Group promotes moderate Islam after bin Laden death

International campaign, "Muslim and Jews United Against Hatred and Extremism," continues in Kiev; focus on interfaith ties.

By JONAH MANDEL
May 17, 2011 01:54
3 minute read.
Man holds poster of Osama bin Laden at rally

Man holds poster of Osama bin Laden at rally in Pakistan 311. (photo credit: REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed)

 
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The recent killing of Osama bin Laden, who epitomized radical and violent Islam, is being leveraged by interfaith groups seeking to promote a more moderate Muslim message, as evident in a recent meeting between some 80 Jewish and Muslim clerics in Kiev.

“The fact that the person who the world has always associated with violence in the name of Islam is no longer living should be understood as a major opportunity for the forces of moderation,” Rabbi Marc Schneier, founder and president of the US-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU) said. “Bin Laden’s death serves as a definitive test for Muslims as to where their true loyalties lie, but I’m confident it will encourage more and more people to say no to terrorism, and yes to tolerance.”

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The “Muslims and Jews United Against Hatred and Extremism” conference in the Ukrainian capital, held on Thursday, was part of a series of Muslim-Jewish events in nine European countries during May initiated by the FFEU; World Jewish Congress; European Jewish Congress; the World Conference of Muslims for Interfaith Relations; and the Muslim- Jewish Conference – cosponsored by Ukrainian MP and head of the local Jewish Federation Oleksandr Feldmanthe Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, the Ukrainian Jewish Committee and the Institute of Human Rights and the Prevention of Xenophobia and Extremism. Speaking on Sunday from Florence, where another similar event was taking place, Schneier spoke of the opportunity that Europe affords to raise the voice of religious Islamic moderation.

“We’d like to accelerate the process that has begun,” he continued. “There is a conflict within Islam between the voice of moderation and that of extremism. It behooves Jews to strengthen moderation – but at the same time remind them that this relationship is a two-way street, and has to be quid pro quo.”

Schneier noted his pride in how the Jewish community in the US, and other parts of the world, has been in the forefront of confronting Islamophobia.

The European efforts of dialogue, he said, were part of an international campaign to strengthen relations between Muslims and Jews, encouraging each community to fight for the other – Muslim leaders speaking out in combatting anti-Semitism, and Jewish leaders speaking out against Islamophobia.



“I’m tired of dialogue – this is not about exchanging pleasantries,” he said, “rather about each community fighting for the other.”

“We as Jews cannot fight our battles alone,” Schneier continued, noting confronting anti-Semitism and the support for the State of Israel as the two major issues confronting Jews around the world today.

“It is a very challenging process in terms of having Muslim leaders speaking out for Jews, but in the last five years Muslims have begun to raise their voices against anti- Semitism,” Schneier said.

“The ultimate goal is to get Muslims to speak out in support of State of Israel. We aren’t where we’d like to be, but the good news is that the process has begun.”

“I am optimistic, but also patient,” Schneier said of his feelings regarding the progress in dialogue between the religions.

“This is a difficult, challenging process, but I’m optimistic because my perspective is that I compare today to five years ago – it’s night and day to have Jewish and Muslim leaders holding major events in England, France, Italy, Holland and elsewhere. There is a whole movement taking place. These are baby steps, but moving in right direction.”

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