A DIALOGUE BY ANY OTHER NAME

 

 

 

As some of you know I’m at the “looking for an agent stage” for my book, “Mirth, Wind, and Ire.” It is a collection of essays drawn from decades of newspaper writing. It’s thesis is “Past is Prologue,” borrowed from the National Archives Building in the nation’s capital. It’s point is that nothing the nation is dealing with now, domestically or foreign is new, except possibly for LGBT issues. To buttress that point I will periodically offer a column of mine from “way back when.” Today I offer you the opinions in the above title expressed on Oct. 21st, 2001. See if they sound familiar.

“A somewhat public squabble has arisen across Palm Beach County, Fl., about the Jewish community’s promulgation of guidelines for (Jewish community organizations) meeting with Muslims. The squabble misses a very critical point–the meaning of dialogue. Some background:

Following inflammatory material that appears on an Islamic Center’s website(ed note: name blocked)–and since courageously disavowed by its Imam and removed from the site–the Jewish Community Relations Committee of the South County Jewish Federation met in emergency session. The JCRC has no regulatory or disciplinary powers: its influence is based on the combined experience and weighty positions of its members.”

Based on the original Center’s site materials, and an earlier highly embarrassing event in Cleveland where a representative of the Muslim community was exposed (as an anti-Semite) when he called Jews “…sons of monkeys and pigs,” the JCRC decided to draw up some guidelines to protect the Jewish community from such embarrassment, or worse.

These guidelines said,

 *      Meetings should take place only between the smallest numbers of the highest                     level representatives as possible

  • Materials from the center’s website should be shared as an example of things threatening and offensive to Jews.
  • Participants should be asked to disavow the presented materials under the theory that no individual or organization should run the risk of meeting with people who hold to a philosophy that would do them harm.
  •  If Muslims have similar materials (from Jewish organizations) deemed offensive to them those too should be brought to the table.
  • Finally, the JCRC said that if such guidelines could not be agreed upon then no further meetings should be held with those specific individuals.

This is nothing particularly new in concept. Jews have not and will not meet with individuals or group who will not agree to Israel’s right to exist in safe, secure, and internationally recognized borders. No reason to meet with someone who won’t agree to that.

Subsequent to all this, the Florida Commission on Human Relations issues a call for a “Day of Dialogue” to be held the evening of October 14. Calling for what appeared to be town hall like meetings, the FCHR urged citizens to discuss the issues brought to our society by “9/11″ as those in turn related to the rule of law.”

The Jewish community in general opposed that call, in part because it permitted insufficient time to plan for that dialogue. Other items of concern about such a meeting were the security risks, and a lack of trained meeting guides to prevent degeneration into shouting matches or worse.”

However, I believe the underlying reason was an implicit lack of understanding about dialogue.

In the field of “inter-group relations” the concept of dialogue has evolved over  many decades. Eventually the process was co-directed by several groups including the then National Conference of Christians and Jews, and the American Jewish Committee.

This codification has governed the successful bridge building done in this country between myriad ethnic and religious groups and it hinges on several things.

First and foremost is planning. People take the responsibility of selecting who should participate. These people  in turn are invited and asked to commit to a process that is usually 3-9 months long consisting of monthly meetings and some special events. The meetings are usually in the homes of the participants.

The agenda items are chosen by the group. There are presentations and time for socializing. The entire process is designed to create social comfort and even friendship amongst the participants. Each succeeding year the process is less rigid because the people know each other better and more deeply.

This process was used to create a three year living dialogue run by AJC beween Boca’s own (Boca Raton, Florida) St. Joan of Arc Roman Catholic Church and Temple Beth El of Boca Raton. Now in it’s 15 year (Ed note: the 30th anniversary was just celebrated!), an annual symposium was the result.

The same process is being used between AJC and the Diocese of the Palm Beaches to develop diocese-wide dialogue. It’s also been used between Evangelicals and Jews and Hispanics and Jews….”

And there is no reason for it not to be used between Muslims and Jews.

The children of Abraham, Jews and Muslim, should learn about one another. There is in fact a two volume set of books, “Children of Abraham” designed to help both groups do exactly that. Each volume is written by an internationally renowned Jewish and Muslim scholar…”

“However, neither group should be pushed into the other’s arms before either is ready. Reluctant brides produce bad marriages; reluctant partners produce bad dialogues.

The cautious, tentative initiatives that are taking place in both Boca and West Palm Beach should follow the wisdom of the fable which reminds us that the tortoise, not the hare, won the race.

In deed races cause wrecks.”

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Ed note: Shortly after this was originally written the Imam in the article was exposed as an extremist who, while outwardly seeking dialogue, was inwardly raising money for organizations on the government’s terrorist watch list. He suddenly left town.

So to close. It’s 2016. Muslims in America, Christians, and Jews no less government agencies are still trying to figure out how to talk to one another in a meaningful way. It’s like everyone is always looking to invent the right tool. Well guess what, the architects of dialogue have left us the blue prints for the tool we need. All we have to do is blow the dust off them and get to work–at least from my perspective.

 

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