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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Dismantling Terrorism

Dismantling Terrorism in India - It is about pluralistic governance

  1. Article by Mike Ghouse

  2. Article by Ramesh Thakur

  3. Article to read: http://wisdomofreligion.blogspot.com/2008/03/laser-barking-at-terrorists.html


Indian government must be applauded and appreciated for handling the terrorism wisely. Ramesh Thakur has rightly pointed out the example of Jaswant Singh, India’s foreign minister who escorted the terrorist to get release of the hostages; it must go down in the annals of history as act of wisdom. While India’s approach towards terrorism has contained terrorism, Bush’s mindless aggression has increased terrorism, and it must be condemned for its stupidity. By the way, it is not an American aggression, as the American public is not with the administration and it is the act of the few, just as terrorism was the act of the few. Unfortunately our laws prevent us to take Mr. Bush off the Presidency and save the nation from further ruin, there is no such thing as a no confidence move to get him off, as we do in Israel, India, UK and other democracies. .
I expect a few comments on this piece to be raging with anger from those few loud mouths like the Fox, the Neocons and their ilk, who equate patriotism with supporting the government blindly. Criticism of the government amounts to being unpatriotic. I welcome those comments though, as we move towards encouraging pluralistic societies, we have to put all the cards on the table to effectively deal with the problem. Thank God for Cindy Sheehan, Mike Moore and thousands like them, who have saved us from a greater disaster in Iraq, they have fulfilled the most patriotic duty as an American, to keep the government in chuck. We need to save America from yet again another disgraceful act against Iran.

If some one murders on the street, his ass must be hauled off to Jail and must be tried for his crimes, and not bomb the whole country. We have to isolate the criminals and not lump them with their community. India has done a lot of wise things that we can learn from, including handling of terrorism and containing the evil to the specific act and has not let it spread to the whole nation, nor has it blamed a religion for the acts of the individuals. It is a good example of not making a mess of the situation.

A snap shot of Iraq in 2001 which had nothing to do with terrorism or 9/11; Neither the Sunnis were killing the Shia’s or vice versa. Except the reign of Terror of Saddam, there was no terrorism in the public square. It was progressive secular society and look at today what is happening.

Our aggression has created over half a million widows, who have no one to support but live their livelihood through the flesh trade, as the only supporters their brothers, fathers or husbands are dead. Our aggression has created massive unemployment causing the youth to resort to vandalism and leading to the Shia Sunni rift, a new phenomenon in Iraq because of our aggression. Unless we admit we are the cause of evil in Iraq, we cannot bring a resolution to our collective guilt and liberation and peace to us and the Iraqis. Our presence has caused so much death and destruction. The world has to be repaired from these ventures. Every war, every evil in the world can always be traced to hate filled insecure individuals; religion is just an easy target.

As Ramesh Thakur has pointed out, there is a lot of anger festering in the youth whose parents were burned alive in front of them, or were made homeless for no fault of their own. It was again like an act of Bush, killing the whole township for the evil acts of the few. India has room to set things right and continue to express and act on its traditional wisdom. It needs to bring justice to the people who have suffered in Gujarat, both the victims and victimizers without regard to the religion they wear. Injustice causes the victims to fester and keeps the spark of the anger alive; it can be extinguished only by bringing justice to every Gujarati. Without justice every one remains tense and alert on their toes and live in paranoia. We have an opportunity to live in peace, it is in our interest as Indians, as Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Jews, Tribals and others to put things behind. It can be achieved by repentance, justice and forgiveness. We have to move from cautionary living to unguarded living.

We cannot have peace, by un-peacing others.

Mike Ghouse is a Speaker, Thinker and a Writer. He is president of the Foundation for Pluralism and is a frequent guest on talk radio and local television network discussing interfaith, political and civic issues. He is the founding president of World Muslim Congress with a simple theme: Good for Muslims and good for the world. His comments, news analysis and columns can be found on the Websites and Blogs listed at his personal website http://www.mikeghouse.net/. Mike is a Dallasite for nearly three decades and Carrollton is his home town. He can be reached at MikeGhouse@gmail.com


Here is a good article by Ramesh Thakur

Special to Globe and Mail Update
July 28, 2008 at 11:27 PM EDT

Seventeen bomb blasts in a 10-kilometre radius in 70 minutes on Saturday in Ahmadabad. Nine blasts in Bangalore, outsourcing capital of the world, on Friday. A country on the edge of panic.
The world shares in Indians' pain, anger and determination to face down the terrorists, to not give them the triumph of being cowed or the satisfaction of fomenting communal hatred and bloodletting. For security from acts and the fear of terrorism is indeed indivisible, and the world is the battlefield.
We have been here before. In 1993, twin attacks on Bombay's financial centre and Air India building were dress rehearsals of a sort for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York. Then, the world ignored how India and Southwest Asia had joined the front line of global terrorism. No longer.

