News / Middle East

Islam, Judaism - Tolerance Could Lead to Democracy, Peace

US scholars highlight religion's paradoxes

David Byrd

A Palestinian man looks down on graffiti of the Star of David spray-painted on a wall of a West Bank mosque, September 5, 2011.
A Palestinian man looks down on graffiti of the Star of David spray-painted on a wall of a West Bank mosque, September 5, 2011.

The debate over Palestinian statehood continues with Israel and the Palestinian authority laying claim to parts of what has traditionally been called the Holy Land or the Land of Promise. Religion is one of the centerpieces in that debate, and experts say that both sides will have to find middle ground if there is to be any hope for a peaceful resolution.

The Land of Promise

The Hebrew Bible records the promise in the book of Genesis, where God tells the patriarch Abraham:

“I will give unto you and to your seed after you, the land wherein you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. (Gen. 17:8)

In Islam, the land is called the Holy Land and is mentioned specifically when Moses proclaims to the Children of Israel:

"O my people! Enter the holy land which Allah hath assigned unto you, and turn not back ignominiously, for then will ye be overthrown, to your own ruin." (Surah 5:21)

Religion and Politics

But what role does faith play in the current political debate? And is there hope that believers of two Abrahamic faiths can reach a compromise?

For insight on those questions, we talked to Georgetown University professor John L. Esposito, the director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. He says that though Judaism and Islam share some tenets, the argument over the land, particularly areas like the West Bank and East Jerusalem, is more political and socio-economic, not religious.

Watch our interview with John L. Esposito:

“And that colors – regrettably – the whole scene … not just because you have some people who are religious players even though this is, primarily the majority of the forces are more nationalists, secular nationalists. But it also colors it in terms of the way it plays out in the Muslim world, and also often in the popular mind,” Esposito said.

The Georgetown scholar went on to say that leaders on both sides of the debate have played what he called “the religion card” using faith references to rally support for political causes.

Religion’s role

But what role should religion have in public discourse? In the United States, President Thomas Jefferson put forth the idea of a “wall of separation” between religious and civil authorities, a concept adopted in numerous variations by other countries. But is such a separation the only way?

To explore the issue, VOA turned to Harvard professor Monica Duffy Toft and another Georgetown scholar, Timothy Shah.  Toft and Shah wrote the book God’s Century: Resurgent Religion and Global Politics along with Notre Dame Professor Daniel Philpott.

In the book, the authors argue that contrary to the belief that secularism will help breed democracy, religious faith has helped spur movements calling for more human rights, more freedoms and peace.

However, the authors do not ignore violence and war in the name of religion. Duffy Toft, from Harvard’s Belfer Center Initiative on Religion and International Affairs, says that religious people have had both positive and negative effects on democratization in the past 100 years.

“Religious actors are there, promoting democracy, and mediating peace and healing the wounds of war, but they have also been implicated in violence,” she said.

“And where religion is a source of violence, again it results from the same factors that explain democracy and peace.  You actually have to look at what the actors, the beliefs behind their behavior, what are they doing,” the scholar added.

Paradoxically, Duffy Toft and her colleagues also found violence is more likely when governments are too closely affiliated with a particular religious movement.

But Shah, an associate director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, says they also found that when there is freedom of religion, democracy flourishes.

“It is hard to resist the conclusion that the most aggressively secularizing and secularist movements, regimes and ideologies were profoundly anti-democratic and pro-authoritarian,” Shah said.

“Meanwhile, some of the most politically active, assertive and mobilizing religious movements have been pro-democratic and anti-authoritarian,” the Georgetown scholar added.

Tolerance v. conflict

In the case of Israel and the Palestinians, John Esposito says that religious believers have to find a way to respect and understand those who do not adhere to their particular tenets.

“I mean, the real challenge that we face in Palestine and Israel is analogous, I think, to the challenge we face in today’s world, and that is one of a modern notion of religious pluralism, and a modern notion of religious tolerance based on mutual understanding and respect,” he said.

“Not tolerance based simply on co-existence,” Esposito explained.

“Because tolerance based on co-existence means that you are out to co-exist, it doesn’t mean that I like you, I may look down on you, and I may despise you. I wouldn’t want to have you live near me. But it’s got to be one that is based on that mutual understanding and respect,” the scholar added.

U.S. position

As far as U.S. foreign policy is concerned, Duffy Toft, Shah and Esposito agreed that clinging to a “secular only” philosophy would be short-sighted, because of the role that religious people play in political decision making.

All three scholars said that extremism should not have a place in the future of the Middle East. While acknowledging that some factions might advocate violence as a means to a political end, Duffy Toft, Shah and Esposito agreed that only an environment of freedom and respect – for all faiths – will help bring about the peace that has eluded the region.

هل يمكن أن يؤدي التسامح بين الإسلام واليهودية إلى الديمقراطية والسلام؟ يتواصل الجدل حول عضوية دولة فلسطين في الأمم المتحدة فيما تدعي كل من السلطة الوطنية الفلسطينية وإسرائيل أحقيية كل منهما في أجزاء مما سمي تاريخيا بالأرض المقدسة أو أرض الميعاد. وهكذا يشكل الدين واحدا من أركان الجدل الرئيسية ويرى الخبراء أنه يتعين على الجانبين أن يلتقيا في منتصف الطريق لكي يمكن إبقاء الأمل في التوصل إلى حل سلمي
Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Seen as a potential driver of recovery, Cairo’s plan to expand waterway had been raising hopes to give country much needed economic boost More

Ebola Maternity Ward in Sierra Leone First of its Kind

Country already had one of world's highest maternal mortality rates before Ebola arrived, virus has added even more complications to health care More

Malaysia Flight 370 Disappearance Ruled Accident

Aircraft disappeared on March 8, 2014; with ruling, families of 239 passengers and crew can now seek compensation from airline More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Productioni
X
George Putic
January 29, 2015 9:43 PM
The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Production

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Crowded Republican Presidential Field Off to Early Start for 2016

It seems early, but the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign is already heating up. Though no one has officially announced a candidacy, several potential Republican contenders have been busy speaking to conservative groups about making a White House run next year. Many of the possible contenders are critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid