Jewish-Muslim dialogue, a necessity
Mike Ghouse, Dallas, Texas

Thursday, October 30, 2008, Dallas, Texas

Muslims should participate in Jewish events and vice-versa. Staying away from each other will not contribute towards peace-making that both communities so deserve. We have to come together without conditions and learn each others concerns and clarify mis-information and together find solutions. If we don’t, the who will?

The Jewish Community Center in Dallas recently screened a documentary called “The Monster among us”, produced and directed by Dallas filmmakers Allen and Cynthia Mondell.   

Here are a few quotes from the the publicity material of the film: After a recent screening in New York, CUNY & Brooklyn College professor Charles Stone wrote:

“Watch the Monster among Us, and then, when the first European pogrom [holocaust] of the 21st century happens, you will not be able to say that you are shocked.  You will be outraged and saddened and scared, and we can scream ‘never again!’, but you will not be able to claim you are shocked. The directors bring you face to face, and face to mask, with the victims and demons of modern anti-Semitism in Europe.”...  “Sixty years after the Holocaust, a new brand of anti-Semitism has reared its ugly head in Europe. It has the same purpose, but it wears a different face.”

And that face now is a Muslim face.

Watching this film (as well as other films in the past) and listening to the responses of the audience has confirmed my belief that one of the primary obstacles to peace is simply inadequate communications stemming from the unwillingness to see another point of view. There are certainly rotten apples in the barrel, but focusing on them to the exclusion of the positive only exacerbates the problem.  Muslims and Jews need to dialogue without keeping a score or blaming the other.

The guardians of traditions have a role to preserve their way of life for their respective communities. Occasionally their role has led them to marginalize the "other".  We need a change, and this change will need to come from the hitherto silent moderate majority in both communities.  This is a responsibility we need to step up to.

Spiraling Extremism Today

A few of these guardians of tradition have been unable to understand that much of the extremism around the globe was given birth by many complex historical events, e.g. the unresolved conflicts in the Middle East, the legacy of colonialism and war, and aiding the Mujahideen in Afghanistan during their fight against the Russians. It was in the short-term interest of the few politicians to wave the flag of extremism and keep control of the situation as they see it fit.

As citizens for humanity, we have to look beyond this pettiness and look at the larger, long-term picture. We have to remember that there is a group out there who is relentlessly promoting chaos as the norm.  This group has a policy of attempting to frighten the public and push through their agenda which is financially rewarding to them. If we can consciously create co-existence as the norm of the society, most of the problems will fade and we can hope to have a sense of security, drop the guards and cautions and live in peace.

The Monster among us, the movie

To borrow a sentence from my friend Sheila Musaji “these films are to be viewed as opportunities for dialogue and not to further distance ourselves from the other.”  We need to consciously guard ourselves from despair and disorientation and focus on hope and goodness to humanity that includes you and I.

The producer of the movie Allen Mondell and I had a conversation about the movie. He suggested that the movie may offend me and that I should seriously consider attending it. I wondered what there was about the film that would cause him to believe that I might be offended.  As a peace worker, I believed that it was important to see the film and attempt to understand the film maker’s point of view, even if that might cause discomfort, and therefore, I attended the showing. 

I have captured the highlights of the film, and will pen a few here;

First of all, let me acknowledge, that it is a well made documentary and I commend the integrity of the producer for presenting his particular perspective which he twice clarified to me was a strictly "Jewish" perspective with no attempt made to present any other side of the story. That is fair.

The producers had made this comment in an email exchange in response to this write up,  and I am pleased to include  "There are Christians from several countries and a Muslim journalist in the film expressing their opinions.  The film is about the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, and most of the interviews are from European Jews who are experiencing both physical and intellectual attacks in a variety of situations."

I studiously made notes during the 71 minutes of film. Current anti-Semitism in both Islam and Christianity was the primary focus as well as tracing the historical roots of anti-Semitism.

The film depicts a university, where Islam and Christianity are taught as mono-theistic religions and Judaism is referenced with Jesus on the cross. This university needs to be questioned and the subtle hatred for Jews must be purged from their curriculum.  

