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Religious Leaders Call for Interfaith Dialogue on Cartoon Controversy


The protests in the Muslim world over the newspaper cartoons making fun of the Prophet Muhammad continue. In the search for a solution, Muslims, Christians and Jews are suggesting that people should start talking with each other, not past each other.

The demonstrations continue, but in Bangladesh, the Council for Interfaith Harmony is asking the United Nations to frame a code of conduct sanctifying the dignity of religious figures.

Shamsher Chowdhury is Bangladesh's Ambassador in Washington. He said, "If you want really to achieve peace and understanding, there is a need for dialogue among civilizations and not play up this theme of clash of civilizations."

The ambassador says there has to be an alternative to religious extremism of any kind. "There should not be stereotyping, the religious extremism in any religion is wrong, it creates hatred, it creates distrust, it takes away human dignity, and that should not be the case. "

In Washington DC, the Council on American-Islamic Relations brought together a group of religious leaders. The Reverand Clark Lobenstine, Executive Director of the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, told us, "It is our responsibility as people of any one faith to learn about other faiths. And in that process to deepen understanding, to build trust, work together to solve any problems, so we know that we are together in this world to build justice, to help overcome poverty, to help relieve hunger, and that is a mutual responsibility we have as people of all faiths. If we are committed to do that, we can undercut those who are the real extremists who abuse religion to justify their own ends."

Rabbi Mark Gopin, Director of The Center for World Religions at George Mason University in Virginia, says negotiation can settle cultural differences and added, "I think the best way to do that is developing relationships of substantive nature between groups that are enemies. I spent my life on that, it works particularly when there is a gesture of respect that goes along with different negotiations over things that we differ about."

The demonstrations get covered by the news media, but there is a growing number of interfaith dialogue sessions around the United states and elsewhere. For Muslims in some Western countries, these sessions offer a chance to talk about their faith and correct some of the stereotypes and misperceptions about Islam. They believe it's a more useful alternative to expressing anger by taking to the streets.