Summary for the March 25-29, 2007
Abrahamic Family Reunion – Strategic Planning Workshop
Hosted by Esalen’s Center for Theory and Research (CTR)
And TRACK TWO: An Institute for Citizen Diplomacy
Organized and Facilitated by
Joseph V. Montville
Written by Rod O’Neal
In memory of Lex Hixon and the Gifts he gave the World
|At the very heart of the mounting political and military tension now in the Middle East are deep religious issues that are either specific to or particularly exacerbated within the relationships among the Abrahamic family of religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Nearly identical religious issues and tensions are driving forces behind the social and political dynamics in the relationships among Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the United States, whose Middle East policies are enormously influential in determining the course of developments in that entire region. Bridging rifts and healing wounds among these three faith traditions, therefore, is of enormous importance for the future stability and security of the global community.
To engage this increasingly crucial factor in our global life, the Esalen Center for Theory and Research (CTR), in partnership with TRACK TWO: An Institute for Citizen Diplomacy, has formed the Abrahamic Family Reunion project to foster understanding and healing among the three Abrahamic faith traditions. The Abrahamic Family Reunion project is a direct result of the understanding developed and relationships formed in the “Beyond Fundamentalism” series of conferences: modern Hindu fundamentalism in December 2004; Islamic fundamentalism in September 2005; Christian fundamentalism in April 2006; and Jewish fundamentalism in September 2006. CTR also co-sponsored the historic visit of former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami to the National Cathedral on September 7, 2006.
The Abrahamic Family Reunion project was launched in January 2007 with an initial meeting hosted by the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame. This meeting drew together nineteen leading mainline and evangelical Protestants and Catholics, clerics and lay people, to consider the possibility of forming a broad Christian coalition that could unite around global peace and interreligious reconciliation efforts.
The success of that first meeting provided impetus to the first major conference of the Abrahamic Family Reunion project, held March 25-29, 2007 at Esalen Institute – the Abrahamic Family Reunion Strategic Planning Workshop. This invitational conference brought together twenty-one renowned experts representing all three Abrahamic religions with two primary tasks: first, to discuss as comprehensively as possible what each community of Jews, Christians, and Muslims needs to hear from the other two to believe that an Abrahamic family reunion is possible; and second, to strategize on the most effective ways to present this message to Muslim, Christian, and Jewish communities in five U.S. target areas: the San Francisco Bay Area; greater Los Angeles; Washington, DC; metropolitan New York; and greater Boston. There was also discussion of outreach in the Middle East, Europe, and Russia.
The participants in the March 2007 strategic planning workshop were a diverse group of diplomats, scholars, and political activists representing each of the three Abrahamic faith traditions and who are already engaged in interreligious reconciliation work:
Evan P. Anderson is the Deputy Director of the Center for Global Justice and Reconciliation at Washington National Cathedral. In this capacity, he is actively involved in peacemaking and reconciliation initiatives around the globe. His work emphasizes inter-religious dialogue, interfaith relationship building, and Track II diplomacy as mechanisms for creating peace and reconciliation. He is currently involved in initiatives that are helping to build bridges between Islam and Christianity. Prior to joining the Cathedral, Mr. Anderson worked as a legal management consultant and assisted lawyers and law firms in issues pertaining to conflict resolution and personnel management. Mr. Anderson also has eleven years experience in politics, having worked first as a policy advisor to two Governors in the State of Florida and then as a Cabinet Aide to Florida’s Education Commissioner. He holds an M.S. in Counseling and post-master’s certificate in Organizational Counseling, both from the Johns Hopkins University.
Judith H. Banki is director of Special Programs at the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding in New York. An award-winning author (Graymoor Prize), her articles have appeared in Commonweal, the Journal of Ecumenical Affairs and The American Jewish Year Book, where her coverage of the struggle over what emerged as Nostra Aetate at the Second Vatican Council constituted the major Year in Religion articles for two consecutive years. More recently, she has co-edited an anthology of the writings of Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, and two volumes emerging from conferences at Catholic Theological Union and Cambridge University, which she helped coordinate. Deeply involved in Jewish-Christian and broader interreligious relations for many years, she recently was awarded an honorary doctorate by Seton Hall University for her work in promoting Jewish-Christian understanding, and received the “Peace through Dialogue” Interfaith Gold Medallion from the International Council of Christians and Jews.
David M. Bossman, S.T.B., M.A., M.S., Ph.D., is Professor in the Graduate Department of Jewish-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University and Executive Director of the Sister Rose Thering Endowment. Bossman is the author of numerous articles, essays, and book chapters, and has been Editor of Biblical Theology Bulletin since 1981.
Brian Cox is Senior Vice President for Dispute Resolution Training, International Center for Religion and Diplomacy in Washington, DC, to which position he brings over twenty years of pastoral and international reconciliation experience. He is also Rector of Christ the King Episcopal Church in Santa Barbara, California. He earned a BS in Geological Sciences from the University of Southern California, holds an M. Div. Degree from the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and has completed course work toward a D. Min. at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Beyond his obvious experience as a conciliator in his pastoral roles extending over a twenty-two year period, Rev. Cox’s effectiveness is based on many years of hands-on international reconciliation work. He has made eighteen reconciliation-related trips to Russia, Armenia and the eastern European countries. Further, he has organized and conducted seventeen conferences for churchmen in Honduras, Ecuador, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Mexico, Kenya, Zaire, South Africa, India and Israel. He has also worked closely with the Rabbinical Council of California in Los Angeles and the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California. Rev. Cox has recruited, trained and deployed short-term international teams to ameliorate problems or probe for opportunities for reconciliation. Over the years, he has developed and maintained partner relationships with numerous overseas parishes and churches. In short, Rev. Cox has done the kind of hard day-to-day work that creates the foundation for peacemaking and provides the stamina for long-term follow-through.
Marc Gopin is the James H. Laue Professor of Religion, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution, and the Director of the Center on Religion, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University’s Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. Gopin has lectured on conflict resolution in Switzerland, Ireland, India, Italy, and Israel, as well as at Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Princeton, and numerous other academic institutions. Gopin has trained thousands of people worldwide in peacemaking strategies for complex conflicts in which religion and culture play a role. He conducts research on values dilemmas as they apply to international problems of globalization, clash of cultures, development, social justice and conflict. Gopin has engaged in back channel diplomacy with religious, political and military figures on both sides of conflicts, especially in the Arab/Israeli conflict. He has appeared on numerous media outlets, including CNN, CNN International, Court TV, The Jim Lehrer News Hour, Israel Radio, National Public Radio, The Connection, Voice of America, and the national public radios of Sweden, Ireland, and Northern Ireland. He has been published in the International Herald Tribune, the Boston Globe, the Christian Science Monitor, and his work has been featured in news stories of the Times of London, the Times of India, Associated Press, and Newhouse News Service, regarding issues of conflict resolution, religion and violence. Gopin’s research is found in numerous book chapters and journal articles, and he is the author of Between Eden and Armageddon: The Future of World Religions, Violence and Peacemaking (Oxford University Press, 2000), and Holy War, Holy Peace: How Religion Can Bring Peace to the Middle East (Oxford University Press, 2002), a study on what was missing from the Oslo Process, and what will be necessary culturally for a successful Arab/Israeli peace process. His latest book, Healing the Heart of Conflict was published in 2004 by Rodale Press. Dr. Gopin was ordained as a rabbi at Yeshiva University in 1983 and received a Ph.D. in religious ethics from Brandeis University in 1993.
Gershon Greenberg has taught philosophy and religion at American University since 1973 (full professor since 1995). He previously taught at the University of Rochester (1971-73), Dartmouth College (1968-70), and Kenyon College (1967-68). He was a religion consultant to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, 1995-97, and has done research at the Oxford University Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies and the Institute for Holocaust Research at Bar Ilan University. He has been a visiting professor at Oxford, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Bar Ilan, and Hebrew universities, as well as at the Free University of Berlin. He holds a B.A. from Bard College and a Ph.D. in religious philosophy (1969) from Columbia University/Union Theological Seminary. In 1999, the Institute for Holocaust Research (Bar Ilan) published his Religious Thought in Wartime America About Jewish Faith and the Holocaust, 1938-1948. In 1997 and 1994 it published his two prior monographs of annotations of Jewish responses to the Holocaust. His The Holy Land in American Religious Thought, 1620-1948 was published in 1994 by University Press of America and the Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry in Jerusalem. He has also published many chapters in books and conference proceedings and several journal articles and book reviews, as well as presenting papers at a wide variety of professional meetings in the U.S., Israel, and Europe, especially in the area of Holocaust studies. His most recent volume is Wrestling with God: Jewish Theological Responses to the Holocaust (Oxford University Press) with Steven T. Katz.
Shadi Hamid is a founding board member and associate at the Project on Middle East Democracy, a newly-incorporated organization dedicated to examining how genuine democracies can develop in the Middle East and how the U.S. can best support that process. His articles on U.S. foreign policy and Middle East politics have appeared in the Carnegie Endowment’s Arab Reform Bulletin, The Christian Science Monitor, The Jerusalem Post, The American Prospect, TomPaine.Com, The Daily Star, Insight Turkey, and other publications. Hamid is a contributor to the National Security Network’s foreign affairs blog Democracy Arsenal and is the author of forthcoming book chapters on democratization in Jordan. He is a principal of the Truman National Security Project. As a Fulbright Fellow in Jordan, he conducted extensive research on the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Action Front. Previously, he was a Legislative Fellow at the Office of Senator Dianne Feinstein, where he worked on foreign affairs. He also served as a program specialist on Muslim outreach and public diplomacy initiatives at the Department of State. Hamid has been a consultant to various organizations on reform-related issues in the Arab world, and has appeared on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, NPR, and the BBC. He received his MA in Arab Studies from Georgetown University, where he was a David L. Boren Fellow. He is currently a Marshall Scholar and PhD candidate in politics at Oxford University, writing his dissertation on Islamist electoral behavior in Egypt and Jordan.
Shamil Idriss is Acting Director of the UN Alliance of Civilizations (AoC). He was appointed to the AoC Secretariat by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in October 2005. Co-sponsored by the governments of Turkey and Spain, the Alliance aims to advance an action plan involving multi-lateral agencies, governments and civil society organizations to improve Islamic-Western relations. Previously Mr. Idriss served as Senior Advisor to the World Economic Forum (WEF) where he established the “action track” of the Council of 100 Leaders: West-Islamic World Dialogue Initiative (C-100) and served from 2004 to 2006 on the Steering Committee for the initiative. He was appointed in 2005 to the WEF’s Young Global Leaders Forum. From 2000 to 2004, he served as Chief Operating Officer of Search for Common Ground, an international conflict resolution organization that specializes in the production of media for social change. Mr. Idriss has published articles on conflict resolution, Islamic-Western relations, and conflict-sensitive media in African, Middle Eastern, European, and American newspapers and journals. He lives in New York City with his wife and daughter.
