Carving the Path for Muslim-Jewish Dialogue

Our modest attempt at bridging the misunderstanding between Jews and Muslims starts with each truly listening to the other.

Iranian President Mahmood Ahmadinejad's recent declaration that Israel should be "wiped off the map"--far from being an isolated case of rhetorical tantrum--is a cry for help, a demand for powerful international dialogue between Muslims and Jews. Those fiery words delivered to thousands of students at a "WorldWithout Zionism" conference in October set a hard-line foreign policy course and underscored Washington's concerns about Iran and its nuclear intentions.

On the other hand, we see hope for building tolerance and peace, beginning with community-level relationships. We would like to share with readers a few encouraging observations from a modest dialogue program, the DanielPearl Dialogue for Muslim-Jewish Understanding featuring Akbar Ahmed and Judea Pearl, which has both prepared an atmosphere of acceptance for dialogue in the service of public diplomacy, and also set the stage for the next phase of conversation.

Over the past two years--through public appearances, community discussions, and extensive touring within and outside the United States--we have been involved in a dialogue between Muslims and Jews. These are two communities whose grievances reflect and accentuate many of the issues and difficulties that American public diplomacy is facing abroad.

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We initiated this program out of conviction that dialogue between Jews and Muslims is a necessary step toward easing world tension. Looking back on our experience in 10 American and foreign cities, we can identify a set of core issues that stand at the highest priority of our respective communities. We present them here in the form of position statements that Jews and Muslims would like to convey to, or hear from, each other.

First, Jews would like an unambiguous statement condemning anti-Semitism and other forms of religious intolerance. Muslim communities need to take a clear moral stand regarding anti-Semitism whatever their feelings about the politics of the Middle East. Muslim leaders likewise must ensure that the current surge in anti-Semitism is acknowledged, checked, and fought back at the highest levels of government.

Second, Muslims would like to convey to their Jewish counterparts that the religious basis for rejecting anti-Semitism is deeply entrenched in Islamic civilization. This is attested to by several things: the many and strong bonds between the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam; the respect Muslims have for the great shared biblical figures such as Abraham, Isaac, and Moses; and for many rituals and values. Framing grievances in the context of this common religious and cultural basis is necessary for us to achieve understanding.

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Akbar Ahmed and Judea Pearl
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