jewish — who examined the failures and successes of interfaith dialogues throughout the country. Interfaith program co-coordinators Malka Fenyvesi and Aziza Hasan, who work for PJA and MPAC respectively, will serve as NewGround staffers.

Hasan said that the group has already selected 18 participants — nine Jews and nine Muslims, ranging in age from 27 to 37 — with such diverse backgrounds as attorneys, doctors, teachers, filmmakers, artists and doctoral students.

“It’s not enough to sit and have coffee together. It’s not enough to visit each other’s mosques and synagogues. We actually need to confront the prejudices and stereotypes that we hold about each other, agree to disagree, and then fulfill our traditions’ obligations to build a better community,” PJA Executive Director Daniel Sokatch said.

Imam Jihad Turk of the Islamic Center of Southern California and Rabbi Reuven Firestone of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion led the event’s opening and closing prayers.

— Naomi Glauberman, Contributing Writer

2007-01-19 Breaking new ground: Jewish, Muslim groups’ program encourages leaders to see the ‘other’ as friendBy Marc Ballon, Senior Writer
Is it possible for Los Angeles Jews and Muslims to talk to one another, to share peacefully at the table?This is the question that some leaders of both groups locally are asking themselves.These are the ones who are willing to keep trying, despite the enmity in the Middle East and despite a history of conflict among some leaders in the Jewish and Muslim communities here. Early next month, a new effort jointly organized by the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) will be unveiled.It will not be the first attempt.Little more than a decade ago, in the warm afterglow of the Oslo accords, a group of Jewish and Muslim leaders in Los Angeles regularly met and talked together in formal and informal groups. Known as the Muslim-Jewish Dialogue, this group of leaders from several organizations hoped to forge a new understanding between the two communities and model the kind of peace moderates on both sides were hoping for in the Middle East.But despite early optimism, world events got in the way, and the conversation was repeatedly interrupted by news of terror attacks, Israeli settlements and mistrust borne from the faltering Israeli-Palestinian relationship. Then came Sept. 11, 2001.In the aftermath of that day, with the Western world’s frightened eyes turned on the Muslim community, Los Angeles, too, saw relations between Jewish and Muslim leaders descend into a cross-fire of accusations and distrust. As a result, the official dialogue petered out, becoming largely moribund by 2002.Local Jewish-Muslim relations, seen for a brief moment as a paragon of interfaith cooperation, continued to deteriorate to such an extent that a few months ago, much of the organized Jewish community united to protest the honoring of MPAC founder, Dr. Maher Hathout, with a prestigious award from the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission.Symbolically, Hathout’s supporters — not all of them Muslims — sat one on side of the room during hearings over his suitability for the honor, while his mostly Jewish detractors sat on the other side. Hathout got to keep the award.Daniel Sokatch, who began participating in the dialogue in 2000 after joining the PJA, a social activist group, thought there had to be a better way. As PJA executive director, he was frustrated to see local Jewish-Muslim relationships constantly held hostage by events taking place thousands of miles away.Sokatch focused on how much Jews and Muslims here have in common, including traditions that emphasize the need to build a better world.Recently, Sokatch has been working with Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of MPAC, the Los Angeles-based policy advocacy organization, and in early February, PJA and MPAC will unveil NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change.The program aims to encourage a new cadre of Jewish and Muslim leaders to see the “other” as a friend, said Aziza Hasan, MPAC interfaith program coordinator.The plan for NewGround is to bring together as many as 30 Jews and Muslims who are in their 20s and 30s for a period of 10 months. Initially, participants will meet with only their own colleagues to confront their prejudices.When the two groups join together, they will discuss issues ranging from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to immigration to homelessness.Working with trained mediators, they will also learn how to communicate honestly. Finally, participants will join forces on a yet-to-be-determined civic improvement project, such as homelessness or poverty, said Malka Fenyvesi, PJA interfaith program coordinator.”I’m delighted, impressed and grateful that such visionary leaders are doing this,” said the Rev. Ed Bacon, rector at All Saints Church in Pasadena and a self-described friend of both Sokatch and Al-Marayati. “I think this offers great promise for Jews and Muslims to come together.”Rabbi Steven Jacobs, founder of the new Rabbi Jacobs Progressive Faith Foundation and rabbi emeritus at Temple Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills, called the PJA-MPAC initiative “groundbreaking.”He added: “There’s too much demonization going on, and this program will help break down the fear that exists in both communities.”The Jewish Journal

Finally, there is the very important initiative of John Bryson Chane, the Episcopal Bishop of Washington, DC, who founded two groups in 2003. This description is from the Cathedral website.