Yehezkel Landau is Faculty Associate in Interfaith Relations at Hartford Seminary, a position underwritten by the Henry Luce Foundation. After earning an A.B. from Harvard University (1971) and an M.T.S. from Harvard Divinity School (1976), Landau made aliyah (immigrated) to Israel in 1978. A dual Israeli-American citizen, his work has been in the fields of interfaith education and Jewish-Arab peacemaking. He directed the Oz veShalom-Netivot Shalom religious Zionist peace movement in Israel during the 1980’s. From 1991 to 2003, he was co-founder and co-director of the Open House Center for Jewish-Arab Coexistence in Ramle, Israel. (See the Web site www.friendsofopenhouse.org.) He lectures internationally on Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations and Middle East peace issues, has authored numerous journal articles, co-edited the book Voices From Jerusalem: Jews and Christians Reflect on the Holy Land (Paulist Press, 1992), and authored a research report entitled “Healing the Holy Land: Interreligious Peacebuilding in Israel/Palestine” (United States Institute of Peace, Sept. 2003, accessible at www.usip.org/reports). At Hartford Seminary, Prof. Landau coordinates an interfaith training program for Jews, Christians, and Muslims called “Building Abrahamic Partnerships” (see www.hartsem.edu or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org).
Larry Lowenthal Dr. Lawrence D. Lowenthal is the Executive Director of the Greater Boston Chapter of the American Jewish Committee, the pioneer Human Relations agency in the United States. He has served as AJC Director for the last 18 years. During his 30 years of organizational work in the Greater Boston area, Dr. Lowenthal has been involved in interfaith and intergroup activities, written extensively about human rights issues for the local press, appeared often on radio and TV, hosted a local radio interview program, and taught courses on Jewish history, film, literature, and humor. A former academic, Larry taught English and American literature at Washington State College, New York University, and Gettysburg College before moving to Israel with his family in 1970. From 1970 to 1975, he taught English and American Literature at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv University. Drafted into a new immigrant unit of the Israeli Army in 1974, he went through basic training on the West Bank, anti- aircraft training in Herzilya, and served a tour of duty in Sharm el-Sheik at the southern tip of the Sinai Desert. Larry received his B.A. in English from Northwestern University, and his Ph.D. in English from New York University.
Anisa Mehdi is a trustee of the Esalen Institute. She is an Emmy award-winning broadcast journalist specializing in religion and the arts. Anisa knows interfaith: she grew up in a Muslim and Christian home. The U.S. Department of State sends her on citizen diplomacy tours to lecture on interfaith issues and Islam in the media. She is adjunct professor of communications at Seton Hall University and founder and president of Whetstone Productions, a New Jersey-based boutique production and consulting company. In 2003, Anisa produced and directed the highly acclaimed National Geographic documentary special “Inside Mecca.” She is the first American woman to cover the pilgrimage for broadcast in America. Anisa writes commentary for NPR’s “All Things Considered” and blogs for the Star Ledger, New Jersey’s largest daily newspaper. During her 25-year career in journalism Anisa has produced for CBS News, ABC News “Nightline,” the PBS documentary series “Frontline,” PBS’s “Religion and Ethics Newsweekly,” the BBC, New Jersey Public Television, and National Geographic Television and Film. Anisa is an avid flutist and enjoys making music with Esalen’s Executive Director of Programming, Nancy Lunney-Wheeler. Anisa is also a Trustee of The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey (www.shakespearenj.org), and Music For All Seasons (www.musicforallseasons.org). She is an advisor to the Spirit of Fez Festival International. A proud graduate of Wellesley College – where she majored in Spanish – Anisa also holds an M.S. in Journalism from Columbia University. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and two daughters.
Joseph Montville is director of the Esalen Center for Theory and Research/Track Two: An Institute for Citizen Diplomacy Beyond Fundamentalism project. He is also Distinguished Diplomat in Residence at American University, Senior Fellow at and chair of the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution, George Mason University, and Senior Associate, Center for Strategic and International Studies Expertise: Conflict resolution: East Central Europe, the Baltics, the Middle East, South Africa, Northern Ireland, Russia, Canada, and Latin America. Joseph Montville founded the preventive diplomacy program at CSIS 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 Harvard and the University of Virginia Medical Schools for his work in political psychology. He defined the concept of Track II, nonofficial diplomacy. Educated at Lehigh, Columbia, and Harvard 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]).
Michael Murphy is the co-founder and Chairman of Esalen Institute and the author of both fiction and non-fiction books that explore evidence for metanormal capacities in human beings, including Golf in the Kingdom and The Future of the Body. During his forty-year involvement in the human potential movement, he and his work have been profiled in the New Yorker and featured in many magazines and journals worldwide. A graduate of Stanford University, he was one of the first Americans to live at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, India in the early 1950s. In the 1980s, he began a successful Soviet-American Exchange Program, which was the premiere diplomacy vehicle for citizen-to-citizen Russian-American relations. In 1990, Boris Yeltsin’s first visit to America was initiated by Esalen. His other books include God and the Evolving Universe (co-authored with James Redfield), The Life We Are Given (co-authored with George Leonard), The Kingdom of Shivas Irons, Jacob Atabet, An End to Ordinary History, In the Zone: Transcendent Experience in Sports (co-authored with Rhea White), and The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation.
Dulce W. Murphy is a founder and was a director of the Esalen Institute Soviet American Exchange Program that began in 1980. Murphy then became the president and executive director of The Russian-American Center (TRAC) in San Francisco, a continuation of the same program. For the past twenty-five years she has been on the cutting edge of non-governmental Russian-American relations. In the spring of 2004, The Russian-American Center changed its name to TRACK TWO: An Institute for Citizen Diplomacy, that expands its mandate as a non-profit organization to include other countries, teaming up with Russian colleagues to that end. Track-two diplomacy involves non-governmental individuals and groups that aim to fill the moral and intellectual voids of official peacemaking leadership. Track Two’s major goal is to re-humanize relations that are dysfunctional. It works to make relationships better.
Rod O’Neal is an adjunct faculty member at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, where he is completing his Ph.D. in Philosophy and Religion. CIIS specializes in higher education that honors the spiritual dimension of intellectual life. He is a student of Christian fundamentalism, and a portion of his dissertation covers 18th-century evangelicalism. O’Neal received his education at Vassar College, and the University of California, Berkeley, where he worked as a biochemist. Most recently, O’Neal was a senior executive in the Internet industry, in which he continues to consult.
Farid Senzai is currently a Fellow and Director of Research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU). In this capacity, he leads the research effort for the organization and its continued focus on the Muslim community in the United States. Mr. Senzai is also an Adjunct Professor in the Political Science departments at California State University and Santa Clara University. Prior to joining ISPU, Mr. Senzai was a research associate at the Brookings Institution where he researched U.S. foreign policy towards the Middle East. In addition, he was a research analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations where he worked on Muslim Politics. He has also served as a consultant for Oxford Analytica and the World Bank. Mr. Senzai received his MA in International Affairs from Columbia University and is completing his Ph.D. in Political Science at Oxford University.
Jonathan Sheff is the National Organizer for the Tikkun Community, an interfaith progressive movement initiated by Tikkun Magazine. In this capacity he organizes communities across the United States to engage in critical issues, among them interfaith dialogue and peace in Israel-Palestine. Jonathan holds a bachelor’s degree in Humanistic Studies from McGill University, where he specialized in religious philosophies, and a master’s degree in Public Policy from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Donald W. Shriver, Jr. is Emeritus President of the Faculty and William E. Dodge Professor of Applied Christianity at Union Theological Seminary in New York. He served as president from 1975-91 and as fulltime teacher of ethics there until 1996. Born in Norfolk, Virginia, he is a graduate of Davidson College, Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, Yale University Divinity School, and Harvard University. From the last he holds a Ph.D. in the field of Religion and Society. He was ordained to the Presbyterian ministry in 1955 and was pastor of a Presbyterian congregation in Gastonia, North Carolina, 1956-59. He was Presbyterian University Minister and faculty member at North Carolina State University, 1962-72, and then Professor of Ethics and Society at Candler School of Theology in Emory University, 1972-75. He was president of the Society of Christian Ethics in 1980, was a fellow of the American Academy in Berlin (1999) and Visiting Senior Scholar of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation in Cape Town, South Africa (2002). He has lectured in England, Ireland, Belgium, Germany, South Africa, India, China, Taiwan, and South Korea. He holds six honorary degrees and has traveled in some fifty countries, with longest residences in Germany, South Korea, and South Africa. He is a member of the American Theological Society. His thirteen books have treated Christian ethics as related to race relations, youth culture, economics, medicine, urban affairs, business management and political conflict. He has taught or co-taught graduate courses in ethics in various neighboring university professional schools, including the Jewish Theological Seminary and four Columbia University schools-business, law, international affairs, and journalism. His most recent work has been in human rights and issues of restorative justice. In addition to some hundred articles, his major authored or co-authored books include: The Unsilent South: Prophetic Preaching in Racial Crisis; Spindles and Spires: A Re-Study of Religion and Social Change in Gastonia; The Lord’s Prayer: A Way of Life; Beyond Success: Corporations and Their Critics; and, most recently, An Ethic for Enemies: Forgiveness in Politics (Oxford 1995 and 1997), and Honest Patriots: Loving a Country Enough to Remember Its Misdeeds (Oxford, 2005).
Peggy Ann Leu Shriver is an author, Iowa-born Presbyterian, mother of three children, workshop leader and lecturer. She has served in various offices for the Presbyterian Church and on the boards of numerous social justice organizations. She was an Assistant General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., heading the Office of Research, Evaluation and Planning (1976-1988). She was on the staff for Professional Church Leadership, National Council of Churches USA, 1989-99 and was national evaluator for the AmeriCorps Ecumenical Program for Rural/Urban Service (1994-99). She is the author of numerous books and articles, including “The Waiting World Parish” from The Nature and Role of Ministry in the 21st Century; For the Peace of the World: A Christian Curriculum in International Relations, (NCCCUSA publication, 2005); The Bible Vote; Religion and the New Right; Having Gifts That Differ; and The Divided Church: Moving Liberals and Conservatives from Diatribe to Dialogue (co-authored with Richard G. Hutcheson, 1999). She has also published two volumes of poetry, Pinches of Salt and The Dancers of Riverside Park. In 2001, she and her husband served as joint theologian practitioners for Riverside Church. They received Union Theological Seminary’s Union Medal at the conclusion of Don Shriver’s presidency. Her Doctor of Humanities degree was conferred by Central College, Pella, Iowa. Their commitments involve them in many countries, including South Africa, Germany, Korea, and Ireland.