The most immediate tasks will be to help the victims, tighten security, plug the fatal intelligence gaps and prevent outbreaks of violence against Muslims.

Chances are high the perpetrators will turn out to have pan-Islamic links with the banned Students Islamic Movement of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh or similar groups. All the more reason to insist that not all Muslims are terrorists and not all terrorists are Muslim.

Before the Iraq war, the leading practitioners of suicide terrorism were Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers: Hindus. The most ruthless terrorism in 1980s India was perpetrated by Sikhs. Europe, including Britain, has had its share of Christian terrorists. If anything, India's 140 million Muslims are a salutary negation of the facile thesis about Islam's incompatibility with democracy.

In a billion-strong country with an 80-per-cent Hindu population, the Prime Minister and army chief are Sikhs, the previous president was a Muslim and the power behind the throne is a Catholic of Italian origin — profound testimony to the pluralism and accommodation of India's complex and adaptable power-sharing arrangements. Democratic politics, political freedoms, civil liberties and religious tolerance must be protected at all costs.

But India earned its reputation as a soft state that can be intimidated into meeting terrorists' demands. Jailed terror suspects are released in exchange for kidnapped kin of political leaders. In December, 1999, in a day that will live in infamy in the annals of international terrorism, foreign minister Jaswant Singh personally escorted three terrorists to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in order to secure the release of passengers from a hijacked Indian Airlines flight. One of the freed terrorists was later implicated in 9/11. In response to an attack on Parliament in December, 2001, India mobilized its defence forces for a year along the border with Pakistan at great expense, only to send them back to barracks with no actual action — war-mongering without war.

It would be difficult to exaggerate the anger and disdain of the people for the tough rhetoric followed by no action of successive governments of all parties.

To break out of this trap, India must eliminate the corruption and politicization of the police forces and their antiquated training and equipment, as well as criminalization of politics. The number of parliamentarians with pending criminal cases is alarming. Terrorism thrives and prospers in such conditions.

India habitually points the finger of criminality at Pakistan, whose offers to help with the investigations are repeatedly spurned. Some foreign footprint — training, financing, arming — is likely. But for a foreign government to be able to infiltrate groups of Indians and recruit them to the terrorist cause indicates failures of intelligence and interdiction, on the one hand, and disaffection among sections of the population, on the other.

The intelligence agencies function as autonomous fiefs with little oversight and virtually no accountability for failures and lapses. This is matched by the flaws of the criminal justice system, which is rudimentary and lamentable by the standards of mature democracies.

Justice has neither been done nor seen to be done with respect to the large-scale atrocities against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. They spawned a crop of angry and twisted young men whose rage can be channelled into lethal terrorist violence.

India also needs to be tough on the causes of terrorism. Poverty is not a direct cause, but it is an incubator of terrorism and a root cause of corruption. New Delhi needs to implement reform in order to maintain rapid economic growth. It also needs to solve its long-running territorial conflicts — more than 90 per cent of suicide terrorists aim to compel military forces to withdraw from territory they consider an occupied homeland. India's terrorism problem is specific to Kashmir, not generic to Muslims.

External involvement in Kashmiri militancy is not absent, however. The world must coax or coerce regimes that are tolerant of export-only terrorist cells to confront the menace. One group's terrorist cannot be tolerated as another's freedom fighter.

The blowback phenomenon has returned to haunt the West, which supported jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan. It also consumed Indira and Rajiv Gandhi. Pakistan remains in danger of tearing itself apart from the inside because of armed elements espousing a variety of foreign extremist causes. These South Asian neighbours must pool resources to root out the tyranny of terrorism throughout the region.

Ramesh Thakur is distinguished fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation and professor of political science at the University of Waterloo.


Rabbi Rosen on Saudi Led interfaith conference


Following my comments is an article by Rabbi David Rosen. Almost all the writers who'd like to see a world of co-existence, are writing in the same fashion.