The Cathedral actively pursues interfaith dialogue and collaboration, particularly among the three Abrahamic faiths.

Women’s Interfaith Book Group: Daughters of Abraham

This group of women-lay and ordained, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim-meet monthly for two hours to deepen their knowledge of their own and other Abrahamic faith traditions. By reading and discussing books-fiction or non-fiction-that teach us about each other’s faith traditions, and then sharing how we practice our respective faiths, we hope to increase our respect for all Abrahamic religions and build a trusting and intellectually stimulating interfaith community of women.

Books are chosen by the leadership team and from the booklist on www.daughtersofabraham.info. The group at the Cathedral College is connected to eight groups that have formed in the Boston area since September 11, 2001.

There is no cost to join and anyone may join who is able to commit to regular attendance. The program is designed for those who are already active members of a particular faith community, and not for seekers of a religious tradition. The group does not engage in religious debate, conversion, or controversial political issues.

The Abrahamic Roundtable: An academic discussion of the Hebrew Bible, Quran, and Christian Testament

Washington National Cathedral’s Abrahamic Roundtable was initiated by Bishop John Bryson Chane, who hosts and invites 15 scholars and congregational leaders to meet four times a year to explore what the sacred texts of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam each tell us about a particular topic that is challenging the practices of all traditions at this time. The first series of the Abrahamic Roundtable initially convened in December 2003 and met six times before concluding their discussions in spring 2006. The discussions focused upon what each tradition’s scripture says about the reception of the stranger and produced a useful educational document, The Abrahamic Family and the Other.

The topic for this series of discussions that began in November 2007 is The Abrahamic Family and Creation: how each faith tradition understands God’s role and our responsibility in creating and caring for our environment, the land, and all of God’s creatures. The hope is the group will develop a unified statement concerning the environment and how an interfaith community can be a reconciling voice that will offer the moral guidance and hope that is urgently needed in each of our faith communities.


The Psychodynamics of Interfaith Meetings

By Tamar Miller

Interfaith Engagement:

Group Dynamics and Politics of Identity

In the spirit of exploration and analysis, imagine this: At the invitation of two local clergy and several community activists, 20 people gather in a church basement for the second in an series of five Christian-Muslim-Jewish open dialogues to help “build trust and mutual understanding … and plan for an interfaith soup kitchen,” in the city of Kalamazoo.  Gathered are people of every hue, ranging in age from 18 – 72.

As people arrive, the pastor asks participants to place the hymnbooks in the closet, rearrange the chairs in a circle, and help themselves to cheese, wine and assorted fruit.  A 3-part antiphonous liturgy of Muslim, Jews, and Christians plays in the background and there are Bibles next to the sign-up sheet for volunteers to serve food at the shelter.

This brief scenario begs inquiry into Group Dynamics.  Kurt Lewin, a social psychologist, coined this term to refer to how people act and react to variable behaviors and shifting circumstances. Group dynamics are more subtle and complex than its descriptor suggests.  Group dynamics include hidden feelings, connections and disconnection — a web of complex relationships in an elaborate dance.

Lewin wrote in the context of European anti-Semitism of the 1940’s, when group fate was most pronounced and when literal survival required inter-dependence.  On a lighter note, Group Dynamics is neither good nor bad. It is what as leaders, facilitators, clergy, and activists pay attention to in the course of interfaith engagement.  We do not have good dynamics or bad dynamics; we have group dynamics that are useful to examine so that we are conscious participants in exploring and enhancing interfaith relationships. Dynamics apply from small group processes to building national movements. For illustrative purposes here, I refer to the former, where much of interfaith practice takes place in the U.S. today.

As often is the case, self-reflection is valuable so that we observe what is happening around us without taking things personally or, too personally, that is. As a group member or facilitator, it is helpful to notice the roles we play in the context of the unfolding drama of the group itself.  Especially as groups are just forming or when they are intentionally short-term, we tend to unceremoniously and nearly without fail end up behaving in ways that mirror the prevailing social, economic, political ethos outside of the group.  Dynamics, then, are useful to assess by both looking at who we are within the group and the group itself, as an entity. In a straightforward example, one might think,I am a big talker and right now I feel tension and competition in the air about our irreconcilable theological differences. I am afraid and now I am quiet.” That is the ‘talker’ beginning to think in the context of Group Dynamics.