Imam Faheem Shuaibe Born in Denison, Texas, Faheem Shuaibe attended the Oakland Public Schools and has been an active citizen in the Bay Area community practically all of his adult life. He and his wife of 33 years are parents of four and grandparents of one. His wife is co-owner of a local realty and mortgage company and his children are multi-faceted and multi-talented. The children are educators, entertainers, entrepreneurs, pursuing post-graduate degrees, and just plain lovers of learning. They are a family of servants for the people. Mr. Shuaibe’s transition to the way of life known as Al-Islam began over 30 years ago. His tenure as Resident Imam (leader) and CEO of Masjidul Waritheen, Inc., in Oakland, California, began December 17, 1982. Prior to that, he served as Assistant Imam to several former Resident Imams of Masjid Muhammad Oakland (Masjidul Waritheen’s former name). Under his administration, many programs promoting the ongoing enhancement of the spiritual lives of the members of the community have been instituted. As Resident Imam, he also serves as Director of The Mohammed Schools of Oakland-Cora Z. Aleem Primary, Clara Mohammed Elementary, Clara Mohammed Middle, and W. D. Mohammed High-private schools under the umbrella of Masjidul Waritheen, Inc. With his implementation of innovative administrative improvements and a constantly advancing teaching staff, the school’s curriculum has been greatly enhanced with the students consistently scoring well above the national average on standardized tests. Listed in the International Who’s Who Among Intellectuals, and the National Who’s Who Among Public Speaking Professionals, Mr. Shuaibe is an author and an award-winning, nationally recognized, seasoned, platform speaker who has addressed hundreds of audiences for 20 plus years on topics of religion, world politics, human relationships, and societal evolution. In that time, he has traveled the country researching and developing leadership and achievement technologies. With more than 20 years media experience-television, radio and print-Imam Shuaibe is a dynamic and inspirational speaker. This combined with his background as an administrator in both the public and private sectors, has enabled him to develop a full spectrum of lectures and seminars/workshops that address creating and sustaining optimum human performance in all areas of human development. Mr. Shuaibe has addressed a variety of audiences, from the degreed to middle school students; the incarcerated to the physically free; secular and religious. He has addressed audiences for large and small companies and organizations, including The Commonwealth Club of San Francisco CA, Chiron Corporation of Emeryville CA, Yale University’s School of Law, Howard University, University of California at Berkeley’s Department of Affirmative Action, Fordham University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, New York University, University of Washington in St. Louis, Xavier University, and many religious organizations of various faiths. He’s been interviewed and cited by the Muslim Journal, the Oakland Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the National Geographic, USA Today and others. The tragedy of September 11, 2001, resulted in the general public’s tremendous appetite for knowledge of Al-Islam, and requests for Mr. Shuaibe’s participation in forums designed to help satisfy that appetite greatly increased. Consequently, he was a guest speaker for the Oakland Coalition of Congregations’ Understanding Islam program, and a plenary speaker for Northern California’s Conference of Episcopalian Bishops on Understanding Islam. And Masjidul Waritheen and Clara Mohammed School were featured in a KPIX-TV weeklong special on Muslims, which was aired as a result of that increased appetite for understanding Al-Islam. Mr. Shuaibe has been a part of several distinguished delegations that have taken him around the globe on various educational, religious, interfaith, and peace missions. As part of a delegation of select leaders, he traveled twice to Saudi Arabia-once during the Gulf Crisis. In June 1998 and October 1999, he traveled to Rome, Italy, to participate in interfaith meetings between Muslims and Catholics hosted by the Focolare Movement. He was one of two chaperones accompanying a group of college students studying in Malaysia in July 1997. And, Mr. Shuaibe also lived in Egypt the entire summer of 2005 immersed in an all-Arabic-speaking, advanced Arabic study program to further his understanding and knowledge of the Arabic language. Mr. Shuaibe has been variously recognized, receiving the keys to several cities across the country, as well as the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity’s Notable Citizen award. At home, the Masjidul Waritheen community has also shown their gratitude for his strong, insightful and compassionate leadership over the years with special recognition of him and his wife.
Glen Stassen is Lewis B. Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Prior to joining Fuller in 1997 he was Professor of Christian Ethics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twenty years. He earned a B.A. at the University of Virginia in nuclear physics, a B.D. at Union Theological Seminary (NY), and a Ph.D. at Duke University in Christian ethics and the history of Christian thought. Dr. Stassen is the author, co-author, and editor of numerous books, including Living the Sermon on the Mount (2006), Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context (2003), Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War (1998 and 2004), and Authentic Transformation: A New Vision of Christ and Culture (1996). He served as president of the Council of the Societies for the Study of Religion from 1999-2005, and as president of the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion from 1999-2000. He also has been chairperson of numerous groups within the American Academy of Religion. He has worked in multiple capacities for the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign, Peace Action, and the Louisville Area Council on Peacemaking.
Larry Wilson is editor of the Pasadena Star-News, a 30,000-circulation daily. He has worked as a freelance journalist, a copy editor at Rolling Stone Press in New York City and a technical writer in Saudi Arabia. Formerly his paper’s and then newspaper group’s editorial-page editor, he has been editor for 12 years. He teaches journalism each fall at the Annenberg School at USC. He has a bachelor’s in English from UC Berkeley, where he studied poetry with Seamus Heaney and Thom Gunn and was the music critic for the Daily Californian, and a master’s from the American Graduate School of International Management in Phoenix. A member of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena who grew up in an adamantly anti-religious family of scientists, he is married to architect Phoebe Wall Wilson, with whom he has a 16-year-old daughter, Julia.
Mention should be made of two participants who, at the very last minute, were unable to join us:
Adam B. Seligman is Professor of Religion at Boston University and Research Associate at the Institute for the Study of Economic Culture there. He has lived and taught at universities in this country, in Israel and in Hungary where he was a Fulbright Fellow from 1990-1992. He lived close to twenty years in Israel where he was a member of Kibbutz Kerem Shalom in the early 1970’s. His books include The Idea of Civil Society (Free Press, 1992); Inner-worldly Individualism (Transaction Press, 1994); The Problem of Trust (Princeton University Press, 1997); Modernity’s Wager: Authority, The Self and Transcendence (Princeton University Press, 2000); and with Mark Lichbach Market and Community (Penn State University Press, 2000). His work has been translated into a dozen languages. At present, with the help of major grants from The Ford Foundation and Pew Charitable Trusts, he is working on the problem of religion and toleration. Part of this work is devoted to establishing school curricula for teaching tolerance from a religious perspective. In this endeavor he is working with colleagues in Berlin, Sarajevo and Jerusalem. His latest book, Modest Claims, Dialogues and Essays on Tolerance and Tradition, was published with Notre Dame University Press in 2003. He lives in Newton, Massachusetts with his wife and two daughters.
Lawrence Wright is an author and screenwriter, and a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine. He is a graduate of Tulane University, in New Orleans, Louisiana, and the American University in Cairo, where he taught English and received an M.A. in Applied Linguistics in 1969. Upon his return to the U.S. in 1971, Wright began his writing career at the Race Relations Reporter in Nashville, Tennessee. Two years later, he went to work for Southern Voices, a publication of the Southern Regional Council in Atlanta, Georgia, and began to freelance for various national magazines. In 1980, Wright returned to Texas to work for Texas Monthly. He also became a contributing editor to Rolling Stone. In December 1992, he joined the staff of The New Yorker. Wright has published six books. City Children, Country Summer, (Scribner’s, 1979), In the New World: Growing Up with America, 1960 – 1984 (Knopf, 1988), Saints & Sinners (Knopf, 1993), Remembering Satan (Knopf, 1994), Twins: Genes, Environment, and the Mystery of Identity (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1997; Wiley & Sons, 1998), and God’s Favorite (Simon & Schuster, 2000). His history of Al Qaeda, The Looming Tower, was published by Knopf in 2006. It was listed by The New York Times and The Washington Post as among the five most important non-fiction books of 2006. A portion of that book, “The Man Behind Bin Laden,” was published in the New Yorker and won the 2002 Overseas Press Club’s Ed Cunningham award for best magazine reporting. He has also won the National Magazine Award for Reporting as well as the John Bartlow Martin Award for Public Interest Magazine Journalism. He has written a stage presentation called My Trip to Al Qaeda in which he narrates highlights of his five-year endeavor to produce The Looming Tower. It’s premier off-Broadway ran from March 1 to April 15, 2007. On April 16, Wright won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction for The Looming Tower. Wright is the co-writer (with Ed Zwick and Menno Meyjes) of The Siege, starring Denzel Washington, Bruce Willis, and Annette Benning, which appeared in November 1998. He also wrote the script of the Showtime movie, Noriega: God’s Favorite, directed by Roger Spottiswoode and starring Bob Hoskins, which aired in April 2000. Currently he is working on a script for MGM about John O’Neill, the former head of the FBI’s office of counterterrorism in New York, who died on 9/11. Wright is active in civic affairs, having founded Texas Writers Month, as well as Capital Area Statues, Inc. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He also serves as the keyboard player in the Austin-based blues band, Who Do.
Joe Montville opened the conference by describing our overarching goal as both daunting and feasible. We are here, first and foremost, to learn what representatives of each member of the Abrahamic family needs to hear to think that it is possible to have an Abrahamic reunion based on trust. In order for us to do that, we will need to walk through much of the history of these three faith traditions. Our purpose is not to identify villains but to pinpoint those behaviors and historical events that have set each tradition against the other two, to understand the underlying causes of the antagonism and brutality that resulted from these behaviors and events, and to address those causes therapeutically so that we can begin to heal our relationships. Montville emphasized that such a daunting goal is not a fantasy, but one that is grounded in the discipline of political psychology, which has a distinguished history of success in Track Two diplomacy. Based on the concepts of depth psychology and psychoanalysis, political psychology reveals how events in the past shape group and individual behavior, thereby offering cognitive insights that provide options for behavioral change.
Many of this conference’s participants, Montville continued, have been involved in the last three workshops on Muslim, Christian, and Jewish fundamentalism, in which we sought to understand the origins of aggressive and sometimes violent behavior in each of these traditions. The hard work of those conferences has provided a rich knowledge base. In the next few days, we will be building on that knowledge to develop strategies on how to persuade each other that we can heal the wounds in our relationships and learn to trust and value each other as the best kind of family. One of the most important aspects of this situation is the terrible waste of innocent life. The challenge of being a truly mature human being is to fight against this waste. And with the threat of nuclear warheads residing primarily in the hands of leaders within these three religious traditions, understanding how to stop and prevent violence is the most important goal of the work we need to do. If we can get our act together, we will be able to set an example not only for the major Abrahamic religious traditions but for the larger, global religious context as well.
On the first day of this conference, we need to be as honest with each other as possible to understand what each community needs to hear from the others, eliciting through dialog an agenda for healing by means of a frank presentation of grievances, and proceeding in the same order as the previous conferences: Muslims, Christians, Jews.
Muslim Presentation and Discussion
What would Muslims need to hear from Christians and Jews to believe that the Abrahamic Family Reunion is possible?
Imam Faheem Shuaibe started the Muslim presentation by identifying three major points. First, Muslims need to hear a genuine recognition that Abraham is our common father, that in our relationship to Abraham we share a universal root, making us one family. Second, once we have all recognized our common ground, members of all three traditions should be invited to meet to come to a set of common terms. With no one raised above the others, in an egalitarian spirit, we should then strive to agree upon a way to use that familial relationship as a basis to return to common ground and as a touchstone for dialog on larger issues, especially any scriptural foundation being used to justify acts of aggression toward and oppression of others. And, third, by examining these foundations in our sacred texts, we can better identify the language and vocabulary that will enable all of us to continue that larger dialog.
