In great conflicts opportunities for peace are often missed and considerable and unnecessary violence follows. A recent letter from Muslim Religious to Christian leaders and scholars
may be a current opportunity needing our ‘services’. In the letter, the Muslim Leaders cite several fundamental commonalities between the religions. They call for “meaningful dialogue” resulting in “practical steps” towards reconciliation. However, both in the letter and in the analysis and responses, “next steps” are missing. Why should the mediation community be interested? The answer is, perhaps one of the reasons next steps are missing is lack of processes to utilize and lack of expertise to bring to bear on a complex set of issues involving multiple parties. This article assumes the “letter” is in good faith and suggests a concerted effort be undertaken by our community to acknowledge, encourage, and to offer “services” to open up processes for “meaningful dialogue” leading to “practical steps.”
The alternative is continued and growing violence which is unacceptable.
To give you an appreciation of one expert’s view of this letter please read the following:
“A common question in recent years is 'where are the moderate Muslim voices’? This historic document is a crystal-clear message of peace and tolerance from 138 Muslim leaders from across the Islamic world. Recognition of this common ground provides followers of both Islam and Christianity with a shared understanding that can help to foster a greater sense of religious pluralism and a tolerance based upon mutual understanding and respect that can contribute to the diffusion of tensions between these two great monotheistic faiths. One can only hope that Christian leaders and scholars will join with Muslim leaders and scholars and take this initiative to the next step in a dialogue not only of discourse but of mutually supported action.” 
Clearly Professor Esposito indicates a hope to take the initiative to next steps.
1. Before moving to next steps let’s preview some of the complexity.
- How long has the divide existed between the religions and how much has it grown in recent years? One could, and some will, argue they are irreconcilable so why bother?
- Neither Christians nor Muslims are united in their views and within each community there is conflict. There are 138 signatories on the Muslim letter and at least 25 addressees amongst Christians.
- The letter is not addressed to a single Jewish religious leader and if it were there would probably have to be numerous Jewish leaders.
- Dogma, representing non-negotiable tenets of the various religious faiths, are many, and can result in impasse. Processes developed will have to include how to deal with impasse while moving towards practical steps in reconciliation. Avoidance is not a practical long term option.
- Destabilizers exist within the various groups. Some resort to violence and cognizance to this unfortunate circumstance require careful consideration in any process formulated to deal with the issues.
- Funding. This issue is too complex to be handled ad hoc or pro bono. If our approach has appeal to the “parties” funding should be made available to do this right. There will always be voluntary actvities.
The list of complexities is a long and challenging one.
2. What next steps?
- The web site on which the letter is posted has a comments section. It would be good for those of us interested to either individually or as groups submit comments. I like the group approach as it may raise the comments importance and therefore elevate visibility.
- Create a group of interested parties from our community (Muslim, Christian, Jews, and others interested in this issue) to collect info and “brainstorm”. It is critical to bring together professionals from across the faiths to conduct a dialogue which will center on processes where we can act as “neutrals.” The first area of exploration is to identify what already exists in this area or what has worked in times past when meaningful dialogue existed.
- Charter the effort as a project within the broader initiative of any theological discussions.
- Conduct a “good faith” analysis by all involved, interested.
- Establish an internet based dialogue site.
- Create a working group with interested parties amongst the various communities to explore topic areas which are “low hanging fruit”, a concept wherein we look at opportunities for quick progress in taking “practical steps.”
- After creating a “charter” establish the group as a non-profit and get seed money to launch a real and sustained effort. As in any effort we would ask for contribution by all sides.
Should it turn out this initiative is, what Professor Esposito says it is, we cannot stand idly by and allow process be the reason there are no next steps. In fact perhaps we should talk about process as the “enabler.” Can you imagine Rabbis, Priests, Ministers, Imams of the various faiths sitting together centering on “meaningful” dialogue and taking “practical steps” towards reconciliation? In order for this to happen we need to first acknowledge, then offer, and finally deliver not the solutions but process where the “parties” have confidence they are in control of all decision making.
Launching anything is a challenging task. Creating credibility coming from thoughtful action helps quite a bit. Won’t you partner with us in this task by joining in on this discussion temporarily being held on my blog sight, hopefully to be expanded into its own entity. Let’s tell our Muslim, Christian, and Jewish brethren that “process” will be an enabler should they wish to utilize our “services” to develop “next steps.” Let’s make a difference. We’ll issue periodic updates on this issue as they arise and as we expand our contacts involved in this initiative.
John L. Esposito is University Professor, Professor of Religion and International Affairs, Professor of Islamic Studies and Founding Director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at the Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University.
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.