Plato spoke about “the great stage of human life …” and Shakespeare famously said, “All the world is a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” The sociologist Erving Goffman in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life said, “All the world is not, of course, a stage, but the crucial ways in which it isn’t are not easy to specify.”(!)

Exercise: Let us ask about the immediately observable dynamics, in the first four minutes of our fictitious group gathering.

What happens when we change around seating? Who does the work? What is the mood in the room? What issues of authority arise?  Is God in the room? Who are the decision makers? How does that happen? How do participants feel about wine on the table?  What effect does meeting in the church basement have? What is the process of setting the goals? Are there icons or pictures on the wall? What effect does this particular boundary-crossing music have and on whom?    Who is in and who is out? What sort of leadership has emerged leading up to the meeting? Does the group have an identity?  Is there a “we” and if so, what is our story? What is our theory of interfaith work?  Does change happen through relationships? Do we have perceptual and narrative differences? Are interfaith problems best uncovered through institutional analyses of economics, gender, race, inequality, or historical traumas?

Our answers to these questions define what group we are in, in the moment, as well as what is the group or our emerging organization about? What is our theory of change? In what conversation are we engaged?  All this is at play in the first few minutes of gathering.

Stages of a group: Beginning, Middle, and End:

I find it useful to think of interfaith groups in developmental stages that are not neat and linear, but helpful nonetheless.  Typically, group dynamics tend to show up in a remarkable variety of settings, including groups that gather for interfaith community service, shared learning, or open-ended dialogue.

At the start, as groups form or each time they meet, participants and leaders can swing along a continuum of approach and avoidance, curiosity and fear, connection and detachment.  I have noticed this most markedly with groups of adolescents who literally come in and out of a room, sometimes even on skateboards.  Adults are generally more subtle so it takes discernment to assess when groups are avoiding conflict or deep engagement. Why do folks appear bored? Are they acting out indirect hostility and hurt or is the tone so overly positive, that the conversation is general and syrupy with real progress frustrated.  This is where we differentiate dialogue about dialogue from genuine profound engagement.

Open engagement: Sometime halfway through a group’s life, confidence and effort to understand one another increase. In this stage of development of the group, people are more likely to adhere to the social contract and honor their agreed upon norms. Conflict and intense emotionality, from tears to laughter, can surface in constructive ways.  In interfaith groups, this is often the time when salient political or theologically difficult topics emerge, such as Israel and Palestine, supersessionism, or heaven and hell.

In this stage, the group is at a crossroads and group members may dig deeper. The pitfalls of this stage, however, are that group members can polarize their positions risking the group falling apart.  There is also danger of undifferentiated group-think, despite profound differences, in the interest of keeping the group together. As each particular group copes with uncertainty and confusion in its own way, participants tend to stay in the storm and solve problems creatively, in this stage of group development.

Finally, as the group begins to terminate, by either design or circumstances, the Door Knob stage comes to life.  Someone raises an important and contentious topic with strong feelings, mostly notably of insult and hurt, that participants knowingly or unknowingly ignored the entire life of the group, just as the door is closing. I am reminded of a prominent academic who literally, at the very last moment of a weeklong intense international gathering of religious leaders, held up a cartoon that he and his compatriots found deeply humiliating and injurious.  The challenge is to find the time and the means to attend to these thoughts and feelings.

At the conclusion of a group, sometimes participants feel angry at having to say goodbye and inevitably regret all the work left undone and all the matters left unsaid. Some members leave early; others devalue the experience.  Most people, however, consolidate their learning and express gratitude while trying to plan future action, which is always a challenge in interfaith work.  In our example, the question remains whether a critical mass of people would actually commit to one another to create and sustain the interfaith soup kitchen. The issue of committing to the work is one challenge and more likely to succeed if group members have a genuine connection with one another. There are many causes for social justice in which activists can participate. Hunger is one such issue and relationships are primarily what will generate sustained commitment, ultimately making all the difference.

In the meantime, take a silent meditative break. Practice ritual and ceremony. Reach beyond reason and emotion.