Farid Senzai addressed the topic by reporting on the major questions he encounters while teaching. In his undergraduate classes on Middle East politics, his students are very interested in what’s happening within this arena. Almost inevitably, their first questions are “Why do these people want to kill us?” or “Why do they hate us so much?” At the root of these questions is a profound lack of understanding of the historical background. And it is only by placing such questions within the larger historical context of fourteen centuries of Islamic history that these questions begin to be answered in a more nuanced way that brings understanding and often surprise.
Questions asked by students in classes designed for older adults (age 50 and above) largely reflect the persistent media bombardment of a constant insistence on the dichotomy of “us and them,” a dichotomy that Arabs and Muslims, on their side, are equally insistent on. This dichotomy does not foster the kind of dialog that can yield understanding and must be eradicated before any movement toward resolving our differences can occur. In order to understand those differences, we need instead to understand our common beginnings. In his teaching, Senzai begins by focusing on the common theological ground as a monotheistic religion that Islam has with both Judaism and Christianity. Once this common ground is established, we can begin to understand the differences that exist. From there, we can appreciate those differences, rather than insisting on answering the question of “why do they hate us?” Starting with that question, we have begun with conflict. By contrast, starting with our base of commonality, we can begin more accurately to discern between specific religious and political points of difference. In this way, we are able to address why this hatred exists within a meaningful context.
Another major point Senzai made concerned his growing frustration that conversations about critical issues, such as the Israeli-Palestinian tension, are more difficult to sustain in New York or even in the San Francisco Bay Area than in London, Oxford, or even in Israel, where there seems to be more willingness to consider divergent perspectives. It is unfortunate that in the U.S. it is often more difficult to have an initial open dialog. Senzai thought that the difficulty in the U.S. may result from the distance people in the U.S. have from the crisis. Because Israelis are living the conflict, they know that the conflict needs to be solved. Because those in the U.S. are not living the experience, they can be more easily polarized about it and more uncompromising. Even theologically, U.S. views on religion remain limited, primarily because we are bombarded by the dominant story of the current U.S. administration and some media, in which people are portrayed as evil, that “they” are bad. But who precisely do we mean by “they”? Unfortunately, this dichotomy prevails in the U.S. to a degree that is not true for Europe and some other parts of the world, despite our insistence on our freedom to debate such issues. We must get beyond this dichotomy. When a U.S. congressman suggests that we need to “nuke them,” we need to ask, “Nuke who?” We need to understand the consequences of that language and those actions.
These points prompted several comments and questions from others, in three general categories:
As to why people use language such as “We need to nuke them,” Yehezkel Landau suggested that underneath our sophisticated intelligence are deep apocalyptic nightmares. Gershon Greenberg inquired about the psychological origins for this shift to such dualisms as good and evil or us and them. In the discussion that followed, dualistic thinking of this kind was presented as a radical simplification of thought processes and a sheer reduction in brain circuitry that result from a frozen reaction to trauma, which shrinks the support for managing complexity in the brain and, therefore, in the discourse. Complexity requires additional energy, extra support, which needs to come from the simultaneous activity of various areas of the brain. It is also important to remember that when people in therapy re-experience in the present a past trauma, they dissociate. In a dissociative state, the past event becomes very real to them in the present.
Heritability of cultural issues and dehumanization
Imam Faheem Shuaibe raised the important point that in understanding these reactions we need to address the distinctions between culture and religion, between ethnicity and religion. Shuaibe illustrated this point by discussing the heritability of cultural problems within the context of the children of gang members in a 2005 documentary, Bastards of the Party, directed by Cle Shaheed Sloan. One major conclusion of this film is that we must stop giving names to our children that perpetuate violence. The terms we use to refer to others allow us to depersonalize and dehumanize them, which in turn enables us to perform atrocities and acts of terror against other human beings. Shuaibe emphasized that this is how labels such as the “axis of evil” or “terrorist” work. Such labels depersonalize or objectify those who disagree with us, without taking into account that such people are also fathers or mothers with children.
Montville underscored the value of focusing on dehumanization, reminding everyone that our approach is psycho-political, which is grounded in three concepts that were central to earlier efforts allied with the American Psychiatric Association in the Israeli-Arab conflict:
In the psycho-political model, grievances become a part of an identity of a people and victimhood is a psychology that represents a way of reacting to traumatic acts of violence and loss that a people has suffered. Victimhood results in a defensiveness and a brain chemistry involving stress hormones that keep someone in a permanent state of alert, believing that the people that hurt you are just waiting to return to hurt you again, whether 2000 years ago or just yesterday. Victimhood is also a loss of faith in the concept of justice, with no recognition or reparation of the wound. By labeling others as enemies, tribes and nations go through a process of justification for killing and wasting the lives of their enemies, sometimes even their brothers or sisters. Such cognitive, or analytical, tools permit the understanding of such behaviors and the development of intervention strategies.
Regarding our ability to treat trauma, Marc Gopin made the point that whereas many psychological conditions, such as anxiety, are eminently treatable these days, trauma remains one of the most difficult to deal with therapeutically, because it resurfaces out of nowhere sometimes after many years. Although there is much promise in various experimental techniques like Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and somatic psychology, no definitive conclusions have been drawn regarding this extremely complex issue. This same degree of complexity and difficulty must be true of social trauma as well. As we think about the traumatic wounds each of the Abrahamic religions have suffered, we need to keep in mind that the solutions will need to be profound, needing to reconfigure the brain construct or the world view so that memories no longer trigger the us-them dichotomy.
Victimhood and the interpretation of sacred text
Judith Banki reported on the conclusions made from her long-term involvement in the evaluation of U.S. Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish religious support texts and teaching materials in how they represented groups outside their own tradition. One of the major findings of that study was that every major Protestant group defines itself as a victim of the oppression of another community. Even Episcopalians saw themselves as victimized by the oppression of another community. This pervasive view plays into our discussion of the re-experience of past trauma. One of the tragedies in terms of the Jewish-Christian relationship has do with the trauma of Christianity separating from Judaism, with a great deal of hostility engendered because Jews would not come along with them in the belief that Jesus was the Messiah. That hostility was canonized in scripture, which, when read by uninformed Christians, has led to interpretive traditions that generate anti-Semitism. The same situation is true for the Qur’an. The question that remains is whether we can find a way to deal with these texts in such a way as to say, “that was then, this is now.” If we can, we will be able to do a great deal to mitigate these tensions. The problem is that our culture is fully permeated by these stereotypes, such as the belief in the worldwide conspiracy of Jews as described in the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” which appears to be widely believed and accepted in the Arab world. That belief comes out of a certain Christian mythology. We need to deal with our sacred texts and create interpretations that allow us to understand each other today, and see historic conflicts within their larger contexts.
Shamil Idriss returned the conversation to the session topic by stating that although the conversation so far has been very valuable, it has not been uncomfortable enough for the level of anger and resentment in society in general, which seems to be extreme and not just among extremists. In general, whether secular, religious, extremist, or moderate, many Muslims see what is coming both politically and culturally from Christians and Jews in the U.S. and in Europe through three prisms:
1) Cultural and religious disrespect
Regarding the cultural and religious disrespect issue, Idriss reported that what many Muslims think is that Christians and Jews have it worked out, despite the problems the two may still have. Idriss frequently hears that those traumas most often mentioned, especially the Holocaust, are being institutionalized by politically active Jews in the U.S. and certain evangelical Christians to perpetuate the victimization of Muslims, in such a way that it becomes acceptable for Muslims to be taken off streets and imprisoned. In other words, the degree to which one trauma is memorialized has paved the way for the victimization of others. The result within the Muslim community from this sense of hypocrisy is humiliation, resentment, and fury. We are starting, therefore, to play with each other’s traumas – as evidenced by the Danish cartoon controversy and the recent conference convened in Iran to deny that the Holocaust took place. Such purposeful exacerbation of insecurities and of the most sensitive or sacred aspects of group identities and history is particularly distressing and dangerous.
Idriss identified three things that Muslims need from Christians and Jews: First, Muslims need to hear explicit expressions of respect for Islam as a religion and a faith, and actions demonstrating that respect. Second, Muslims need to be included in the dialog and involved in processes, for example, by bringing Muslims onto boards of organizations. And third, regarding the acute conflicts, Christians and Jews should take stronger stands that these need to be dealt with as a priority. These conflicts are not the only issues, but they are making it much more difficult for less extreme and non-violent forces in Muslim societies to gain traction. It is also important for Christians and Jews to realize that most state and secular powers in the Muslim world are viewed as ineffective in dealing with the perceived victimization. In general, the heroes of the Muslim world right now are those who are perceived as having fought back successfully against the Western assault. One of the most popular leaders currently is Nasrallah, head of the Hezbollah, not because Muslims like his ideology or are Shia, but because Hezbollah is largely viewed as being one of very few effective agents in fighting back against what is perceived as a regular violent assault against Muslim society.
Another major point Idriss emphasized concerns the false dichotomy of secular and religious. The peacebuilding community is sometimes largely secular. It needs to recognize, however, that secular is not good and religious is not bad. Religion is a potent social and political force. No single secular movement in the Muslim world from Malaysia to Morocco is able to motivate the kinds of mass movements found repeatedly in religious demonstrations. Regardless of the religious situation in Europe and the U.S., with Muslims accounting for one-fifth of the human population, the secular-religious dichotomy is just wrong.
In contrast to the observations Farid Senzai offered, Shadi Hamid brought our attention to an opposite trend he has observed within his non-Muslim colleagues, who, while generally sympathetic and pro-Arab, have displayed a growing frustration particularly in the past year. According to them, Muslims need to get their act together. Only so much can be blamed on American policy. The ball is not only in the U.S. political court, or that of Jews or Christians; Muslims also need to take responsibility for those areas in which they have political, cultural, and moral agency. A similar shift is visible in the American public discourse. Tom Friedman, for example, to some extent began with an empathetic position toward Arabs, genuinely displaying a desire to see a better future for the Arab world. More recently, however, he has presented anger toward Arabs in what is largely an implicitly anti-Arab discourse. There is a mounting frustration in such people. 2005 seemed to present an optimistic moment, a kind of turning point, when things seemed to be moving forward in establishing democracy in the Middle East. Now Muslims are fighting each other. Why aren’t Arabs protesting against the slaughter? Why aren’t Muslims drawing a strong moral, cultural line about internal violence? This level of frustration needs to be brought into the overall working context if we are to understand the issues at hand.
In terms of what Muslims need to hear from non-Muslims, Hamid emphasized that it first needs to be understood that the Muslim world maintains a largely uncompromising adherence to a strict interpretation of the Qur’an as divine revelation. This adherence is in contrast to the position espoused in recent publications, such as Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has renounced her Muslim faith. In that book, Ali expresses the view that the problem is not just with Muslims; the problem resides within the Qur’an and the Islam religion itself. A bestseller, Infidel has received excellent reviews by mainstream, liberal publications, including the New York Times and Washington Post, saying that Ali is a courageous voice that needs to be heard. Although that may be true, for Hamid, Ali’s position does not represent the position of a vast majority of Muslims worldwide.
