The media frenzy outside the Quran burner’s church has focused on wackdoodlery and the misinformation about the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ has been penned in high voltage rhetoric.
It’s important to denounce religious extremists and affirm that statements from the Christian Taliban do not represent the teachings of Christ. More necessary than ever is the need to address the fear and hatred of 'the other' that such hot button pressers expose.
The Freedom to be Ignorant
Tucked away in Time Magazine’s (19 August 2010) article, ‘Does America Have a Muslim Problem’ is the statistic from Time’s recent poll which states that “Only 37% [of Americans] know a Muslim American.” So much fear, hostility, ‘not in my backyard’ insults and anti-Muslim merchandise arises from ignorance and not knowing the people who represent the movement that is being castigated.
Building Bridges in Our Backyard
Tip O’Neill’s apt assertion that “all politics is local” helpfully takes us from Ground Zero and Gainesville to the towns where we live.
After we’ve deplored the Florida Quran Burner, how can we build bridges of understanding with those who are different? Here are some backyard bridge-building possibilities to stimulate the creativity:
Be intentional about getting to know people who are different—Christians befriending Muslims, Muslims reaching out to Christians etc.—doing something about Time’s 37% figure of not knowing.
Be inspired by the Interfaith Action initiatives in the town of Sharon, Massachusetts with their meals, the ‘Sharing of Sacred Seasons’ and their Youth Leadership Program.
The Role of the Arts
Ponder the reconciling role of music and the arts. Daniel Barenboim has for years been conducting orchestras of young Arabs and Israelis. About creating music and peace he reflected:
"What seemed extraordinary to me was how much ignorance there was about the 'other'. The Israeli kids couldn't imagine that there are actually people in Damascus and Amman and Cairo who can actually play violin and viola ... One of the Syrian kids told me that he'd never met an Israeli before ... This same boy found himself sharing a music stand with an Israeli cellist. They were trying to play the same note, to play with the same dynamic, with the same stroke of the bow, with the same sound, with the same expression. They were trying to do something together. It's as simple as that."
It’s a useful thing that the Ruler of Fujairah, His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Mohammed Al Sharqi, represents the United Arab Emirates in interfaith dialogue at the highest level but this shouldn’t replace ordinary people talking together in Fujairah, Frankston or Frankfurt about what they believe and how their faith makes a difference to their daily living.
Finding Common Ground
When such conversation avoids a slanging match and starts by talking about the things we have in common—our yearnings, our hopes, our vision for the world and our town—we will be surprised to discover how much we are alike.
Turning Talk into Service
In terms of faith we will find many beliefs we share as well as areas where we differ.
Those from faith traditions, known as ‘the People of the Book’, will learn that they share many stories, values and affirmations.
Many more religions share a belief in God as creator who calls humankind to be caretakers of the created earth. So why not work together to organize some environmental projects around the town or at the beach as an expression of what President Obama in his Cairo speech called ‘turning dialogue into interfaith service’? (But it wouldn’t need to be advertised as such because one would want to also work with those who are committed to the environment but who do this without a religious motivation)
Calling for Bridge-Builders
When the lead up to the anniversary of 9/11 this year (2010) has been marked by explosive expressions that so easily torpedo trust, there’s an urgent need for bridge-builders, especially at the local level.
I love the way Ivo Andrić wrote of the significance of bridges:
“In the end, everything through which this life of ours is expressed—thoughts, efforts, glances, smiles, words, sighs—is all reaching out to another shore, as towards its aim, and only there will it be granted its true meaning.”
“Everywhere there is something to overcome or to bridge: disorder, death, meaninglessness. Everything is a transition, a bridge whose ends are lost in infinity, beside which all the bridges of this earth are only children’s toys, pale symbols. And all our hope lies on the other side.”
This article is also posted on the Fujairah in Focus Facebook Page upon which many more articles and links are posted than on this blog.
Image: “When such conversation…starts by talking about the things we have in common…we will be surprised to discover how much we are alike.”