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Summary: Healing the Family of Abraham

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A Political Psychology Approach to Jewish-Christian-Muslim Reconciliation

In his keynote address Joseph Montville discusses the political psychology approach to Jewish-Christian- Muslim reconciliation. He begins the speech describing how he came to study depth psychology, and how, as a career Foreign Service officer, came to be a founding member of the International Society of Political Psychology.

Out of his efforts with the American Psychiatric Association emerged a theory of the psychodynamics of ethnic and sectarian conflict, and ideas about the necessary steps of therapeutic interventions. These psychiatrists focused on the concepts of dehumanization, the intergenerational transmission of historical grievance and the psychology of victimhood.

Effective, psychologically sensitive facilitation of dialogue between groups in conflict required careful listening to stories, fears and anxieties of peoples in conflicts. Respect must be shown for their humanity and cultural identity, including religious identity, accompanied by an expression of concern for their well-being and their children’s well-being and future.  If third party mediation of dialogue is carried out in a safe environment, with the necessary time and long-term commitment, it almost always begins a rehumanization process between adversaries. Only when a sense of justice achieved begins to emerge among victimized peoples that movement toward reconciliation and genuine peace become possible. The strong link between justice and peace is thoroughly documented in the study of human psychology but is rarely integrated into traditional diplomacy and peace processes.

From this point on, Montville’s address concentrated on the Israeli-Palestinian struggle and the third party role, of the United States, which makes it an Abrahamic conflict among Jews, Muslims, and Christians. His focus is on the state of current behaviors and attitudes in the Abrahamic relationship. Specifically some of the less obvious conflicts within the Arab-Israeli conflict that need to be addressed, and discuss some of the political-psychological approaches he has pursued in efforts to help heal the family of Abraham.

Montville then tells story of an Iraqi Jew, who spent much effort in trying to win respect of Ashkenazi Jews. Montville says Palestinians and other Arabs are fully aware of the dominant Israeli political culture’s passionate commitment to its “European” identity and the many levels of superiority that attitude communicates to the Middle Eastern peoples and cultures. This individual had tried to promote the idea that Israel could strengthen its roots and therefore security in the Middle East by accepting the reality psychologically that it was in and historically of the Middle East.  He believed it would help if Ashkenazi elite recruited Jews from Arab and Muslim countries to facilitate the engagement with the Arab world, but this never happened.

Montville says it is an essential, non-negotiable task for all the parties to come to believe–and communicate it–in the dignity and respect of their adversaries. The need for recognition, acceptance, and respect is shared by all individuals, tribes and nations. The absence of these social values leads to intergroup conflict and often to violence. Often both sides of the fight are suffering from the inability to mourn traumatic losses. Since mourning is an involuntary and obligatory process for all humans, living with uncompleted mourning leads to dysfunctional and usually destructive behavior.

The debt European Christendom incurred from the 2nd century on, toward the Jewish people who were unlucky enough to live under Christian rule. Christians and European Jews need to walk systematically through their shared history. Christians need to acknowledge the unspeakable. Despite the work of Vatican II 1963-65, surveys indicate many Christians still believe Jews crucified Jesus Christ. Nostra Aetate, issued by Pope Paul VI, in 1966, absolved the Jews of the Christ killer charge, and removed the condemnatory language from the Good Friday liturgy, but the document was approved by the Vatican II Council only in a very close vote.