Ali’s book illustrates a more fundamental point, that now everyone seems to be looking in various places for moderate Muslim voices. Searching for answers in those who confirm our stereotypes is not helpful. In fact, we are not likely to find a solution in secular Muslims, or those who have renounced their faith, or those who say what liberal Americans want to hear, because such voices are not representative of mainstream Islamic thought. Especially when we’re talking about the issue of scripture, at the end of day the vast majority of Muslims are not willing to compromise on the scriptural integrity of the Qur’an. By contrast, most mainstream American Christians and Jews have agreed that the Bible was inspired by God, but should not be taken literally or word for word, preferring instead to interpret it metaphorically or symbolically in an Enlightenment approach to faith and tradition. Islam, however, is largely resistant to this type of Enlightenment secularism. That the situation is different in the Muslim world is reflected in the fact that Islamist movements are the only major movements now visible in the Middle East. For us to move forward in this reconciliation or reunion dialog, Christians and Jews must recognize that Muslims hold very different worldviews and that answers do not reside with secular Arabs who have renounced their faith.
Another issue Hamid emphasized was humiliation, an issue already mentioned. For most people raised within the Muslim tradition, the idea that we have an amazing history is a powerful force. But the position of Muslims in history has changed drastically. Once the movers of history, Muslims are now only the recipients of history. To fall from a people so high to a people so low – such a precipitous drop in the status of the Muslim world is a deep source of humiliation that needs to be recognized and properly addressed.
Hamid’s final point concerned one thing Muslims do not want to hear: that “Islam is peace.” Although part of an apologetic discourse that may have been useful immediately following the events of September 11th, statements that Islam is peace mean absolutely nothing in practice. They are platitudes that do not move us forward.
Anisa Mehdi began by emphasizing that recent conflicts between Jews and Muslims do not represent an ancient antagonism, but have to do with the creation of the state of Israel. These conflicts are, therefore, relatively recent and are the result of the displacement of peoples against their will. What Muslims need to hear from Christians and Jews, she continued, is an indication of our willingness and ability to see this bigger picture, and that much of what needs to be changed has to do with our language and how we express history. For example, the standard account of the European reconquest of Spain is simply not accurate. For several hundred years there was a civilization of Spain. The Europeans who conquered Spain were not the ones who lived there before. Instead, there was a European conquest of Spain and that prior to that conquest there was an age-old partnership between Muslims and Jews, as well as Christians.
Mehdi identified several additional desires: First, that Christians and Jews recognize that Saudi Arabia, a state founded by the Saud family in the twentieth century, is not now and never has been the homeland, the heartland, or the birthplace of Islam. Islam was founded in Mecca and Medina (Yathrib). Second, that Jews and Christians need to understand that the conflict about Palestine is not about the religion of Jews, Christians, or Muslims, but about real estate. Had another group of Muslims taken over Palestine, there would have been an equal situation of resentment. Third, that Christians and Jews acknowledge that Islam is not an ancient Eastern religion. Islam is just as Eastern as Judaism and Christianity are and less ancient than both. Instead, Islam is the baby sister of the Abrahamic family. As the baby sister, Muslims would like an invitation to the table instead of the now dominant reaction of jealousy born from sibling rivalry.
Nina Habibi presented an Iranian-American perspective, in which she has experienced an astounding ignorance of Iran and Iranians based primarily on what American mainstream media present. First, Iranians may be Muslims but we are not Arabs. Most importantly, Iranians have an immense amount of pride in the cultural accomplishments of what was and continues to be a great civilization. The Persian Empire lives today for many contemporary Iranians. Iranians want to be recognized as major contributors to human civilization. Instead, Iran is being “dissed” by the U.S., which is seen as a young, brawny upstart on the broader historical stage.
Concerning the perspective of Iranians in Iran, the main concern has to do with the feeling that Iranians have no say in how their own country is managed. This feeling originates in the British orchestrated and U.S. (CIA) executed coup of 1953. That coup overthrew the elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh, one of the first formative democracies in the Middle East, and re-installed the Pahlavi dynasty in order to consolidate British and American control of Iran’s oil resources. After the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Mossadegh was recognized as a national hero by a huge, spontaneous march to the site of his house arrest where he died.
With the discussion opened to non-Muslim participants, Gershon Greenberg posed this question to the psychologists present: Is trauma related to the freezing of history and is the healing of trauma dependent on our ability to remake history? Gordon Wheeler replied that the freezing of history is definitely part of the trauma reaction, but healing does not involve so much an undoing of history as it requires a consensual honoring by a group of listeners of the reality of the past and the specific elements of the story. That act of consensual honoring then opens up possibilities for discourse and literally begins to reconnect the diminished complexity of the brain of a traumatized victim.
Montville provided a political-psychological perspective. It is a question of reclaiming history as part of a self-concept that is a source of great pride for a people whose self-esteem has been dashed and for whom a memory has been lost, often deliberately suppressed. The story of Muslim Spain is a prime example. Spanish Catholics have simply suppressed the memory of Muslim Spain, which was, in fact, a great Muslim-Jewish achievement and major cultural accomplishment. Muslim Spain represents a moment of history in which Andalusia and Cordoba created a glorious civilization that was the envy of Christian Europe. This history of Spain is rarely taught. So, the healing of social traumas is a recovery of history that yields renewed self-esteem and re-establishes an honored reputation in the world.
Gopin returned to the issue of the political utilization of victimization, described by Idriss as “playing with our traumas.” The use of the Holocaust, for example, is a very complex issue, involving not only Holocaust education and Holocaust memorialization, but also the political uses of the Holocaust, including in peacemaking efforts. These are all occurring simultaneously, including serious manipulations not only at the highest political levels but also on the general educational level. Gopin himself has only recently become aware of how victimization has been utilized as a way of civilizing Arabs and Israelis or civilizing others generally, but is now involved in conversations about how to disconnect Holocaust institutions from political uses, which altogether currently constitute a massively-funded set of initiatives. Disconnecting the two, however, is not a simple or straightforward task. After atheism, or the loss of faith in God, the two primary poles of contemporary Judaism are Israel and the Holocaust. These poles form the basis of Jewish identity and are the foundation of Jewish fundraising. You cannot simply remove a pole of identity. The process must be managed carefully to move toward something more constructive. That process, however, deserves more discussion, because it is relevant to all instances of the use of victimization. The uses of victimization in Rwanda or Bosnia, for example, are either constructive or destructive depending upon how the victim is able to move with it and move on from it. Montville agreed, adding that an important, related question concerns how to equip a culture with the ability to recognize the negative ways in which a trauma is being manipulated.
Returning to the inerrancy issue, Gopin indicated that it would be difficult to emphasize too strongly that a fundamental divide about inerrancy exists among the most liberal elements of Jews, Christians, and Muslims involved in interfaith-relations efforts. In both Christianity and Judaism, the key to transformation has been to move away from the position of inerrancy, to move away from the most violent texts, to move away from the most dangerous clerical authorities. Abraham in Judaism, for example, is not an inerrant figure. Rather, there is a long Judaic tradition based on points in the Bible and the Talmud that illustrate Abraham’s mistakes. Many people involved in reconciliation efforts today feel that it will be difficult to find common ground in conversations, when our best allies in the Muslim community are quietly waiting for an Islamic reformation, similar to the reformations that took place in Judaism and Christianity. Rather than focusing on the issue of Muslim reform and liberalism, Gopin is more interested in promoting nonviolence.
Jay Ogilvy commented on the issue of reformation, saying it is also important for Christians to re-evaluate our Reformation. The need is illustrated by the situation in Turkey today, which represents an anomaly of a secular, Muslim democracy. In the light of the ambivalent results of the political and social situation in Turkey, post-Enlightenment Christians may need to re-examine the neatness with which we have compartmentalized politics and religion, state and church. We may learn much from the perspective and insights gained from Turkey as an example within the Muslim world of living this precise problem.
Although Yehezkel Landau expressed agreement with Gopin about the Holocaust (victim) and Israel (victor) as the two primary poles of Jewish identity and the need to move from that victim-victor script to something healthier, he raised questions about the issue of the inerrancy of scripture, particularly in the use of figures like Abraham. The issue of inerrancy is a persistent challenge that requires constant dialog. Rather than wait for a Muslim reformation, whatever that might mean, Landau prefers instead Reza Aslan’s advocacy in No god but God of moving from the institutions to individuals, in keeping with what Martin Luther advocated. The goal is to balance perspectives in a conversation with each other. With great curiosity, we should learn how Muslims work out problems. By carefully listening to how Muslims converse with each other, we become able to honor their discourse, their sacred figures, and their sacred texts as something that has much wisdom to offer us and our tradition.
Shadi Hamid expressed concerns about the coupling of Islamic reform with the sacrifice of textual inerrancy, and raised doubts that any Muslim, even those advocating Islamic reform, also advocates abandoning the belief that Muslim sacred texts are inerrant as a strategy toward reformation. On this point, Montville added, Aziz Sachedina is a very devoted Muslim. Like King and Gandhi, Sachedina honors all of God’s peoples and emphasizes the importance of nonviolence as the way to accommodate the inerrancy issue. Sachedina finds strong support for pluralism and human rights deeply rooted in his faith. Gopin highlighted additional complications within the inerrancy issue by presenting the radical move Martin Buber made in his assessment that parts of Deuteronomy may not have heard God correctly. Others raised the importance of historical context. But overall there was general agreement that the inerrancy issue was an important piece that needed further attention and a place in our strategies.
The discussion ended with Shamil Idriss returning to the important question about how much of the conflict between Muslims and Jews is truly about religious texts and teachings. Agreeing with an earlier statement by Mehdi, Idriss believes that the Jewish-Muslim conflict is not the outcome of hundreds of years of history, but the result of the last 60 years of political and military history and the loss of political and military power. The conflict seems to have less to do with religious texts and specific sacred textual statements espousing hatred of Jews than it does with specific political problems.
Christian Presentation and Discussion
What do Christians need to hear from Muslims and Jews to believe that the Abrahamic Family Reunion is possible?
Don Shriver began the Christian presentation and discussion by saying that while he rejoices that evangelical Christians have acquired a relatively new reputation for being concerned about the environment, international diplomacy, and an openness to the inclusion of Muslims in religious dialogs, he would like recognition from Jewish and Muslim friends around the world that mainline Christian churches and others have been interested in and involved on the side of justice all along. Like every other large religious community in the world, Christianity, especially in America, is a very diverse set of organizations and points of view, including our relationship with the rest of the world concerning war and peace. Also, it would help us mainline churches and others if critics of America would note that there are many Christians in America, especially educators, who join foreigners in some of their current criticisms of the U.S.A. In fact, there is and has been a great deal of protest in Christian communities against the policies of the current U.S. administration.
By the same token, Shriver expressed the desire for leaders of Jewish and Muslim communities worldwide to make it easier for Christians to learn about diversity within their own communities. We should be more aware of the debates taking place within Israel, as well as the debate within the American Jewish community, in ways that never make it into the mainstream media. Certainly, those debates must be taking place within both international and American Muslim communities. It is important for us to know that writers such as Aslan and Sachedina call for a reformation within Islam on Islam’s terms, and that, according to Aslan, this reformation is going on now. In Protestantism, the Calvinist view is that reformation must be ongoing. That nothing human is perfect is a deeply Protestant point of view, resulting in deep perplexity about statements that the Qur’an is perfect. Shriver also expressed the hope that by lifting the curtain of secrecy over debates taking place within each of our communities, we might use those debates as a way of identifying more closely with each other.
