Wednesday, January 02, 2008

On dialogue between Jews and Muslims

From JPost, Dec 31, 2007, by ISI LEIBLER:

Dialogue with Muslims .... [is] helpful and certainly preferable to exchanging diatribes, [but] if the objective is primarily to ingratiate ourselves with Muslims and gain publicity, the exercise becomes counterproductive.

The Jewish track record of dialogue with the Church illustrates that until Pope John XXIII's dramatic condemnation of anti-Semitism at the Second Vatican Council, our efforts had little impact beyond reinforcing relationships with marginal Christian philo-Semites.

Meaningful dialogue requires that both parties agree in advance to accord mutual respect and genuinely commit to exploring means of forging deeper understandings. It also presupposes a willingness to indulge in honest and open discussion rather than mouthing platitudes or employing glib rhetoric to cover up differences. Above all, it demands the involvement of responsible and sensitive Jewish representatives, knowledgeable about Judaism and its place in the world at large.

There are circumstances in which dialogue must be avoided. For example, if the Muslim group concerned refuses to condemn the anti-Semitic tirades emanating from Islamic quarters, or even indirectly condones global terrorism and suicide bombings, or promotes conspiracies such as implying that 9/11 was an Israeli plot. To share stages or collaborate with groups holding such views merely provides a platform for radicals to exploit dialogue as a vehicle to obtain respectability and cover up their extremism.

The problem we face with Islamic religious leaders is that while a number of their spokesmen, under pressure, do ritualistically condemn Islamic extremism, many continue to express sympathy with the radicals, or at best remain silent. The dominant Islamic voices being heard are apologists for violence, terrorism and intolerance. If there are moderate Muslims, they remain mainly in the closet or are sufficiently intimidated to avoid condemning the excesses of their jihadist kinsmen.

In this environment, it is contrary to our interests to continuously repeat the politically correct but utterly false mantra that Islam is a religion of peace. Whereas all three major monotheistic religions incorporate elements of militant piety and violence, Islam, with its unique jihadism, today represents the most violent doctrine.

This is not to deny that given more enlightened religious leaders it could become moderate. But the export of Wahhabism from Saudi Arabia has led to the creation of new Islamic schools and the domination of existing institutions by a religious ideology which sanctifies violence. It is in these sources that martyrs (shahids) and suicide bombers were incubated and became such a dominant element in contemporary Islam....

....Some Jewish representatives also display an unfortunate penchant for demonstrating their liberal credentials by endorsing Muslim demands to outlaw security profiling. ....It is simply a denial of reality to dismiss the ethnic profiles of Arab Muslims when 95% of acts of global terrorism emanate from this group....

..... If we bask in expressions of mutual love but fail to proclaim to our partners in dialogue that Israel is central to our Jewish identity, we make a mockery of dialogue and effectively capitulate to the extremists.

Of course, Muslims are entitled to criticize Israeli policies. But there must be understandings in advance that, as distinct from genuine criticism, efforts to delegitimize or demonize Israel make it impossible for us to share platforms with them. We must also insist that the condemnation of Muslim anti-Semitism be an agenda item in all such encounters.

None of this detracts from our obligation to raise our voices against those who would condemn an entire religion because of the criminal behavior of its individuals. Alas, it is galling that in the Muslim arena there are virtually no such condemnations when it comes to incitement against Israel, the Jews, or even America.

There are nevertheless genuine opportunities to conduct constructive dialogue with judiciously selected Muslim groups. For example, the recent visits of Indian Muslims and Indonesian imams to Israel under the auspices of the American Jewish Committee represent the kind of positive dialogue that should be commended and encouraged.

Bottom line: Dialogue with Muslims becomes counterproductive when we grovel and demean ourselves in order to curry favor. All that is achieved is a fa├žade of goodwill which ultimately only strengthens extremists at the expense of the few genuine moderates within the Islamic community whom we are obliged to continue to seek out, for their sake and ours.

The writer is a former chairman of the Governing Board of the World Jewish Congress and a veteran international Jewish leader.

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