Without skepticism, cynicism, understanding and support, no initiative will ever be comprehensive and it will not take off the ground without a combination of these elements that temper the progress.

What is the loss if we believe in this initiative?

Saudi Arabia is one of the most religiously conservative society and is opening up to people of other faiths. The process began in 2005 when Saudi Emissaries started branching out all over the world to explore interfaith. In Dallas per the request of a Saudi minister, I had arranged for a 20 member meeting from Jewish, Islamic and Christian groups as an initial step towards including all faiths in the near future. Since then the Saudi Kingdom has taken series of steps in this direction culminating in interfaith dialogue series. First it was the same three groups; Judaism, Christianity and Islam and now, I am pleased it has included Hinduism and Buddhism as well and one day, all faiths.

I am further pleased to read the following statements “Abdullah Al-Turki, secretary-general of the MWL, said, “The aim of the conference is for us to get to know each other and look for ways to cooperate.” And their focus is on “humanitarian issues and challenges facing the world”. He further adds “that the conference would look at social and ethnic conflicts, environmental issues, the breakdown of the family and militant violence around the world.” He added the conferences would initially not focus on theological issues.

Years ago, I had a daily radio show called “Wisdom of Religion, all the beautiful religions” which ran for full two years. Our focus was on the message of each one of the religions and how the common man on the street could relate with the essence of each faith.

God willing, the World Muslim Congress, the Memnosyne Foundation and the Foundation for pluralism from Dallas will work towards creating a better world of co-existence.


Mike Ghouse

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Rabbi David Rosen: What I saw at Saudi-led interfaith conference in Spain

Rabbi: What I saw at Saudi-led interfaith conference in Spain

By David Rosen Published: 07/29/2008


MADRID (JTA) -- When King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia announced his intention some three months ago to reach out to the leaders of the main religions of the world to convene an interfaith dialogue and to work together to address major global challenges, understandably there was no shortage of skepticism.

function changefontSize(id,size,line) { document.getElementById(id).style.fontSize = size; document.getElementById(id).style.lineHeight = line; } Saudi Arabia is the heartland of Islam and arguably the most conservative of Muslim countries. Freedom of worship is not granted to other religions in Saudi Arabia, where the dominant brand of Islam is Wahhabism -- or, more precisely, Salafism -- which has a far more insular approach than other forms.

However, there appeared to be some obvious reasons why the king would want to take such an initiative. Aside from the need to improve the image of Islam in the West and that of his country in particular, at stake were the regional strategic factors that contribute to Saudi Arabia’s sense that the country needs to assert what it sees as its leadership role in the Muslim world.

In typically cautious fashion, King Abdullah first convened a pan-Islamic conference to discuss this venture, and while there were Muslim criticisms, he received widespread backing in much of the Islamic world. However, some who did not attend the conference expressed strong opposition to the whole idea of interfaith dialogue, especially to inviting members of other faiths to Saudi Arabia.

Probably for this reason, or at least in order to proceed as tactically secure as possible, the decision was taken to hold the multifaith gathering in Spain while indicating that it was the first such conference and hinting at future gatherings in Saudi Arabia itself.

There were important arguments against cooperating with this Saudi initiative. Why be party to advancing the public relations of a regime that is hardly an exemplar of religious toleration? Why cooperate with religious entities that promote a brand of Islam that does not by any means serve the interests of Muslim integration into Western democracy and pluralism?
Moreover, a number of the names that appeared on an initial list of invitees were considered problematic, including the secretary-general of the Saudi-based World Muslim League, who was allegedly implicated in supporting organizations that had served nefarious elements working abroad.

The counterargument was that a Jewish rejection of this invitation would not, in fact, serve the interests of Jewry, Israel and the free world -- on the contrary. This was an opportunity to begin to break through barriers of hostility and bigotry, and perhaps this move, for whatever reasons of self-interest, would herald an opening in the Muslim world to greater understanding of and even cooperation with others.

In addition to the welcome given by the American Jewish Committee to this initiative, this was also the position taken by Israel’s political and diplomatic leadership.

However, it became patently clear that for the Saudi organizers, these were uncharted waters. The preparations, list of invitees, invitations and even the program itself all betrayed the lack of familiarity with the interfaith territory at large and with specific religious communities in particular.

