Dallas Morning News Column on ADC President Ziad Asali

The following article by Dallas Morning News columnist William McKenzie discusses the ideas of ADC President Ziad Asali.

Religious leaders need to reclaim their traditions
What’s unique about Ziad Asali is that he is willing to speak prophetically about all three Abrahamic faiths. Christianity. Judaism. Islam. And the Muslim leader’s message to each is clear: “Extremists are hijacking the agenda for the rest of us.”
What a refreshing declaration. And how we need that wisdom to move beyond the flames of Baghdad, falling towers, suicide bombers and divisive settlements.
Dr. Asali, a retired physician who heads the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, says he delivers the same message wherever he speaks. And he did so one recent morning in the vast sanctuary of the National City Christian Church in Washington.
Sept. 11, he told a peace conference, gave “more credence and prominence to fundamentalists and ideologues, people who advocate the clash of civilizations and religions in pursuit of their own construct of history and mythology.”
He has an apt name for the ideologues, too: “clashists,” which rhymes with fascists. In all three religions, he says, the clashists:
“Have been expanding their sphere of influence, demonizing each other’s civilizations, demeaning the religions and symbols of their opponents and escalating the rhetoric of incitement and hate. In short, the zealots, the Crusaders and the jihadis posited themselves to speak for their religious or racial tribes, but, as it turned out, they had much more in common with each other than they did with the rest of us.
“The rest of us, unencumbered with divine certitude about the future and open to reason and compromise, have found it harder to have a public voice and space. It is our task to reclaim both.”
Amen. And amen.
The task for people of good faith in each of the three Abrahamic religions is to reclaim their traditions from the ideologues who want to use their values to spark a clash of civilizations. Eighteen months after Sept. 11, 2001, that remains the challenge.
Consider the extreme form of Islam still coming out of Saudi Arabia, preaching death to the West and Jews. Consider the religious rightists here who are convinced that Islam is evil and that the Sharon government has the blessing of God. Consider the Jewish fundamentalists who want to deny rights to Palestinian Muslims.
The struggle to reclaim a sensible religious agenda affects far more than churches, synagogues and mosques, too. We won’t address the root cause of the world’s unrest until adherents of the three Abrahamic faiths reclaim their religions.
Some “reclamation” already is under way. In Dallas, meetings occur in informal and formal ways among concerned Jews, Christians and Muslims. And an unheralded meeting took place in Egypt last year among Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders. They signed an Alexandria Declaration that explicitly “rejects the use of religious values for warlike purposes.” That was remarkable.
Still, the work of reclamation has far to go. “Reasonable people cannot be silent,” Dr. Asali said during an interview last week.
One of the most important parts of the work is for religious leaders to spread secularization. It sounds paradoxical to ask people of faith to encourage secularization.
But secularization allows religion to prosper and breeds political stability.
In a secular society, many religious voices are heard. And a secular government keeps religious zealots from taking control.
The process of reclamation also must make room for self-criticism and examination. It takes courage for a Muslim like Dr. Asali to declare that the Muslim world suffers from a “deficit of freedom.”
And it takes wisdom to say that “Arabs and Muslims will never understand Israel until they understand what happened to Jews in Europe.” The history “doesn’t excuse Israel today,” says Dr. Asali, whose family has been in Jerusalem for 600 years. “But it explains Israelis’ insecurity.”
When will we hear more Jewish and Christian leaders challenging their own faithful? As Dr. Asali declares, there are “no clean hands.” Christians and Jews also must speak like the prophets of old about their faiths.
If they don’t, the extremists will win. God save us if the latter get their clash of civilizations. All the B-2s and Tomahawk missiles in the world will make no difference at that point.
William McKenzie is an editorial columnist for The Dallas Morning News.

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