Group Dynamics and the Politics of Identity:

In Violence and Identity, Nobel Laureate in economics, (for the time being, a decidedly secular discipline) Amartya Sen says that singular affiliation is a “classification (that) is cheap; identity is not …” He continues that the dialogue among civilizations has the same effect as the so named clash of civilizations. He claims both are “cultivated theory (that) can bolster uncomplicated bigotry”.  When we gather Muslim, Jews and Christians, are we reinforcing narrow group identities?

Try an exercise of Affinity groupings. Ask participants to divide as Muslims, Jews, or Christians. Then see what happens when you ask participants to gather in groups of those who:

  • feel at home, in exile, or at home and in exile. Then with those who
  • enjoy Jazz, Liturgical music or classical compositions. Then with those who
  • are the oldest in the family, the middle child, or the youngest?

This, along with a non-verbal artistic exercise highlights dimensions of identity that increase the possibility of permeable group boundaries, and decreases tendency to think in dichotomies and stereotypes.  To be sure, honoring firm Muslim, Jewish and Christian boundaries is very important, as we often feel invisible and dishonored if there are attempts to blur, merge, or fudge those boundaries, good intentions notwithstanding.

Paying attention to group dynamics in the context of identity politics is helpful in understanding the complexities of multiple identities.  At times, we think we are in a conversation about faith yet we are really in a dialogue about race and gender. When do I underscore most forcefully my religious affiliation, my parenthood, my citizenship? What part of my identity is secure and when?  Under conditions of uncertainty, one or another part of my identity is at risk and raises the stakes of literal or imagined threat.

When 2 groups add another, 1 relationship turns into 7

When a third group is added to the mix of dyadic interfaith work whether in dialogue, ritual, community service, or the creation an national interfaith movement, one relationship then becomes seven. In the Abrahamic Family Reunion project, for example, we are attending to the following relationships:

Jewish – Christian; Jewish – Muslim; Christian – Muslim; Jewish – Christian – Muslim; Jewish – Christian affinity without (and sometimes at the expense of) Muslims; Jewish – Muslim affinity without (and sometimes at the expense of) Christians; Christian – Muslim affinity without (and sometimes at the expense of) Jews.

In these constellations, the Dynamics of Power require particular attention.   When two affinity groups become three, allegiances can shift, alliances of two against one can form and there is now the potential for one of the groups to become the outsider in the eyes of the other two.  Projective identification tends to intensify; that is, the tendency to project what is hated or rejected within us or our own group onto the Other. This is a particularly unconscious potent dynamic and increases the destructiveness of power plays in two against one.

While scapegoating is increasingly probable in threesomes, so are mediating peacemakers and third-siders, a term coined by Bill Ury.  Further, on the positive side, triads offer the possibility that one of the more neutral parties have the opportunity to heal traumatic wounds between the two other parties as well as strengthen critical thinking and empathic connections.  Joseph Montville, director of Abrahamic Family Reunion project, underscores the power of Muslims being privy to the healing of 2000 years of Christian animosity toward Jews.

Finally, what does not work in any configuration is:  talking heads, email dialogues, and amazing goals like world peace by next Tuesday.


Contemplative Methods that Help Healing


in Jewish-Christian-Muslim Encounters

by Yehezkel Landau

Faculty Associate in Interfaith Relations

Hartford Seminary, Connecticut


Interreligious peacebuilding efforts among Jews, Christian, and Muslims usually focus on ideas from history, theology, psychology, or politics that are either held in common or distinguish and divide.  Other peacemaking initiatives among adherents of the three Abrahamic faiths evoke feelings, sometimes strong passions. These emotional experiences often devolve into contentious polarizing, unless facilitated by trained and skilled group leaders.

In most organized interfaith gatherings, spiritual and contemplative practices, if considered at all, are talked about rather than engaged in, let alone shared.  I submit that there is great potential, largely untapped, in sharing spiritual practices as a way to build bridges of mutual understanding and good will among faithful Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

The underlying premise is this:  by experiencing the Presence of the Divine together in different ways, while remaining loyal to our respective theological claims, we may find new avenues for transcending our divisions, for discovering common ground, and for developing practical strategies for interreligious peace building.

Spiritual practices that might be included in Abrahamic encounters are:

  • Verbal, articulated prayer (communal prayer and individual/solitary prayer)
  • Silent meditation (communal or shared, and individual/solitary meditation)
  • Exercises focusing on the breath
  • Guided visualizations (e.g., on Divine Names)
  • Study of sacred texts
  • Chanting and song (e.g., Muslim zhikr), or playing selections of sacred music
  • Contemplative use of beads and other rhythmic exercises (counting the Rosary, tasbih prayer beads for reflecting on Allah‘s 99 Names)
  • Prayerful body movement (genuflection, bowing, prostration, dance)
  • Pilgrimage as a common practice, exemplified in walking a labyrinth
  • Fasting and feasting (abstention from food and consecrating meals, or cooking together)
  • Marking off sacred time in cycles (weekly, monthly, and annual cycles; e.g., the link between Shabbat observance and Shalom)

Examples of shared contemplative experiences:

(1)  Three recordings of sacred music, one from each tradition, are played for a mixed group of interfaith educators and activists.  The Jewish selection is L’Olam sung by Neshama Carlebach (from her first CD, Ha Neshamah Shel Shlomo); the Muslim selection is the Adhan, the call to prayer, intensified by a slight acoustical echo; and the Christian selection is Kyrie Eleison sung by the Cathedral Singers from Chicago.  After each piece of music is played, the group is invited to meditate silently on the music and its message, even if the words are not understood.  After about 8-10 minutes of silence, participants are offered an opportunity to share their experiences.

In my own case, listening to Christian sacred music, such as Gregorian chant, helps me to appreciate the sacred essence of Christian faith.  It also helps to heal the part of me that might otherwise remain wounded, by reliving the trauma of Jewish persecution at the hands of Christians over many centuries.

(2)  Another group exercise uses LIGHT, in this case three candles, as a common symbol of Divine Presence.  A Jew lights the first candle in a three-branched candelabrum and recites two verses:

Or zarua’ la-tzaddik uleyishrei lev simchah

Light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart.

*Psalms 97:11

Barkheinu avinu kulanu k’echad b’or panekha

Bless us, O God, all of us as one, with the light of Your countenance.

*Amidah prayer, last benediction

A Christian lights the second candle and recites these verses from Luke 8:16-17:

No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a bushel, or puts it under a bed; instead he puts it on a lamp stand, so that those who enter may see the light.  For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light.

Finally a Muslim lights the third candle and recites these verses from the Qur’an, Surat Al-Nur (The Light) 24:35, in Arabic and then in English:

Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth.  The parable of His light is as if there were a niche containing a lamp; the lamp enclosed in glass; the glass [shining] like a brilliant star: lit from a blessed tree, an olive tree that is neither of the East nor of the West, whose oil is well-nigh luminous even though fire had not touched it: Light upon Light!  Allah guides unto His light the person who wills [to be guided]; and [to this end] Allah propounds parables to human beings, since Allah alone has full knowledge of all things.

The group members are then invited to meditate for about 10-12 minutes, either looking at the flames or closing their eyes.  At the end of that period, the following poem from

T. S. Eliot’s “The Rock” (Chorus X) is read by the facilitator:

O Light Invisible, we praise Thee!

Too bright for mortal vision.

O Greater Light, we praise Thee for the less;

The eastern light our spires touch at morning,

The light that slants upon our western doors at evening,

The twilight over stagnant pools at batflight,

Moon light and star light, owl and moth light,

Glow-worm glowlight on a grassblade.

O Light Invisible, we worship Thee!

We thank Thee for the lights that we have kindled,

The light of altar and of sanctuary;

Small lights of those who meditate at midnight

And lights directed through the coloured panes of windows

And light reflected from the polished stone,

The gilded carven wood, the coloured fresco.

Our gaze is submarine, our eyes look upward

And see the light that fractures through unquiet water.

We see the light but see not whence it comes.

O Light Invisible, we glorify Thee!

In our rhythm of earthly life we tire of light.  We are

glad when the day ends, when the play ends; and ecstasy

is too much pain.

We are children quickly tired:  children who are up in the night

and fall asleep as the rocket is fired; and the day is

long for work or play.

We tire of distraction or concentration, we sleep and are glad

to sleep,

Controlled by the rhythm of blood and the day and the night and

the seasons.

And we must extinguish the candle, put out the light and relight


Forever must quench, forever relight the flame.

Therefore we thank Thee for our little light, that is dappled

with shadow.

We thank Thee who hast moved us to building, to finding, to

forming at the ends of our fingers and beams of our eyes.

And when we have built an altar to the Invisible Light, we may

set thereon the little lights for which our bodily vision

is made.

And we thank Thee that darkness reminds us of light.

