How to handle politics in Jewish-Muslim dialogues?

Jewish-Muslim dialogues are needed now more than ever. Many conversations do take place, at scholarly level as well as at community level.  These are all high level political steps that can be distinguished from college based interfaith groups or civil society meetups. Those are Muslims and Jewish “masses” standing in solidarity with each other.

This emerges in an enabling and nurturing socializing context of political narratives and movements that call for ‘intersectional alliances’ which means that: my liberation is not complete until all marginalized groups’ liberation has been achieved.

But the real question here is how to sustain this dialogue if, and when, it proves hard. I believe this can be done through empathy, mutual respect, cultural and academic exchange of ideas.

By Dan Fleshler, Library of Congress Publication Data

We must establish the ‘loci’ of interfaith dialogues, especially that of Jewish-Muslim dialogues in our mutual quest for socioeconomic liberation and political freedom. It is that recognition of political and social solidarity that can bring us at one platform for once, despite our geo-political and religious divides.

This is because some of us might have different comfort levels and ‘boiling points’ which can put the movement to a darkening end. For many Jews, calling the situation in Palestine “holocaust” or “apartheid” in a dialogue defines a boiling point, and for many Muslims an honest acknowledgement of the Palestinians’ human rights violations sets a comfort level for engaging in a deep, meaningful interfaith dialogue.

My friend and I celebrating Friday prayers and Chanuchah together.

We, as individuals, should not perceive ourselves as an inevitable product of history but rather as active participants in the social processes that will shape future histories. Jews and Muslims have seen several crises, but all those were human acts, not part of a systematic inevitable, millenarian type Armageddon that requires us to fight with each other forever and ever. This can be changed.  

We need to learn each other’s histories, sensibilities, spiritual experiences and insecurities. As a Muslim myself from the Indian subcontinent, I have made an effort to learn that many Jews “have violated the taboo against criticizing Israel so often – and so vociferously – in the last three decades” (Flashler 119).

In his book, “An Anthology of Jewish Life and Culture in Our Times,” Herald U. Ribalow explicates how most Eastern European and Polish Jews used to identify as Marxists (and American Jews and Americans only (Fleshler 84) before anything else but the holocaust forced them all or most of them to change their allegiances.
Even after Auschwitz, American Jewish Committee Brahmans and many Reform Jews did not call themselves Zionists because they wanted to be called American Jews only.

A harsh anti-Semitic rhetoric, such as ‘Jews have designed everything from Marxism to neo-conservatism to exaggerated accounts of the holocaust’, make the targeted, systematic efforts (such as the search for a two-state solution, Palestinian refugees’ right to ‘return’ etc.) convoluted and worse (Fleshler 205) for Palestinians. It does not advance the Palestinian cause but makes the situation look as if a Jew can never be Pro-Arab, or Pro-Palestinian etc.  

This knowledge makes me qualified to speak in my Muslim circles that Jews are not a monolithic religious political group, and that we can have friendly honest intellectual dialogues. Expecting all Jews to renounce their affiliation with the state of Israel as a starting point for an honest interfaith dialogue creates further, perhaps more severe, communal deadlocks. Similarly, expecting all Muslims to be apologetic for ‘their terrorist brethren’ is ignorant and misplaced.

Photo Credit: Muhammad Faraz Husain