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Christians Religious Leaders Responding to Muslim Letter; Can Mediator's fail to be involved?

by Leo Hura
December 2007

From the Small Claims Courts blog of Leo Hura.

Leo Hura
There are significant responses by Christians and others to the Muslim to Christian Religious leader letter of October 13, 2007 inviting “meaningful dialogue leading to practical steps towards reconciliation.”  To keep this essay manageable two responses are discussed.  Christians broke ranks with two different responses.  One[1], signed by three hundred, lavishes praise while the other, His Holiness, the Pope’s[2], seems to set pre-conditions.  Concomitantly both groups seek meetings.  On the Muslim side, on the site which lists the letter, http://www.acommonword.com/ there is opportunity for comment by people like you and me, although they appear to be selective, Christian and Jewish leaders, however not Muslim leaders, so we do not know from this source whether there is similar fragmentation in their ranks.  Requests for information from the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute[3] have gone unanswered.  What can these developments tell us about “process and process expertise?” The purpose of this essay is to discuss “process and Process expertise”. In order to do so some comments and examples may be interpreted as judgmental.  They are not meant to be.  Hopefully they will be taken as a mediator’s view, illustrative of the challenges faced by Religious Leaders in creating “meaningful dialogue.”

 

The Muslim letter was addressed to “Christian Religious Leaders.”  So far, Muslims received two major responses widely differing in perspective.  According to an article by Sandro Magister[4], the NY Times response, “lavishes praise…”, and, “… it prefaces everything with a request for forgiveness to the All-Merciful One and the Muslim community around the world." He contrasts the NY Times article with, “Benedict XVI and the directors of the Holy See appear more cautious and reserved toward this flurry of dialogue.  I urge you to read both to draw your own conclusions about what it means for the development of “meaningful dialogue.”  Some of the questions/concerns which come to mind are:

·         To what degree does this fragmentation aid or complicate “process?”  Does the fragmentation create an advantage or disadvantage and for whom?

·         Is the apology offered in the NY Times article an attempt to close the past and create a shortcut to begin focusing on a future view?  Or, is it a pre-mature concession, leaving the other side feeling they now hold an advantage?

·         Does reference to a need for“enlightenment” in the Catholic response mire the discussion in the past? Is it a pre-condition?  How will it impact the Muslim side?  Can it have a positive impact?

·         Is an exchange of letters and posting ads in the NY Times an effective way of creating “meaningful dialogue?”  At what point should the parties move from the mass media to direct contact?  On the other hand, how open should the “process” be?  What role can the internet play in the process and/or communications?

·         Should the parties enter into a “process” of direct “meaningful dialogue” or utilize facilitators or mediators?

·         What would we do under these circumstances if you or I were the facilitators or mediators?

 

Regarding the last bullet point the following is offered assuming there are, in the broadest terms two groups, one Christian, the other Muslim:

 

  • How does each side define “meaningful dialogue”, “practical steps”, and “reconciliation” as these seem to be primary objectives addressed in the October 13, 2007 letter?  It’s hard to get a feel about this from the correspondence being exchanged so far.  How many different views are there?  What are the pre-conditions:
    • Enlightenment?
    • Determination of “good faith?”
    • Acknowledgment and if so, to what?
    • Apologies?
  • There are fundamental differences between teachings and beliefs amongst Christians.  The same is true with Muslims. Nonetheless, perhaps both groups, Christians and Muslims, should consider whether there is enough shared within each group to agree upon a set of “issues” to propose for discussion along with a coordinator within their groups?  No matter how unlikely such an approach might succeed isn’t it at least worth the effort?  Once again the issue of “process and process expertise” may be an enabler.  We are used to dealing with situations wherein multiple parties are grouped together without anyone giving up authority to make their own decisions.  An example of an issue of common concern to Christians might be the presence of large Muslim communities where large Christian communities exist as in Germany, France, or Netherlands.  It would seem possible for “meaningful dialogue” to occur around a set of “issues” Christians could agree upon.  The same could be said about the widely publicized lack of reciprocity towards Christians in a number of Muslim countries.
  • Has a line been drawn by reference to a need for a period of “enlightenment”, by the Pope in one correspondence and ignored in the Muslim Religious Leaders letter of October 13, 2007? In the context of creating “meaningful discussions” this might be a serious hurdle.  However, it is not atypical for “positions” to be present at the initiation of “meaningful dialogue.”  We’re used to dealing with “positions,” while realizing some create “impasse.”  We’ve made significant strides in dealing with impasse.  Our expertise would be a valuable impasse under these circumstances which are probably the tip of the iceberg.
  • Is this “flurry of dialogue” sustainable as a means of creating “meaningful discussions” or will it dilute the initiative to the point its original intent will be lost?  Is there a time element involved which will turn an initiative into further recrimination or worse?  As we know from experience there are some situations in which time is a critical element.  In this case it is possible expectations are being raised to a level which cannot be met for any number of reasons.  One reason could be too many players with too many disparate approaches just overwhelming the ability to respond “meaningfully.”  Part of “process’ development would be how to balance raising expectations with ability to deal with communications, transparency in a situation where efforts towards “dialogue” are occurring from the “grass roots” level all the way to Religious Leaders, theologians, and scholars.
  • An interesting set of action offered by the Secretary of State on behalf of the Pope is to receive a Muslim delegation and hold a working meeting.  Can this work and if so under what “process”?  One question which follows is whether this means other “Christian” groups will be included or excluded and if that’s the case then will other Christian groups take their own separate approaches?  How about those Muslim groups which are non participatory in these efforts.  In any working meeting “process and process expertise” should be part of the discussion.

 

In summary it appears the letter has struck a resonant chord in Christian circles.  It would be interesting to know to what degree and how this issue is “going down” with Muslims.  Next steps are developing.  In one correspondence I received the request was made to act at the local level by fostering and practicing inter-faith dialogue.  Certainly these kind of local efforts are helpful.  However, it is hard to see the linkage between local efforts without “meaningful dialogue” at the leadership level.  Without clarity at those levels it is hard to see how, at the local level, we can move beyond “polite dialogue.”



[1] http://www.acommonword.com/lib/downloads/fullpageadbold18.pdf

[2] http://www.acommonword.com/lib/downloads/letter-from-the-vatican.pdf

[3] http://www.aalalbayt.org/

[4] http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/178461?eng=y``

Biography


Leo Hura, Mediator -JD - Facilitator -Conflict Resolution Training Program Developer practices mediation out of Honolulu Hawaii.  An experienced mediator Leo has turned his atttention to developing training programs designed to inform, educate, and promote the use of peaceful means for avoiding, preventing, resolving conflict in business with business, business with client, and interpersonal relationships.

Leo writes extensively on his blogs, has written two booklets for clients on mediatin and small claims court claims, and numerous articels about the practice and use of colalborative means to resolve conflict. 

http://email.mediate.com/blogs/mediatewithkh



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