O Light Invisible, we give Thee thanks for Thy great glory!

Group members can then express what they learned or gained from this experience.

(3)   A guided meditation based on Genesis 25:9:

The participants are invited by the facilitator to place pen and paper next to them, to assume comfortable positions-either on the floor, on meditation cushions, or on chairs with straight backs-and to breathe deeply for several minutes, releasing tension from each part of the body (the toes up to the head are mentioned slowly, as participants are invited to let go of the tension held in one area after another)…

Facilitator:  “Keep breathing deeply as you go on a journey through time and space, back through the centuries, across oceans and continents, until you reach the land of Canaan some 3500 years ago.  The climate is hot and dry, the sun is shining at mid-day, and you find yourself near a small cave.  You hear muffled voices from inside, and you walk slowly toward the mouth of the cave to hear better.  Now you can make out two voices in conversation, the voices of two grown men.  You are curious, so you step inside the cave, standing near the opening.  Now you can see, in the dim light, the figures of two men, standing next to a newly dug grave.  From the conversation between them, you learn that they are half-brothers, one named Isaac, or Ishak, and the other named Ishmael, or Ismail.

They are talking about the man they have just buried together-their common father Abraham, or Ibrahim.  They are also talking about their respective mothers, Sarah and Hagar, or Hajer.  And they are talking, also, about the relationships that each of them had with their father, and their mothers, and with each other.

You listen closely to what they say, how they describe these family relationships over many years, and how each feels about the father each has just lost.

Stay in that attentive listening mode for several minutes, hearing their words and taking them in, trying to discern the feelings in the words and how they reflect the relationships between these two sons and between the two of them and their deceased father…”

After about 12-15 minutes, the facilitator gently invites participants back to the room and to an awareness of the present moment, opening their eyes when they are ready.  They are then asked to write what they heard, and, if they wish, to draw images of what they saw.  After another 10-12 minutes, participants are invited to share what they have written or drawn, either all together or in small interfaith groups, depending on the number of participants.


The writer Yossi Klein Halevi, a Jerusalem resident and author of At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden:  A Jews’ Search for God with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land, has this to say about interfaith relations in the Middle East, with implications for all of us:

If the religions of this region cannot produce people who, in the nuclear era, are capable

of offering a vision for saving humanity, then all three Abrahamic traditions have

outlived their usefulness. It is easy to be pessimistic, listening to the official

spokespeople for the religions. But, fortunately, there are deeper sources of spiritual

strength and renewal in each of the faiths that can be tapped. We need to move from

conferences and intellectual dialogues to a dialogue of the heart, of prayer, of

meditation. We need to bring God into this conflict, because only God has the power to

create the kind of miracles that can save us. When people of different faiths, especially

in this Holy Land, pray or meditate together, my sense is that the effort is greater than

the sum of their separate prayers. Joining different languages of prayer together, when

they are too often pretexts for conflict, can reverberate and draw God’s protection and

active intervention, in a way that is more powerful than when each faith community

prays on its own.[1]

[1] Quoted in Yehezkel Landau, Healing the Holy Land:  Interreligious Peacebuilding in Israel/Palestine, Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace, September, 2003 (research monograph No. 51 in the PEACEWORKS series, accessible online at www.usip.org/reports).  Halevi’s book was published by William Morrow (New York) in 2001, with a paperback edition (subtitled “A Jew’s Search for Hope with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land”) issued by Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers (New York), in 2002.


Resources for Advancing the Abrahamic Family Reunion

The AFR web site abrahamicfamilyreunion.org offers an extensive bibliography and selected book chapters and articles by Joseph Montville and monographs by many other authors that deal with the history of Judaism, Christianity and Islam separately and in interaction. There is also a list of DVD documentaries that the AFR project has collected and employed in workshops to deepen historical knowledge and stimulate serious dialogue.

Here we provide one “framing” book chapter that we believe sets the theoretical and historical context for understanding the troubled context of the Abrahamic family relationship. It is entitled “Jewish-Muslim Relations: Middle East,” and it was published in 2008 in The Crescent and the Couch: Crosscurrents between Islam and Psychoanalysis. Salman Akhtar, editor. The other document is the extremely important three part analysis of ethics and pro-social values in Judaism, Christianity and Islam commissioned by the AFR project and written by Lynn Kunkle, Ph.D. of American University.  It may very well be the crown jewel of this Guidebook.