Saturday, 27 November 2010
MUSLIMS AND JEWS: IS MEANINGFUL DIALOGUE POSSIBLE?
On October 25, 2010, the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) hosted an interfaith forum on "Judaism and Islam in America Today: Assimilation and Authenticity." The participants in the panel were Chancellor Arnold Eisen of the Seminary, Sherman Jackson, professor of Islam at the University of Michigan, and Dr. Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary. Dr. Ingrid Mattson, past president of the Islamic Society of North America and professor at the Hartford Seminary served as moderator. In addition to the public forum which drew approximately 300 people, there were smaller workshops the next day restricted to invited participants. In an article in the Huffington Post on October 24, 2010, "Why A Jewish Seminary Must Find Common Ground With Islam," Chancellor Eisen explained why he had initiated the dialogue:
"I believe, as a religious Jew, that there is no more urgent issue for individuals and communities of faith at this moment than to find our way to genuine cooperation, tolerance and mutual respect."
Having received my rabbinic ordination at the Jewish Theological Seminary and having been one of the scholars upon whom the Seminary bestowed the degree of Doctor of Hebrew Letters, honoris causa, at the Seminary's centennial convocation, I was appalled by the Chancellor's ignorance of Islam. The Chancellor is recognized one of the world's foremost experts on American Judaism, but that hardly qualifies him as an authority on Islam. Undoubtedly, he received what he regarded as reliable advice concerning sponsoring the event. Nevertheless, there are too many questions about the real views of both of Professors Jackson and Mattson, and, above all, the Islamic Society of North America, for the Chancellor to have proceeded.[i]
For some time, I have had a very different view than the Chancellor concerning dialogue with Muslim thinkers. Having been involved in such dialogue for decades, especially in the nineteen-eighties and nineteen-nineties, I have come to the conclusion that it is a fruitless waste of time. [ii] Implicit in all attempts at dialogue is the hope, if not the conviction, that moderate Muslims can be found with whom dialogue is possible. I have no doubt that there are such Muslims, but I know of no reliable way of finding them. The reason why it is difficult, if not impossible, to find genuinely moderate Muslims is one very important Arabic word, taqiyya, the practice of precautionary dissimulation utilized by both followers of Sunni and Shi'a Islam. I would like to suggest that those interested in dialogue with "moderate Muslims" read Raymond Ibrahim's important analysis of taqiyya before proceeding. [iii]
I have recently received several communications from rabbis expressing a mixture of satisfaction and skepticism that Islamic groups in their communities have condemned Islamic extremism. For my part, I am neither interested nor do I trust Islamic condemnations of extremists, not because all such condemnations are insincere, but because there is no way of knowing who is being truthful and who is dissimulating, or to put it more directly, lying. Nor am I afflicted with a deficit of trust. I was instructed to be wary by Islamic tradition itself. I would certainly not trust the word of the leaders of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), who participated in the JTS forum, because they are trying (successfully) to get an honorable place in American society and politics. Because of the possibility that they may be practicing taqiyya, other Americans have no way of knowing their real objectives.
This is especially important for institutions like JTS. As a Seminary alumnus and a member of the Rabbinical Assembly for 58 years, I would hope that Chancellor Eisen and indeed all rabbis read Andrew Bostom's magisterial book, The Legacy of Islamic Anti-Semitism. Naturally, those Islamic leaders who express an interest in dialogue will say things that Jews want to hear and some of the would-be interlocutors have an honest interest in such dialogue, but none of us have any real clue as to who among them is practicing taqiyya. I had an example of that recently at the University of Bridgeport, where I am president emeritus. When Faisal Shazad, the would-be Times Square bomber, applied for admission, he seemed like an excellent prospect. He came from a good family. His father was an Air Vice Marshall in the Pakistani Air Force. Everything about him seemed right. He earned a BA and an MBA with us, got a good job, married, had two children, bought a house. He was the kind of alumnus we wanted-until he was arrested and proudly confessed his intention to blow up an SUV in Times Square where, if he succeeded, it would get the most media attention and kill the most people. On October 5, 2010, Shazad was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole.
But our blind apologists will say, Shazad is an exception, and add something about hijacking a peaceful religion. Most Muslims aren't like that, they claim, especially in America. True, but I wonder whether some "moderate" Muslims might get informal clearance before they issue their condemnations from the Mafia-like extremists who can kill them almost at will.
For my own part, both as a scholar and as the CEO of my university, I have dealt with Muslim leaders in Tunis, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Karachi, and at international conferences world-wide. I have also approved the appointment of Muslim scholars and administrators and have dealt with Muslim students. at my university. I began my study of Islam at Harvard in the academic year 1952-53. As an academically trained historian of religion, I long ago learned to keep my academic back-side covered and reluctantly came to the conclusion in Jihad and Genocide that the extremists would kill every last Jew, if they could. To repeat, because of taqiyya, we really can't identify all the extremists, but we do know that, whoever they are, they want to kill every one of us if they can. Blind apologists should not make it easy for them.
Indeed, the situation may be as Bassam Tibi, a world-class Muslim scholar and a professor at both Göttingen and Cornell, has asserted: about half of the world's Muslim population may hope for the future supremacy of Islam but only between 3 and 5 percent are willing to resort to violence and, if necessary, suicide. In view of the fact that there are at least 1,300,000,000 Muslims in the world, In cold numbers, if 5 percent are willing to resort to violence, that is 65 million.
Richard L. Rubenstein
Posted on 11/27/2010 9:32 AM by Richard L. Rubenstein
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