In the aftermath of the brutal attacks in Paris last week, not to mention the horrific slaughter in Nigeria, we’re hearing the same sound bytes from the same sources. Conservatives questioning where Muslim condemnation of violent, extreme Islam can be found. The answer is here, here, here and lots of other places. Moderate Muslims in anguish, using the hashtag #NotInMyName to distance themselves from and denounce the terror. Jews, afraid. Again.
On my Facebook wall, every time I post something that promotes peaceful understanding or bridge-building between Jews and Muslims, some members of my community rush to remind me that it is the Muslim world today that produces the worst oppression of women, the most violent terrorist attacks, and the most abject hatred of Jews.
I don’t know. Maybe they’re right. The news coming from some Muslim corners of the globe right now is bleak, to say the least.
When it comes to ranking social ills, though, I get a little tripped up. How exactly should we compare Saudi Arabia’s ban on women drivers with the fact that US demand for cheap produce results in child labor and squalor for some of the people who grow our food?
Is there a simple chart that can help me rank global oppression and systemic evil?
Some expect the Muslim community to assume responsibility for the actions of all other Muslims everywhere. The same “logic” dictates that as a Jew and an American, I should assume responsibility for the actions of people in my community, which could include everything from innocents killed by drone strikes to Israeli settler violence, as well as last week’s NAACP bombing and climate change.
When it comes to violence, oppression, and degradation, none of us are without blame. All of us — all of our communities — are directly and/or indirectly responsible for various kinds of brokenness in the world.
Pointing fingers and laying blame doesn’t fix anything. Rather than talking about how much work other countries or religious communities have to do, how ’bout we roll up our sleeves and do the hard work of making our own governments, societies, and religious traditions more peaceful, open, and just?
As we do so, let’s build relationships with people in other traditions who are doing that work in their own communities. Interfaith activist Eboo Patel, in Acts of Faith, says that the challenge of the 21st century is the “faith line.” That is, religious totalitarians on one side, and religious pluralists on the other. The pluralists, he insists, need to encourage one another and work together.
My hunch is that partnering with people from other traditions to work toward a peaceful, pluralistic world that we share — while working to make our own communities more reflective of our highest values — will encourage this important work, deepen it, and make it more effective. Also, it will bring the joy of friendship and shared purpose. God knows we need more of that.
So please. Let’s stop focusing on all the housecleaning that other people or countries or religious communities need to do. Let’s get to work cleaning the only house that’s ours to clean — because none of our houses are perfect right now. And as we clean, let’s encourage each other, share best practices, mourn and cry together when things are rough, and celebrate when we make progress.
As Eboo Patel says, “I fear the road is long. I rejoice that we travel together.”