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Time for a Three-Faith Effort

July 14, 2002|ROBERT MCLAREN, MUZAMMIL SIDDIQI and BENJAMIN HUBBARD | Robert McLaren is professor emeritus of child and adolescent studies at Cal State Fullerton and a Presbyterian clergyman. Muzammil Siddiqi is religious director of the Islamic Society of Orange County and a part-time lecturer at Cal State Fullerton. Benjamin Hubbard is a professor of Jewish studies and chair of the Department of Comparative Religion at Cal State Fullerton.

If ever comic relief lived up to its name, it was June 10, when a Jewish and a Muslim comedian, Rabbi Bob Alper and Egyptian-born Ahmed Ahmed, appeared together at Temple Beth El in Aliso Viejo.

Although the crowd of some 300 was mostly Jewish, there were Muslims and Christians there too. It was an evening of interfaith warmth and humor that makes us believe U.S. Jews, Christians and Muslims could be doing more to promote Middle East peace.

As U.S. Christians, Jews and Muslims--whose common ancestor is Abraham--we pray each day to the same God to protect innocent Israelis and Palestinians and for the day when all Middle East people will live in peace and security.

Our collective thoughts dwell on their painful situation. We mourn the losses of their loved ones.

We offer our sympathy and we empathize with their anguish and despair.

We use our financial means, political influence, technological know-how and even our persuasive rhetoric to lend support and solidarity for their causes.

Yet we have failed to share adequately with Israelis and Palestinians the most important and valuable characteristic we take for granted living in America--the ability of people of our three faiths to live together in peace.

Christians, Jews and Muslims live and work side by side in the United States in harmony and toward our nation's prosperity. Even as we espouse our divergent points of view, we respect one another and, through interfaith dialogues and community efforts, work to appreciate our similarities and mutual values.

Our frustrations and conflicting stances are tempered with the maturity of our compassion and support for one another, and we continue to instill in our children the importance of honoring all people, regardless of color, race or religion.

But we have not shared with the people of the Middle East this beautiful characteristic that is based on tolerance and mutual respect.

We export money and arms, we offer solidarity and even condemnations, but we have not sufficiently conveyed our democratic values or our humanity.

We must offer the people of the Middle East a vision of our society, where Christians, Jews and Muslims live in peace and security and do not let their differences result in the indignity of oppression and occupation or the bloodshed of innocent civilians.

U.S. Jews must simultaneously support Israel's right to live a terror-free existence while convincing that nation's leaders that the siege of Palestine and the building of settlements produce more suicide attacks and lessen Israel's credibility.

U.S. Muslims must support the right of Palestinians to their land and to their own state, while convincing them that suicide attacks not only violate Islamic teachings but also weaken their cause vis-a-vis world opinion.

U.S. Christians must strive to ensure that our country not only offers its financial and political support to the Israelis and the Palestinians, but also extends its moral support to ordinary Israelis and Palestinians caught between Israel's hard-line policies and the Palestinians' extremist elements.

Israeli author Amos Oz recently wrote this about the conflagration in the Middle East:

"Every man of peace must draw water--at least enough to fill the spoon he holds--and pour it on the fire: ... Object to war crimes by either side, help the victims of these war crimes; demonstrate, persuade, write, debate, garner support for reasonable compromise, oppose the continuation of the Israeli occupation and the ... campaign for Israel's extermination."

It is not easy for U.S. Jews to heed such words in the face of the ongoing terrorist attacks on Israelis, numerous recent attacks on Jews in Europe and threats of violence against U.S. synagogues.

But it is also not easy for U.S. Muslims and Arab American Christians to heed the call to moderation in light of the Palestinians' plight, anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bigotry by some U.S. residents, and the continued detainment of many hundreds of people because of their Middle East origins.

U.S. Christians too have coreligionists in Israel and Palestine who are suffering amid the strife, so they are finding it difficult not to blame the Israelis, in particular, for the agony.

In spite of these difficulties, our three faith communities in the U.S. must step up efforts to instill peaceful and humanitarian values into the Middle East conflict.

We must convince the Israelis and Palestinians that respecting and honoring one another and striving for justice neither makes one "self-hating" nor a "sellout."

Rather, tolerance, compassion and justice--values at the core of Christianity, Judaism and Islam alike and embodied in the U.S. ethic--offer the best chance for lasting peace in the Middle East.

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