Muslim Kids were shown as drawn into hating Jews by the monsters among us. It is a shame. I am a Muslim and all the Muslims that I grew up with and the one’s that I personally know are moderates and believe in getting along with every human being and co-existing in peace. It is a fallacious idea that Terrorism is a problem of any one in particular; indeed Terrorism is everyone's problem, especially Muslims.  Unfortunately most of the terrorist acts in the last three decades have been perpetrated by criminals who call themselves Muslims; they bring shame and sorrow to the millions of Muslims who reject terrorism.

A speech by a Muslim cleric in London was shown, it came out as though he was reading from the Qur'aan, he was not, as those hateful verses do not exist in Qur’aan.  It was embarrassing to see that cleric misrepresenting my faith, indeed it was an inflammatory speech against Jews and that speech should have no space in civil societies, that man must be booked as an individual inciting hate. For God’s sake don’t book him as a Muslim; he was the criminal and not his religion. Let’s place the blame where it belongs and bring justice and peace to each one of us. 

Unfortunately, there are clerics like him in Europe and Middle East with a pulpit available to them, they are a few but enough to poison the youth. They are as much a danger to Muslims as they are to Jews, as they are the masters in creating chaos. They are so few that we can round them up as individuals for hate speeches. A few years ago one such Cleric was to visit Canada and the USA, thank God, several Muslims took the steps to bar entry out of the Toronto Airport and sent him right back to London. 

In the USA and Canada, there is a constant vigil within the Muslim communities to stop any hate sermons from being delivered in the Mosques. There is little tolerance for such sermons among American and Canadian Muslims.  In fact the FBI had planted several of the agents in the Mosques around the country to monitor it and I am glad they did, we need to flush out the bad guys. The Wall street Journal and a Muslim Leader claimed that there were hate speeches in Mosques; I asked them to produce the proof, no response came from Wall Street Journal and the Muslim retracted saying it used to be like that.

The film focuses on Europe because the problem is much bigger there. I hope the Europeans will be just as active and concerned as those in the US and Canada.  

I hope some one introduces a bill in the US congress that every house of worship, of every faith or religious gatherings must post their video sermons and the scripts of lectures on their websites to be available to the public. It should not be considered a regulation, but rather a safety measure to protect every American from hate sermons. This might violate the First Amendment of separation of church and state, but it may be within the purview of the Non-Profit status of the organizations. Every hate sermon must be exposed to the public at large, it is a threat to our peace and security no matter where it is delivered within the United States.

I would urge the producers of this documentary and makers to show anti-Semitism as a universal evil against humanity to solicit a response for every one to come together to de-root it. We must avoid pushing people into the corner as they may dig in their heels, that is not the way to uproot the evil.

I did not find the movie to be offensive; however there were three major flaws in the movie that needed to be re-edited or tagged with comments to rectify them. Our allegiance ought to be to the truth. 

Q & A session

When Q & A session began, questions about Islam, Muslim behavior or the Qur’aan were asked. I raised my hand every time to respond to those questions; in the absence of a panel people deserved an answer. However, I realized that it was not my show and understood the neglect of my raised hand. The producer of the movie agreed that a Panel would be ideal to handle a session like this.

To be fair to present another view, I am pleased to share the producers comments, "There were about 150 people in the audience. There were many people raising their hands. We appreciate that you wanted to say some things, but we felt that we needed to call on you in the same way we were calling on others. And you did have your opportunity to comment on the film. The film was 71 minutes, and we had to be out of the JCC by 10 p.m. Because of time restraints, comments had to be limited In fact there were so many questions and comments that unfortunately we were unable to call on everyone."

When the questions start flying from the audience my faith in humanity grew stronger. Stereotyping any one does not produce results; whether one paints all Jews or Muslims with the same brush or believes they are all the same, speaks of his or her ignorance. Good people always speak up, it is an obligation and a duty to speak up when we see wrong. I have tremendous faith in humanity, Jews are no different than Muslims, and there were some sane voice that spoke up while the moderate majority simply witnessed the exchanges.  

One lady relayed that Qur'aan is full of hate; another one said that she has some Muslim friends who aren’t like the one in the movie. Then some one asked if there was any Muslim here tonight? Gratefully the producer acknowledged and mentioned my name, but still did not encourage or invite me to address any one of those questions.

Another lady added vigorously "what is represented in the movie is not reflective of all Muslims, it was the radical Muslims" then she added, "Why don't the Muslims speak up"... I could not sit quite any more, I walked up and asked for Microphone, there was reluctance, it was not my show, but my responsibility was to speak up… thanks to those individuals who yelled  "give him the microphone" and they did.