It was clear that the hosts had decided to deliberately avoid inviting any official Israeli or Palestinian representatives. Though I reside in Israel, the invitation I received as one of the few initial Jewish invitees was sent deliberately to AJC’s Jacob Blaustein Building in New York.

Most disturbing was the fact that when the tentative program, subsequently changed half a dozen times, appeared on the conference Web site, the name of Yisroel Dovid Weiss of Neturei Karta -- the fervently Orthodox group of anti-Zionists that vehemently opposes the existence of the Jewish state -- was listed on the opening plenary.

Had Weiss in fact remained in this representative role, we would have withdrawn from the conference in protest -- and this was very much the position that the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs had recommended as well. However, together with other Jewish figures who had accepted invitations to attend, an effective campaign was launched enlisting various religious and political contacts in the U.S. and around the world. The result was that Weiss was deleted from the program and did not attend the conference.

King Juan Carlos of Spain hosted the opening session on July 16 in the Spanish Royal El Prado Palace. An impressive array of Arab princes, including most of the Saudi government, and Muslim clerics attended with representatives of the world’s major faiths -- not least among these Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the Vatican prelate responsible for relations with other faiths.

King Abdullah welcomed the attendees, and in his opening speech emphasized his conviction that authentic religion is expressed in a spirit of moderation and tolerance, and requires that concord must replace conflict. He called for cooperation and collaboration between religions to address the global challenges of our time.

At the end of the opening, King Abdullah greeted the guests individually. When my turn came, I introduced myself to him saying in my limited Arabic, “I am Rabbi Rosen from Jerusalem, Israel,” and he replied “Ahalan w’asalan” -- welcome -- but I could see that those around him almost had heart attacks on the spot.

While the king’s message was hardly earth-shattering in itself, the fact that he had given the green light for encounter, dialogue and collaboration with the other faith communities appeared to open the gates for many who were most curious but might have been wary or even fearful of such encounters.

Members of the Jewish delegation were interviewed incessantly by the Arab media. Several Arab figures came up to us and said they had never met a Jew, let alone a rabbi, and would like to ask us questions.

Many of the questions reflected stunning prejudice, distortions and misconceptions, but the very fact that they could vent them to us -- almost innocently -- presented opportunities to address the misrepresentations and try to overcome them.

Naturally, as is the case more often than not at conferences, conversations outside of the formal proceedings and especially at mealtimes offered far greater opportunity for meaningful exchange.

At one meal I was sitting next to a prominent Saudi personality who informed us that the gathering was the outcome of the process that King Abdullah had embarked upon since his accession to the throne. The king’s desire, he said, was not only for Saudi Arabia to play a more engaged role with the world at large and with the world’s religions in particular, but also was part of his desire to open up Saudi Arabia itself to the world.

In the highly choreographed format of the proceedings, there was a moment of some passion and heat. It came in the wake of the almost inevitable mantra expressed by a panelist in the penultimate session that while dialogue with Jews was permissible, and perhaps even desirable, dialogue with Israel and those who supported it was not.

When I was given the floor to respond, I pointed out that genuine dialogue is not one in which one side defines the character of the other but rather seeks genuinely to understand others as they see themselves. Judaism has always been inextricably connected to the Land of Israel, and while this should not be used to justify any action or policy that is in conflict with the morality and ethics that are at the foundation of religion, to deny or try to separate this bond is to fail to acknowledge, let alone respect, Jewish self-definition.

While there was a minimal negative reaction, alleging that the irenic discussion had now been politicized, there were also constructive Muslim responses in return.

Arguably most notable of all was the respectful spirit in which the discussion took place.

In a way, the absence of any mention of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict created the feeling that the “elephant in the room” was being ignored. The opportunity to refer to it in the context of respectful debate actually helped clear the air.

While the concluding statement was the anticipated pious declaration, it does nevertheless reflect the expressed Saudi intention to continue the process that has been embarked upon. This is something that should not be underestimated.

The highest authority in the very heartland of Islam has taken a lead in interfaith outreach, whatever his motives might be, with the declared intention of addressing contemporary challenges and resolving conflict. This offers Israel, the Jewish people and the West a significant opportunity that must be seized.

