Yet no matter what our religious tradition, we cannot simply repeat the mantra that all our religions teach nonviolence. All of our traditions-Muslim, Christian, and Jewish--are a mixed bag, containing examples where violence toward the "other" has been justified, as well as beautiful and sublime examples of the highest ethics. We all have the task of doing some soul-searching.
To find a path to peace, a path rooted in justice, we must develop a twin set of ethical standards from within our own traditions: first, acknowledge the fullness of humanity in all of us. Second, develop the ability to engage in serious self-criticism.
A recurrent problem in the Middle East-and indeed globally-is that most of us continue to treasure "our own" lives--our own soldiers, our own civilians, our own victims--more than that of "others." For most in the Middle East, there is an undeniable sense that the humanity of "our own" people is under siege.
Until the world's people are willing to acknowledge the presence of God in all of us, there is no path to peace. We have the resources for doing so within the Abrahamic faiths. We have to insist that the lives of an Iraqi civilian, an American soldier, an Israeli teenager in a café, and a Palestinian child all carry the same inherent value. For Muslims, this is easily justified by recalling the Qur'anic teachings about God having stated that He has breathed into each and every member of humanity something of His own Spirit: wa nafakhtu fihi min ruhi. [Qur'an 15:29 and 38:72]. At the heart of the Qur'an is a simple yet radical idea: every human individual, female or male, Muslim or non-Muslim, rich or poor, has exactly the same intrinsic worth. The essential value of human life is God-given, and is in no way connected to culture, geography, national origin, privilege, or even religion. A Muslim agenda committed to peace and justice is concerned with the ramifications of the premise that all members of the human race have this same intrinsic worth because each of us has the breath of God breathed into our being.
As the Prophet Muhammad (S) stated: "The faithful in their mutual kindness, compassion and sympathy are just like one body. When one of the limbs suffers, the whole body responds to it with wakefulness and fever." And yet who among us actually treats the suffering of all human beings as his or her own suffering? It is easy to identify with the suffering of those who share our nationality, religion, race, language, gender, sexual orientation, or class. But to meet the challenge posed to us by Prophet Muhammad, we have no choice but to expand our heart so wide as to encompass the whole of humanity.
I don't see that happening right now in the Middle East. I see my fellow Muslims cherishing and lamenting the lives of Iraqi civilians and Palestinians who live under brutal oppression. We should continue to cherish those lives, but not at the expense of demonizing Israelis or others in the region. Stand up to injustice? Yes, every day, every breath. But in the process of doing so we must not forget or trample over the humanity of others. To strip others of their humanity inevitably results in stripping our own selves of our humanity. We are all caught up in what Martin Luther King called the inescapable net of mutuality. My humanity is tied up to yours, and yours with mine.
Meanwhile, we as Americans have never come to terms with the humanity of Iraqis and Afghanis--if we had, we would be having a public discussion about the tens of thousands of civilian casualties there as a result of our military operations. We have never come to terms with the thousands of civilians who died in Iraq during the 1990s as a result of our sanctions against them. These civilians matter, they matter to us, and they matter to God. I have to believe that on the Day of Judgment, all of us will be asked to answer for each and every one of these lives, in the words of the Qur'an: "For what crime was she murdered." [Qur'an 81:9]