As a final point, Shriver mentioned the possibility that the Spirit of God has no single headquarters, that the Spirit moves where It wills. According to Karl Barth, the sovereignty of God is the freedom of God to move as He wills. That possibility, that the Spirit of God is at work in many, many places beyond our own orthodoxies, gives hope for the world.
Peggy Shriver began by expressing what for her is most painful: the failure in either Judaism or Islam to grasp what Jesus means to Christians. While Christians may fail to express well in words what Jesus accomplished, it hurts to hear that all Christians need to do for us to get along is simply demote Jesus to just one among others, when for us that would be a kind of abdication of a relationship, a kind of treachery. What that demands from Christians is that we eliminate the experience of the crucifixion and resurrection and all that they are understood by Christians to mean as a gift from God: that God really does love us; that God gives us hope; that our lives are so treasured that we can anticipate death not as an end, but as a beginning; and that God somehow was imbuing Jesus with enough of God’s very Self to be a route of access for humanity on God’s part, so that Jesus, on his part, could provide us special access to God. Perhaps most evident in Black churches and in those people who have felt demeaned and come from the poorest or most disadvantaged backgrounds, when Christians say that they rely on Jesus, they are not simply playing around with those words. They feel they have gotten strength from the life of Jesus. Through knowing the human Jesus they believe that God understands and loves their own humanity, and that Jesus’ divine relationship assures them that we are all children of God. Shriver wants that to be recognized and respected by both Jews and Muslims, not in a way that is simply acceptable, but in such a way that honors that something profound is taking place here, that a ragtag group of people called the disciples a couple of thousand of years ago produced a group of people around the world known as Christians, and that something deeply mysterious made that happen.
David Bossman suggested that there is a narcissism in religion, in all religions. Each religion thinks it is the only one with the truth. This is especially true in the Abrahamic family with our emphasis on monotheism, that we are the only ones who know the true God, and that this knowledge is the touchstone or bedrock of reality. Perhaps all three Abrahamic traditions need to look beyond these concerns to understand what religion can do for human spirituality. What can religion do to help the human spirit come alive? In this light, we can come to recognize that each tradition is one way, but not the only way for humanity.
Concerning Muslims and Jews, Bossman would like to see a non-propagandistic presentation of each tradition. Honesty about our own traditions is crucial. When necessary, each of us should air our dirty laundry and take ownership of our own sins. Only with honesty is there opportunity for true understanding and growth; with propaganda there is no opportunity.
Bossman also made a plea for what has been called the secular mind, science, and Enlightenment perspectives. The secular mind is free to think widely and explore many things, whereas the religious mind is inclined to judge so many things as evil, including secularism. But secularism should not be conflated with evil. The separation of church and state in secular societies provides religious freedom, based on a covenant among diverse groups by which we agree to tolerate the beliefs of others and respect their rights to pursue those beliefs. For Bossman, the Protestant Reformation was a cultural change from a collectively centered society or religion to an individually centered society or religion. And yet for some reason, the very science that affirms the important differences among individuals is now felt to undermine our religious traditions or our religious scriptures. Religious texts came from societies in which the individual did not matter, but were primarily concerned with the group. In our post-Reformation world, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims have, to varying degrees, negotiated the passage from a collectivist attitude to one focused on individual responsibility and introspective consciousness. When we speak about a psycho-political perspective, we need to recognize that this is a Western, American, and, specifically, a Reformation perspective. In many societies, it is the group that defines individual identity. We also need a social-political perspective that takes into account the advances in understanding of modern science. Bossman recommended a book he uses in a course, Religious Organizations in Community Services: A Social Work Perspective, by Terry Tirrito and Toni Cascio. The social work perspective is very helpful. All our religious traditions provide a foundation for charity or social justice, which, if harnessed, could allow us to work together.
In the general discussion that followed Bossman’s comments, Don Shriver suggested that, as a general procedural rule, perhaps we should always search for the best in other religions and be honest about the worst of our own. Gershon Greenberg observed that in the discussion so far each of the three Abrahamic religions contains elements that consider that religion to have the ultimate truth and yet, at the same time, strive to be pluralistic and recognize the truth in other religions. This is an irresolvable contradiction that invokes the thought of Heraclitus and the unavoidable tension of irreconcilable opposites. Perhaps we need to become comfortable with allowing these contradictions to exist simultaneously.
Evan Anderson continued the Christian presentation by returning the conversation to the topic of narcissism in religion. Inherent in this struggle among our faiths, Anderson felt, is the subtext that “we’ve got it right and we’re more special to God.” Historically, the response to those subtexts has been that not only do you not have it right, but if you don’t also admit how wrong you are, I’m going to kill you or, at least, marginalize you. If people of all three faiths would come to the table with the understanding that no single religion has the answers and that each of us individually has a window onto the nature of God, that would help discussions to begin more honestly. Anderson also expressed surprise at statements that the majority of Christians do not consider the Bible to be inerrant, when the battles and issues that are currently dividing the Episcopal and Anglican churches are largely concerned with precisely these types of inerrant positions of hard-line Christians. And regarding the idea of the chosen people, if the position is taken that every soul walking on this planet is chosen by God, then the concept of a race set apart by God as more special than other races is unsupportable. That this idea of a special alliance with God is used to legitimate oppression and the displacement of a people is deeply troubling. Anderson needs that to be acknowledged.
From the Jewish community, Anderson expressed the need to know that when he mentions the importance of honoring the suffering of Palestinians that the conversation will continue and that he won’t be labeled an anti-Semite. He would also want to hear from Muslim men that your sacred texts will not be bastardized to justify the oppression of women, or reinterpreted in such a way that oppression of women happens.
The general statements from Christians prompted a great deal of discussion on several key themes:
The use of sacred texts to oppress
Scriptural inerrancy and textual criticism
Faheem Shuaibe commented on the issue of the static versus dynamic nature of scripture in Islam. While the Qur’an has remained the same for many hundreds of years, the context has changed. As people and circumstances have changed, so does the interpretation. The Islamic system includes both the Qur’an and the life of Mohammed. The two are, in fact, inseparable, since both must be taken into account for correct interpretation. The central concept in interpretation is to identify the Maqasid or Masalih (the objective which is intended to do the best for the public benefit). Actions must be judged according to these objectives. This is a tradition in Islamic jurisprudence called Ijtihad (legal reasoning in the absence of explicit edicts from the Qur’an or from the Prophet on the matter in question). Ijtihad comes from the approved practices (Sunnah) of the Prophet. In Islam, with different schools of thought, in the matter or practice of Ijtihad, the question arises as to who is qualified for it.
Christian ideas about Jesus
Larry Lowenthal pointed out that within the Jewish community the consensus seems to have been reached in a growing literature that Jesus was a Jew and that he lived and died as a Jew. It was his followers that took his teachings in a different direction. Joe Montville took up that observation and presented a summary of the tense political and social relationship that existed between Christianity and Judaism in the Roman period, having to do with Roman subjugation of the Jewish people and the destruction of the Temple occurring during the same period when the Jesus movement was painfully separating from the Jewish tradition. This subject represents an enormous, relatively new area of inquiry that is immensely relevant to the Jewish-Christian-Muslim relationship. For many psycho-political reasons that take into account the behavior of large collective groups, this complex situation resulted in what was really a big, sad, tragic mistake leading to a history of repression of Jews under Christian power.
Jewish acknowledgement of Christianity
Mentioning Palestinian suffering or criticism of Israel seen as anti-Semitic
Continuing, Gopin remarked that Christian people have been apologizing to Jews for the past fifty years and the moment they criticize Israel they’re called Nazis. Books cannot accomplish the healing needed here. We need to get at the hearts of individuals within each conflict. The only successful breakthroughs in such situations have come not through mind-to-mind encounters but through heart-to-heart encounters that transform individuals. While Joe Montville agreed, he maintained that cognitive assault also plays an important role that makes the heart-to-heart leap easier. Cognitive approaches provide new historical context for understanding how such situations have developed. Within this context, Larry Lowenthal pointed out that it is possible to have these personal encounters through established institutions. Such heart-to-heart dialogs are already taking place in the U.S. They are also taking place in Israel. While the effects of these conversations may not have filtered quite yet into governmental policy, changes are taking place.
Jewish Presentation and Discussion
What do Jews need to hear from Christians and Muslims to believe that the Abrahamic Family Reunion is possible?
Joe Montville began this conversation by providing some historical background: Confirming earlier comments, the Jewish-Muslim conflict is only sixty years old, related to the creation of the state of Israel and the impact that event had on Arab states and Muslims. The creation of Israel was seen as a permanent act of aggression by colonial Western, Christian powers against the Arab and Muslim world. Moreover, there is an intimate connection between the power behind the Zionist and Jewish nationalist movements and the centuries-long Jewish experience of rejection in Christian Europe, despite enormous efforts on the part of the Jewish people to be an important and recognized part of that culture. That experience of cultural oppression and rejection resulted in a profound sense of despair in the Jewish culture. During the twentieth century, this tragedy intensified with the rise of national fascism, the systematic degradation of Jews by the Nazis and their allies, and ultimately the tragedy of the Holocaust, which led to the formation of Israel as a way to draw a defensible boundary around a place where the Jewish people could be safe. This history is nothing less than a traumatic tragedy in the Jewish-Christian relationship with enormous, but rarely articulated, psycho-political consequences.
With this context established, Marc Gopin was asked to start the Jewish presentation. Speaking as a rabbi, helping people to understand by speaking for the Jewish people, Gopin began by describing the consequences of such consistent persecution and oppression. One of the challenges of being an extremely small percentage of the planet’s population is the very strong sense of impotence and powerlessness. Beneath this sense is a resentment that having been around for three to four thousand years, by any reasonable calculation, the Jewish population today should be somewhere close to 100 million. And the only reason why the Jewish population is so small is slaughter, periodic and regular. With so few numbers in an exploding world population, one question becomes very real: How are we going to survive?
Beyond this central fear, like indigenous people, Jewish people also resent when more recent groups appropriate their traditions and rituals. There is a strong feeling that the parent religion gave birth to a whole host of rich ideas. Those ideas then gave birth to two other religions that grew first into the Christian empire, then into the Islamic empire, both of which overshadowed and then proceeded to persecute Jews.
Part of what this group needs, therefore, is some sense of acknowledgement, respect, and gratitude for what Judaism has provided. A certain part of all of this story is mediated by the important concept of a chosen people, that one child is favored above all others – a concept that is an endemic problem specifically for the Abrahamic family or religions. All three religions should try to abandon this concept or somehow mediate it differently. At another level, all that many Jewish people need to hear from Christians and Muslims is that you won’t put Jewish children in ovens anymore, that you won’t lust after blowing up Jewish communities, that in some sense a Jewish life is worth as much as a Christian or a Muslim life.
Jewish children continue to be traumatized by too early exposure to horrific memories and media presentations of Jewish pogroms and the Holocaust. Such traumas are inherited and translated into personal political attitudes. The people who have broken through or shattered this sense of fear and distrust of the other members of the Abrahamic family are those with either great love or great sensitivity, and have done so by means of very personal encounters. What people need above all else is a sense of safety and security that comes out of a position of love and acceptance. From there, we can turn to issues of politics and religion.
