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

    Saudi Arabia’s New Female Politicians in the Other Room 

    Many in Saudi Arabia say elected representatives should share unsegregated spaces; according to a recent survey, more than half the Saudi population, both men and women, prefer to work in a segregated place

    Russia Not ‘Apologetic’ for Syria Airstrikes

    With Moscow criticized for targeting armed opponents of President Assad, Russia’s UN envoy says his country ‘acting in a very transparent manner’

    Pakistan Warns of Islamic State's Growing Reach

    Aftab Sultan, General Director General of Intelligence Bureau (IB), briefed Senate Committee in closed hearing, saying that IS-linked groups have been expanding in Pakistan

    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.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    X
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.