I said "Ma’m, I am so glad you brought this up, please Google and check out anything you want, it is all there, yes Muslims have condemned Terrorism - she asked when? I said, all the times, it is just that they don't get the microphone. I was rather pleased with the appreciation from the audience, and believed in the inherent goodness of humanity who follow the right instincts if paved. The producers deserve the credit for making this event possible and I asked the audience to give applause to the producers to bring their point of view, and added, until we have all points of view on the table, the dialogue to find solutions would be inadequate and thus will not be sustainable.

Our integrity

If you are a Muslim and don’t say anything against anti-Semitic rhetoric; if you are a Jew and smile when you hear anti-Arab or Anti-Muslim rhetoric; if you are a Baptist and rejoice anti-Mormon rhetoric; if you are a Catholic and remain silent when some one belittles the practices of Hindu, Wicca or Pagans; then do you have the right to complain if some one is anti-you?  This is a serious question, the more you are silent about it, the more you are justifying anti-sentiments against your own creed. No, if it is not good for you, it is not good for others either.

An Apology 

Then I addressed the earlier question about Qur'aan and shared the information about the free copy of Qur'aan translation they may have, the flawed translation is referring to the verses 6 and 7 of Sura Fateha on the very first page. (http://quraan-today.blogspot.com/2008/01/unlike-jews-or-christians-17.html ) The image of “The Alcoran of Mahomet" 1640 AD was shown in the movie, It was indeed a deliberate attempt by the Emperors of the time to mistranslate and demonize the conquering Armies, so they can get their poor sucker subjects to fight for them to consolidate their kingdoms (http://quraan-today.blogspot.com/2008/03/islamophobia-and-quraan.html ). 

There are about 60 such verses that have been mistranslated by Neocons wearing Christian and Muslim labels to suit their own unscrupulous agenda. I apologized to the people for the pain and anguish they felt upon reading those verses. As Muslims we are offended by such translations, there are millions of copies out there, the only thing we can do is read 18 some translations available on the market, the best one being by Mohammad Asad, a Jewish scholar.

The Bhagvad Gita shares this wisdom “finding the truth is one’s own responsibility” If some one uploads you with ill-will, hate and prejudice, even if they are your parents or spiritual teachers, it is your responsibility to find the truth, as you are the one who will suffer from pain and anguish and not your Rabbi, Imam or the Pastor.

The Sentimental Moment

One of the most sentimental moments of the event was when a man wept sharing the loss of his family in Holocaust and he wished it never happens again. I felt compelled to ask him to give me a hug, I walked towards him and he walked towards me until we hugged.  It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life to feel the pain of that man and have the empathy and develop the commitment to work for peace and security for human life.  

Allen Mondell was puzzled that the French Scholar in the movie could make a blunder of saying that only Jews and Christians believe in Messiah and Muslims believe that Muhammad will be back to kill the infidels. That scholar probably did not have the knowledge of the issue, however statements like that lead to misunderstandings. Muslims do believe in the coming of Messiah and it would be Jesus Christ who would be back to bring the peace to the world. I hope the producer edits this or adds a comment to genuinely pass on a truthful message in the interest of cultivating a culture of peace.

Some one made a comment that Muslims have been hateful towards Jews in the 1400 years of Islamic history. This comment did not get corrected and it is a shame that such ignorance exist. If she knew the Golden years of Jewish History, the comment would not have been made. This is where one needs to speak up to set the records right, if not we are affirming the wrong records. Hopefully a panel of well informed guests might help avoid the pitfalls in the future.

There was another comment made that Europe will become Islamic and they did not want to live in Europe anymore, some one rightly countered that we should face things squarely and not run to Israel and allow the wrong to reign.

There is always a room to improve communications and reconcile the mis-understandings,  here is the response from the Producers Cynthia and Allen to my write up, that I am including it verbatim,

"Your email make it sound as if you were denied access to speak when this is not what happened. You were called on, and we were not handing out the microphone to anyone in the audience. When you were finally handed the microphone, you walked away to hug the man who earlier had begun crying when he talked about his holocaust memories.  There were other people who had questions, so w continued the q&A.. After one or two were answered, you were called on again and finished what you were saying.

 When the program was over and everyone was leaving, you picked up the microphone and continued to talk.  Finally, Mike, you have every right to be critical of the film with both positive and negative comments. What disturbs us most is that we feel you misrepresented how you were treated at our showing and then sent that to an e-mail list of individuals who have already responded to your comments having never seen the film.

Like Mike, and so many others who challenge the narrow mindedness and sometimes violence of true believers, we agree that co-existence can some day lead to a much more secure and peaceful society. Until then, as filmmakers and communicators we also feel a responsibility to point out the prejudices, the injustices and destruction experienced by some at the hands of others. "

I must also state that I had sent the write up to my Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Sikh and Muslim friends, who have gone through the article at least twice and have contributed to fine tuning it, the idea was to present the article that has the least flaws in it.   Our ultimate purpose in producing documentaries or writing articles is to bring hope and to work for a world of co-existence. I am planning to make a documentary about the conflict between Jews and Muslims and I will have it seen by my Jewish and Muslim friends before it hits the public showing.

I hope we all can bring the harsh facts to the public and also give hope and find solutions to the problems. I am pleased to work with the producers in moving forward and doing our share of Tikkun Olam.

The real question

I shared a story with a small group later on about a time where I stopped a guy from maligning Jews and in that critical moment, a good Muslim jumped in and said that it was wrong, followed by thirteen others, the man apologized and promised me never to speak ill-will towards Jews or any one again, he has kept his word on it.

What if a bad guy had jumped in to tell me that I was wrong?  Would the thirteen others have jumped with him?

I asked the group in the Center, if any one among them would have spoken up if someone were to spew hate against Muslims. It was God’s grace to see a few hands go up. I believe in humanity, when Ahmedinejad denied Holocaust a few years ago, Forty Muslims wrote to Dallas Morning News denouncing him, they published six of them including mine. Muslims do speak out.

My presence was there to see another point of view with an open mind and an open heart and speak up if needed to in the most civil manner. I have always believed in the inherent goodness of humanity and believe that the moderate majority needs to speak up. Thanks to the Jewish communities who have always been open to me, exceptions are of course always factored in.

Anti-Semitism is real

I am saddened by the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe. It is for real, as a Muslim it is frightening to me, and it should be frightening to every one in the world. Anti-Semitism must be exposed and eradicated before it envelops other areas of life and starts re-producing in different forms, un-checked, ultimately it will get to each one of us. 

Anti-Semitism is hate for Jews, and to his credit, the producer acknowledged in his comments that both Muslims and Jews are facing this abuse in Europe. As responsible citizens, we need to stand up against hate towards every one.

Anti-Semitism, anti-Arab or anti-Muslim is an ugly virus that is going to find home in every soul if we don’t take the time to neutralize it.  It should not be the problem of Jews and Muslims alone; it should be every one’s problem. Today it is them; tomorrow it will be you, no matter who you are.

The biggest lesson for Jews and Muslims

We need to interact; some of the ill-will is based on mis-information and some of it is real. It is in our interest; interests of the world, interest of Israel, Palestine, America, you and I to build bridges. We need to fund those projects that build bridges and not invest in ideas that promote misunderstandings, hate, ill-will, anger and revenge, it amounts to self-destruction.

We have got to remember that we will not be at peace, when others around us aren’t. We cannot have security when we threaten others. My security at the cost of others is not sustainable. Peace making does not happen with score keeping, it happens with a genuine desire for peace and goodness for all. 

Let films like this pave the way for discussion and work on developing a better understanding of each other. Muslims should participate in Jewish events and vice-versa. Staying away from each other will not contribute towards peace-making that both communities deserve. We have to come together without conditions and learn each others concerns and together find solutions. If we don’t, no one will?

To be a religious is to be a peacemaker, one who seeks to mitigate conflicts and nurtures goodwill for peaceful co-existence. God wants us to live in peace and harmony with his creation; that is indeed the purpose of religion, any religion.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to my Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Christian friends for reading the article and helping with a solution oriented essay, Sheila Musaji is one of them.

A challenge to Muslims and Jews

Please watch the movie together to find areas to collaborate, and remain focused on the movie and find solutions. Work together for the wellbeing of every American.


Mike Ghouse is a Speaker, Thinker, Writer and a Moderator. He is a frequent guest on talk radio and local television network discussing Pluralism, interfaith, Terrorism, Peace, Political and civic issues. His comments, news analysis and columns can be found on the Websites and Blogs listed at his personal website www.MikeGhouse.net

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