Gershon Greenberg presented a contrasting perspective with different conclusions, especially regarding the responsibility given Christianity for the Holocaust. By examining a number of accounts from Holocaust survivors, we can begin to understand what happened to the Jewish mind during the Holocaust and the specific ramifications in its wake for the relationship of Jews to both Christianity and the Muslim world. From these accounts, it is clear that Jews were unable to comprehend in an empirical way what was happening to them during the Holocaust. Unable to do so, the Jewish mind reached a point outside of rationality, where Jews discovered a spiritual, or metaphysical, reality that did have a basis in their tradition. This spiritual reality actually gave them life, enough to survive the horrors they faced, even sustaining them in a spiritual survival beyond death.
What ramifications did this event have for Jewish relations with Christians and Muslims? Ramifications for the Jewish relationship with Christianity should be understood within the context of the metaphysical reality entered into by the Jewish mind, according to which, Christianity existed in an entirely different universe – a concept that already existed within Judaism, for example, in the Zohar. But with the Holocaust this metaphysical reality was crystallized and cemented into the Jewish mind as an absolute category of being. Based on these understandings, the Holocaust presents absolutely no hope for reconciliation between Jews and Christians.
What about Muslims? Following World War II, many Jews mythologized Germany and Nazis as a type of Amalek, an archetypal enemy of the Jewish people. In Hebrew Scripture (Deuteronomy 25 and I Samuel), the Amalek attacked the Israelites without provocation or justification. By identifying with this mythology, Jews during World War II were able to sustain hope: Amalek would ultimately defeat himself; the darkness would yield to light; we will survive. As an established historical fact, after the state of Israel was established there was, in essence, a transfer between what happened in Europe and what happened in Israel. In this transference, the Arab and Muslim world is the successor to the Amalek of Europe.
Within the kind of orthodox Judaism now identified with the religious heart of Israel, there are still embedded, on the one hand, an absolute categorical distinction between Jews and Christians metaphysically, and, on the other, a metaphysical distinction between Jews and Arabs as the descendants of Amalek. After some years, or some decades, that metaphysical reality should have been absorbed or routinized into history. Instead, these dualisms persist. Somewhere along the way this view of the Holocaust, with the world as enemy, was hijacked by Jews who had nothing to do with it, but who have used it for various (self-aggrandizing) agendas.
Parallel to those agendas, Greenberg continued, was the religious failure of Judaism, at least in America, by establishing itself on the twin pillars of Israel and the Holocaust, which are incapable of supporting a religion. What should have happened was a replacement of these pillars with the real parts of a religion, such as prayer and intellectual, personal development. This process did not happen as it should have. Optimistically, hope is visible in many Jewish movements, for example, in Tikkun, in the Jewish renewal movement, in the life and thought of Elie Wiesel, and in current trends in Hasidism that present a redemptive view of reality.
Greenberg, therefore, arrives at a conclusion different from those previously presented, that the primary responsibility must fall on Judaism itself, but not in the sense of self-blame. Jews need to build up a new Judaism from within and return to history, with Judaism becoming increasingly religious, authentic, constructive, observant, and redemptive. With a renewed Judaism, other issues would begin to resolve themselves.
Larry Lowenthal focused our attention on what he sees as a common and well-entrenched perception in the Jewish community that may be difficult to extirpate. That common perception is that the Muslim hostility toward Jews is rooted in the Muslim concept of two worlds (Muslim and non-Muslim), which is then coupled with another long tradition that describes a Golden Age during which Jews were nothing more than second-class citizens. When Jews finally achieved sovereignty, such a status became almost theologically unacceptable. What are the origins of this Muslim conception of two worlds? Is it part of Muslim theology? Does it evolve out of text or historical tradition? If this is the Muslim conception of how the world is, and should be, divided, then reconciliation may be truly difficult. What Jews would like to hear is a Muslim perception that counters this Jewish perception.
Regarding the Christian-Jewish relationship, particularly the issue of Jewish sovereignty in the Middle East, the question is how much residual, historic Christian anti-Semitism is still operative, whether conscious or unconsciously, in the intensity of current criticism? In the latest BBC poll, for example, Israel is the most unpopular country in the world, trailing North Korea, Iran, and the United States. What’s behind this surprising and disturbing evaluation?
Jonathan Sheff emphasized the need for respect and acknowledgement of Jewish contributions. The three founding documents of the Abrahamic family, our sacred texts, are something like our DNA. Rather than rejecting the earliest, Hebrew, texts as violent, inferior, or as something more primitive that should be replaced or supplanted, these foundational sacred texts should be honored for the profound truth they contain and that forms the heart of each of the three Abrahamic faiths. The one thing Sheff would want to hear, then, is the recognition of the rightful place of Judaism in the Abrahamic traditions as the oldest brother, perhaps as Elders, in an authentic encounter of the Jewish understanding of that earliest text. Israel means “he who wrestles with God,” something that Jews have been doing for thousands of years. Ideally, Sheff would like to see Christians and Muslims making sincere efforts to discover our mutual authentic relationship with Judaism and the Hebrew tradition.
Yehezkel Landau thought it would help if Christians and Muslims would celebrate our survival together. Jews would like to hear that even though they are tiny in numbers, qualitatively the world needs them and wants them around, that their survival was God’s intention and for a higher purpose. Then, we can theologize. Recognizing that God’s covenant is in individual terms, Jews would like to be asked, “Who are you Jews?” All of this is pre-political. Then we can begin to discuss what Israel and Zion mean and do what is needed to redeem the concept of Zion, which is itself a redemptive term. Therefore, Jews need Christians and Muslims to recognize and celebrate Judaism, not as a precursor to something else but in its own terms, as an independent reality sanctioned by God for this redemptive purpose, in which we all share.
Another critical issue involves the notion of real love, agape, or caritas – a type of love that must be felt and known in an intimate sense of knowing that is based on the heart. Related to this real love is the Hassidic maxim, “How do you claim to love me, if you don’t know what hurts me?” In Landau’s personal experience, the most effective ways of reconciling have been deep gestures of recognition and solidarity that are grounded in this sense of real love. These are gestures of grace, which cannot be requested but must be generously offered at the proper moment. Through such gestures grounded in real love we can achieve a position of solidarity that is based on our common humanity and vulnerability – our shared existential dread in the shadow of nuclear nightmares.
Somewhere in all of this, Landau continued, is a place for leaders, perhaps best illustrated by the journey in 2000 of John Paul II to Jerusalem, carrying the weight of two thousand years on his shoulder. This public act of acknowledgement, apology, and amends asking the Jewish people for forgiveness was a kaironic moment that represented the culmination of 35 years of work by the Catholic Church to expunge the negative association of Judaism with the Crucifixion. We need more of these types of gestures and statements on all sides.
Judith Banki drew on the personal experience of her husband as a Holocaust survivor, who was placed in a slave labor camp at age 14. To place this within a context, during a three-month period, the Nazis destroyed 500,000 Jews in Hungary. She mentioned this not to verify the occurrence of the Holocaust but to speak to the very few numbers of Jews currently in the world. Professionally, her examination of how Christians taught and preached about Jews over the centuries made her very sensitive to the Christ-killer mythology, now fully repudiated by most Christian churches. The negative images of Jews in this Christ-killer mythology are so pervasive in Western culture and are so close to the surface and accessible in times of tension or conflict that they remain potent vehicles for deliberate symbolic manipulation by anti-Semites, evident in several examples drawn from recent history.
Another issue Banki feels needs to be addressed is the common perception recently expressed as “Christianity is a religion of forgiveness, while Judaism is a religion of vengeance.” The problem expressed here is not just with the texts. The problem, rather, is thinking that the newer religion should replace the older one, and in this regard, the faithfulness of Abraham is a key issue. Because Judaism is the first, the oldest, of the three Abrahamic traditions, Jewish faithfulness in adversity is often viewed as stubbornness, or hard-heartedness, an unwillingness to embrace the truth of the newer traditions.
What Jews need from Christians and Muslims, then, is first, an affirmation of Judaism as legitimate, as the religion of the elders. Second, we need a demonstration of your ability to see us on our own terms, so that we can enter into discussion as equals. And third, Jews need an acknowledgement of the truth of history, not an admission of guilt so much, since guilt leads to resentment, but an honoring of the symbolic truth of both the Holocaust and Israel – that the Holocaust happened and is not just part of the Jewish imagination, and that a mere three years after the ashes of holocaust, the newly formed state of Israel, founded as a symbol of communal hope, successfully defended itself against five separate Arab armies.
Lyle Poncher emphasized two points. The first point was that Jews are a deeply wounded people. That wound is visible in Jewish humor, which is based on fear. Even for highly assimilated Jews, that fear and its underlying wound are seared on our souls. We need an acknowledgement of the wound. The second point is that Jacob was also wounded when he wrestled with God, but Jacob demanded God’s blessing and received it. God told Abraham that he would be a blessing. The question, then, is how are we all a blessing and how can this help us to go forward?
Within the context of what Jews need to hear from Christians and Muslims, the group watched the film, Sister Rose’s Passion (2004), directed by Oren Jacoby, a documentary about Sister Rose Thering’s life-long efforts against anti-Semitism within the Catholic Church. Her research and writings were highly influential in the publication in 1965 by the Second Vatican Council of Nostra Aetate, which radically shifted the Catholic Church’s relationship with Jews and Judaism.
While reactions to the film were universally positive, they did vary. For Joe Montville, the film encapsulates the unhealed wound that lies at the heart of the Jewish-Christian relationship, and speaks to the moral dilemma at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian situation and the survival of Israel. It represents a major breakthrough in Catholic thinking. Montville also emphasized the value of showing films such as Sister Rose’s Passion to demonstrate to Jewish audiences that there are gentiles and Christians who really care and can be trusted. Mary Ellen Klee described the reaction of a family member, who, although not receptive at first, was very moved by the film and now recommends it to everyone else in the family.
Not all reactions were as unreservedly favorable. Anisa Mehdi, for example, asked where the Palestinians were in Sister Rose’s film? Mehdi found Palestinians implicitly present in several statements about the consequences and visible evidence of ongoing anti-Semitism, but never were they explicitly mentioned. An exclusive focus on the Jews in the Holocaust, Mehdi continued, amounts to letting them die in vain. This result becomes most apparent when contrasted with courageous attempts in which the suffering of one group is used to more deeply understand, alleviate, or even prevent the suffering of another group. Such courageous juxtapositions are sometimes able to transform earlier suffering. Marc Gopin questioned the wisdom of combining tragedies or stories of suffering. Each group needs its own time to mourn and memorialize their tragedy. Gopin also remarked that the perspective of this film was unbalanced, necessarily so because Sister Rose’s project was focused on one task: to adjust the mindset of a billion Catholics worldwide. While there is more than enough to do in that one task, we also know that there are other, critically important arenas of anti-Semitism. And yet, creating a film that generates compassion for Palestinians is not, even by itself, a simple task. The question is how do we make a film – or tell a story – that touches the hearts of both sides, recognizing both Palestinian pain and Jewish fears? How do we tell a narrative that doesn’t polarize us further? While Gopin made it clear that in his experience nothing replaces dialog like what we’ve experienced at this conference, he gave expression to the opinion of many others regarding the importance of film as the most powerful medium for certain messages and purposes.