(Rabbi David Rosen is the International Director of Interreligious Affairs at the American Jewish Committee.)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Saudi dialogue - Rabbi Lerner

By Rabbi Michael Lerner, Editor,TIKKUN

I had expected the World Conference on Dialogue convened by the King of Saudi Arabia July 16-18 in Madrid to be little more than a photo op for the King, a cheap way to buy good public relations for a regime that has refused to increase production of oil as a way to reduce the current surge in the price, provided haven and support for the Wahabaist stream of Islam that has fostered extremists like Saudi-born and raised Osama bin Ladin and many other, and has done far too little with its wealth to alleviate the poverty and suffering of many in the Middle East. For that reason, when the Embassy called me to invite me I at first declined the invitation, and only changed my mind a few days before the event when it became clear that many establishment Jewish leaders were planning to attend, so my presence there would not be giving legitimacy that these other leaders had not already given.

Imagine my surprise, then, to hear the Saudi King not only affirm the centrality of tolerance and dialogue, but speak in a language that, as one Muslim observer pointed out to me, sounded more like the New Bottom Line of the Network of Spiritual Progressives than it did like a speech of a self-absorbed monarch. [He is certainly also that, and my praise for his actions in starting what may be a processs of Glasnost and Perestroika is the Muslim world does not mitigate against the strong ethical revulsion I have at a society that does not allow the practice of any other religion besides Islam, for decades prevented Jews from even entering the country, even when they were members of the US Armed Services, systematically subordinates and oppresses women, and beheads people for "crimes" like adultery].

King Abdullah started with a strong affirmation of the goal of a new kind of tolerance between religions. Religions have not caused wars, said the King, but rather extremists who have misused religion in a hurtful and harmful way. A truly religious person would not resort to war, the King reminded us. But why do people respond to the extremists? Because there is a deep spiritual crisis in the world, and it is that crisis which creates the conditions in which exploitation, crime, drugs, family breakdown and extremism flourish.

The King went on to explain that it should be the task of the various religious communities of the world to work together to overcome that spiritual crisis. But that will require religious cooperation which must begin with mutual respect and tolerance. We need to emphasize what all religions have in common--the ethical message that permeates every major religion. That message is that hatred can be overcome through love. We in the religious world need to choose love to overcome hatred, justice over oppression, peace over wars, universal brotherhood over racism.

To me, this didn't sound like the King I had come to expect from Western media. This was obviously a new direction being articulated by the King of Saudi Arabia. Moreover, it was not just being articulated for a Western audience. The King had convened a similar meeting of Islamic scholars and thinkers in Saudi Arabia six weeks before, and there had championed this new approach for Islam as the one most authentically rooted in traditional Islam (an argument made previously by many Western Islamists-but when they were making that argument, the Saudis seemed to be aligned with the other side, the more reactionary and anti-tolerance forces).

The King had faced some real opposition in his previous meeting, and the events there and in this meeting in Madrid represent first steps in a process that is likely to take years or decades. But this was quite a striking new direction, and one that is very hopeful. It was an historic event, the thawing down of the ice that the Saudis had helped create as they sponsored rejectionism of multiple paths in the past. Even in an authoritarian society like Saudi Arabia, the King has to deal with people who have different approaches to the world than he, particularly in the reactionary and anti-Semitic elements in the Islamic religious community, and I don't expect to see some clear line of unambiguous goodness suddenly emerging in Saudi Arabia to magically transform the whole society overnight, any more than I expect to see that in the US or Israel).

The overwhelming majority of people in the room were leaders from Muslim countries around the world. It appeared as if they were the King's primary audience. He was introducing a new language into the Islamic religious discourse, and it was a language that has in the past largely been rooted in Western humanism and human rights. Many Muslims in the room mentioned to
me or to others that they felt that this speech was actually a significant breatk-through, because the King is one of the more influential figures in Islam, because of his role as "Protector of the 2 Mosques" (in Mecca and Medina), gives him immense influence in the Islamic world.

Like the Jews, the Muslims have no pope and no authoritative body that makes all religious rulings, but instead has a plethora of religious authorities who read Islamic law in as many different ways as Jewish Hallakhic authorities read Jewish law. Protestantism in Christianity de facto created this same kind of plethora of sources of authority, so that in effect people get to choose among a variety of different Christian traditions today, just as they have had in Islam and Judaism for many many centuries. But the identification of religious leaders with state power leaders in Islamic countries has defacto created a much tighter control by the powerful elites over the religious tradition in those countries.