Such reactions to this film, following the earlier presentations of the Jewish perspective, prompted a richly rewarding and profoundly moving discussion that covered a wide range of topics, of which the most important were:
Film and other media
Competitive victimization and the Holocaust
Banki’s second point concerned the central importance of Israel and the Holocaust for contemporary Judaism. While agreeing with others that the two poles of contemporary Judaism are Israel and the Holocaust and that something more is needed within Judaism, Banki wants to maintain these two poles because they lead to serious understanding. Nevertheless, these two poles are both attacked today, in various efforts to undermine the historical veracity of the Holocaust, and, for example, the UN Human Rights Commission singling out Israeli infractions. Films like Sister Rose’s Passion balance these efforts.
Farid Senzai gave an impassioned speech about these two issues. Speaking for many Muslims, films like Sister Rose’s Passion, are seen as yet another remembrance of the Holocaust, which diminishes the possibility of acknowledging another people’s suffering. This is an example of the competitive nature of victimization, which is why Israel is at the top of the list of resented countries. Israel is seen as privileged, receiving special treatment from the U.S. and others, which builds resentment in other countries. Why, for example, can Iran not have nuclear weapons, while Israel can? Why can refugees return to any country, but not the Palestinians to Israel? While in the short term such remembrance is good, in the long term it builds resentment. Films on the Holocaust are seen as part of a Holocaust industry. We need to avoid manipulation and propaganda, and balance one story of suffering with awareness of other suffering.
Message and story
Larry Lowenthal suggested the value of the important Hegelian definition of tragedy as the clash between two irreconcilable “rights” (for example, as in the Greek tragedy, Antigone) to approach the conflict in the Middle East. Most approach this conflict as a melodrama, the clash between good and evil, which leads to a hopeless impasse. Seen not as a melodrama, but as a tragedy, the conflict in the Middle East becomes a clash between two irreconcilable rights that must both somehow be honored and maintained.
General Discussion of Action Plans
How can we best communicate to Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities in the United States and abroad?
Joe Montville set the stage and defined goals for this brainstorming session. Later sessions will focus on specific initiatives for each of the five metropolitan areas we have identified. In this session, we want to identify what we want to communicate and the mechanisms and media to do that. Our ultimate goal is to answer this question: How do we persuade Jews, Christians, and Muslims in this country that there is a basis for a family reunion? In particular, how do we most effectively educate each community about the healing, acknowledgment, and mourning that remains to be done? To achieve these goals, what kind of activities need to be organized, and how best can we communicate them? Earlier discussions have already mentioned such things as films, documentaries, the Internet, and bits on Comedy Central. What other ideas do you have?
The discussion that followed raised important procedural issues that must be addressed before launching such initiatives. These issues fell broadly within three broad topics:
During the session, several ideas surfaced regarding general models to use, methodologies to employ, and policies to guide us as we develop and implement future initiatives, including:
Ogilvy warned, however, that we may not yet be “ready for prime time,” and recommended that we take the time to lay out various scenarios to fine tune our message before we embark on specific initiatives. Mark Walton questioned the need to perfect our message before we begin. For Walton, the pace of today’s communication renders everything a continuously moving target, making it impossible to work out each and every scenario. At some point, we need to stake a claim, and the claim we can stake right now is our story. We think in stories and the stories now told about the past haunt the future. The invention of story is a powerful technology, as we saw in Bush’s past two campaigns. Moreover, it is possible to work out scenarios by means of certain initiatives. Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, for example, presents future scenarios. We are in a crisis right now, Walton continued. In some sense, there is all the time in the world and absolutely no time. Rather than spending a huge amount of time perfecting the message, we should recognize that we already have a message and that something effective can be produced now, the sooner the better.
Gershon Greenberg presented a major theme he felt had emerged from the discussion so far – that history has dealt all three Abrahamic groups terrible blows. These blows have left each of our religions in a no-choice situation. For example, if Jews do not aggressively defend themselves they may be annihilated, and if they do they are condemned by the world, even by many of their own people. Muslims and Christians are also caught up in no-choice situations. Given the shared condition of respective non-choice, Greenberg presented two general policies that seemed to recommend themselves:
1) Relationship of peace and God and peace in the community, with no substantial difference in the way each religion posits peace right in the lap of God and views the relationship to God as one of peace.
Shamil Idriss expressed discomfort about attempts to universalize experience across three traditions, with some attempts stretching commonalities too far. Idriss is more interested in exploring particularities. It was the particulars, for example, expressed by Christians and Jews in earlier sessions that elicited empathy from him and had the strongest impact on his understanding. It is when we start to get insight into each particular tradition and history that we begin to understand that tradition. The value of these conversations has been exploring the differences in the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim experiences and we understand those differences better when we hear individual stories than when we try to universalize our situations. However, Idriss continued, one thing does seem to be held in common – the desire to have people acknowledge, and to some extent celebrate, the value and heritage each tradition has accomplished and brought to the world. When things go bad, a certain negation of that value and those accomplishments dominates. Muslims feel that devaluation of Islamic civilization is dominant right now. Regarding the point about particulars or universals, Brian Cox expressed the concern that an emphasis on particularity can sometimes lead glibly to a denial of common ground. In his experience, all three faith communities have expressed a general concern that we need to realize that we share important elements of commonality.
Simultaneity – Trilateral Dialog
Yehezkel Landau offered an insightful analysis of the dynamics of trilateral dialogs. While two-way conversations or dialogs are clearly valuable, Landau’s work has concentrated on three-way conversations. Based on his experience, however, Landau warned that as soon as you add a third party to a conversation, an immediate complexification takes place. With three parties you move instantaneously from one relationship between two parties to seven relationships:
This increased complexity, therefore, requires careful moderation and skilful facilitation trusted by everyone. Also, as the Khatami situation illustrates, planning ahead for specific crises is essential and scenario planning may be an effective way to do such planning. Conversations with key people to identify and address critical issues and sensitivities, along with careful development of contingency plans for crises are necessary parts of the process. Unavoidably, particular features of a plan may fall apart when latent unidentified issues arise that cannot be dealt with adequately at the time.
Following the remarks by Anderson and Landau regarding the complexity of the situation surrounding Khatami’s appearance at the National Cathedral, several participants emphasized the need for careful strategic planning for all initiatives. Marc Gopin used the Khatami situation to illustrate what he described as the methodological crux for us in our process of moving into these cities. In Gopin’s experience, there is generally an incredible underestimation of the delicacy of each and every step involved in successful trilateral work. Every word we say has ramifications for the safety, security, and the lives of people. As we move into these cities with initiatives, we will need to prepare each piece with everyone involved in each and every step, precisely as Gandhi did in India.
Brian Cox also emphasized the need for careful strategic planning for each initiative we propose to launch in specific cities. Each initiative enters into specific situations already in play, with players, issues, and relationships already established. Careful research about all aspects of every situation is necessary to understand how to work cooperatively and most effectively. Moreover, situations frequently need to evolve considerably before particular sensitivities surface enough to effectively deal with them. Montville strongly affirmed the value of careful strategic planning, especially the need for reliably accurate intelligence, high sensitivity, and thorough prep-work to anticipate crises points.
Acknowledgment, Apology and Amends
At the end of the previous discussion, Anisa Mehdi objected to moving forward with planning specific initiatives without having completed the work around the acknowledgement of wounds, especially concerning apology and the Palestinian situation in particular. Larry Lowenthal responded first by describing his experience of the dynamics in dialogs between Jews and Palestinians about the right of return, in which Palestinians have demanded an apology. Such demands led Jewish members to retreat, asking about their rights to an apology. Several such occurrences have led Lowenthal to conclude that Israelis will never admit to culpability for the displacement of Palestinians. This dynamic, Lowenthal asserted, illustrates that there are certain points of saving face, honor, or dignity that need to be maintained for each and every party involved. Rather than insisting on an apology, he recommended aiming for a midpoint, some kind of compromise, which can be reached, but usually only through great delicacy and sensitivity. That midpoint is generally somewhere between an acknowledgment of hurt caused and an admission of culpability. In his experience, that midpoint is not only possible to achieve, but is also able to satisfy the most powerful visceral demands, a conclusion based on conversations over an extended period of time.
Several participants, however, felt willing to make the kind of apology Mehdi referred to. Yehezkel Landau, for example, offered a detailed apology for what was done to the Palestinian people that was modeled on three precepts for this kind of work:
In this process, you first acknowledge the wounds or tragedy that occurred. You then offer an apology for whatever part you may have played or inherited in whatever way, whether implicit, explicit, or complicit, in the occurrence of that wound or tragedy. And finally, you turn to practical amends. Most importantly, you cannot short-circuit this process. In the Palestinian situation, for example, you must go back to 1948 to find the original wounds, which Landau elaborated to provide the detailed reasons for the specific words he used in his acknowledgment and apology.
Gershon Greenberg also offered an apology within the context of his earlier point that he regards Jews as the primary victims of the Holocaust and Muslims and Christian Palestinians as its secondary victims. He went on to restate, for the sake of clarification, his findings about the metaphysical event that took place in the Jewish mind during the Holocaust, in which the Jewish religious community experienced a collective mystical ascent into a bitter, alternative sacred reality that was beyond the trauma in which we categorize good and evil. It was a metaphysical event that led to the constellation of two terrible dualities: first, the duality between Jews and Christians; and second, the duality of Jews and Amalek, with the Amalek myth transferred without any empirical grounding from the Nazis to Muslims. Just as a contemporary Christian is responsible for the myths of earlier Christians against the Jews, so, Greenberg proposed, Jews are now responsible for earlier myths created during the Holocaust. Jews cannot maintain that we are not the legacy of these myths or that we are not the enactment of these myths. As a Jew, Greenberg apologized for participating in these myths.
Not all agreed about the necessity of apology. Judith Banki maintained that for many people, while an acknowledgement may be possible, an apology may not be. What is needed is ethical, responsible behavior, not an apology. Marc Gopin also did not agree with the insistence on apology. Gopin asserted that apology cannot be required, it cannot be forced, it cannot be insisted upon. Apology should not be theater, and should not be posed as a ritual. Apology must come by choice, and has nothing to do with rational argument. In the magic that takes place in apology and forgiveness that we have all witnessed over the decades, it all comes from the heart. Don Shriver countered that there are some gestures of representative apologies that do carry healing weight. The ritual and highly symbolic apology of John Paul II in Jerusalem is one example. Shamil Idriss remarked that at the end of the day, this is about relationship building. More than an apology, we need relationships with each other. Perhaps the focus should not be so much on how to present our message and what that message is, but on how to catalyze relationships out of which apologies and healing will emerge. And Lisi Rona completed the session by stating the value of this exchange as an illustration of the difficulty we all experience in leaving our enemies behind, which comes in part from the need for our own wounds to be acknowledged. But what we need to realize is that it is not just about acknowledging our wounds. It is about hearing that we all have worth in each other’s eyes.