It remains to be seen whether the King can impose his new tolerance over a Saudi society which has not done much yet to embrace this new tolerance. But if the Saudis do in fact allow other religions to teach their ideas and practice their religions in Saudi Arabia, and if they can make other changes in law that embody a new spirit of respect for human rights, that could have a huge impact throughout the Islamic world. Moreover, even if none of this happens very soon, we should understand that in changing ideologies, statements of a new worldview are themselves acts of importance-sometimes writing or saying things (e.g. writing the Declaration of Independence or giving a speech about the failure of Stalinism or writing a book about the way that Israelis kicked Paletinian non-combatants out of their homes and into refugee caps) can be just as important an action as any other.

The Saudi King was followed by the King of Spain who talked about tolerance as an old Spanish tradition, presumably referencing the period when Christians, Jews and Muslims lied in Spain in the 11-th to the 14th centuries. He made no mention (or apology) for the Spanish expulsion of all Jews in 1492, He made a point of stressing, however, that today Spain is a democracy (presumably to acknowledge that unlike the King of the Saudis, the King of Spain no longer rules Spain in the way that the King of the Saudis actually does rule Saudi Arabia).

Next, the leader of the Muslim World League spoke about the common values held by all humanity that should be a foundation for transcending our political differences. Instead of rejoicing at the possibility of a clash of civilizations, as some right-wingers in America have preached (like Norman Podhoretz in his most recent book The 4th World War), we actually need to be seeking cooperation between the various global civilizations. Islam, he insisted, believes in the equality of all. There is no legal foundation for the prevalence of any given community or race within Islam.

Here too was an incredibly hopeful message. It wasn't relevant, really whether this is an accurate description of Muslim practice. It was, as was the King's talk, an obvious attempt to change the thinking in his own community, a change that could have profound political effects if it is taken as seriously inside Saudi Arabia as it was in Madrid.

After hearing the Kings of Saudi Arabia and Spain speak, the "religious leaders of the world" moved to a reception line in which each of us was to give our name and shake the hand of the King. I was in one of my more irrepressible moods, so when it was my time I broke protocol and said to King Abdullah "I represent the many Jews in the world who wish to see cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians and a peace that provides security and justice for both sides (and I pointed to the Tikkun pin I was wearing which has the Israeli flag and the Palestinian flag with the words "Peace, Justice, Life, TIKKUN"). I hope that you will use some of your huge oil-generated billions of dollars to help Palestinians build decent housing and plumbing in the refugee camps." By this point the people surrounding the King were moving to push me forward, and the King merely gave me a big smile (English was being translated for him by his US Ambassador) and I moved on into the dining area.

To my surprise, I was seated at a table with 8 members of the King's cabinet and his closest associates (I was the only non-Muslim or non-Saudi at the table). I sat next to the Secretary of Labor, and next to him was the Secretary of Finance, and then the others I remember included the Secretary of Communications, the Secretary of Labor, and one person who was introduced as the King's main counsel and another as a close personal friend of the King and another was one of the major corporation heads in Saudi Arabia. Several people knew about Tikkun and it turned out that these men had mostly been educated in the US or England, several at Oxford, some at the University of Southern California or at University of California. Whereas at almost all of the other tables in the huge dining room there were several conversations going on at the same time, these people stopped their separate conversations and focused on me and wanted to know my perspective on American politics and on Israel/Palestine.

I very briefly described the Tikkun/NSP perspective, particularly the need for a new consciousness based on open-heartedness, mutual repentance, and compassion, and the idea of the "New Bottom Line." I also talked about the new Global Marshall Plan as a way to do foreign policy based on the recognition that our interests as human beings in the West are directly tied to the well-being and success of everyone else on the planet, and that the smartest way to achieve Homeland Security is not through Domination and "Power ove" other, but through Generosity and Genuine Caring for Others. To start in this new direction, I argued, would take a major act of public repentance by the peoples of the world.

A few embraced this right away, and explained that their own understanding of Islam led them to feel very comfortable with what I was saying. Others argued that my thinking might be right for the U.S., but certainly couldn't apply to the Middle East, since it would be unfair to ask Palestinians to show equal repentance toward Israelis, given that the Palestinians had been made homeless by the 1947-49 conflict and were living in terrible conditions.

I agreed with them that the suffering of the Palestinians was impossible to accept as legitimate, and certainly ran counter to the dictates of Judaism with its commands to care for "the other" (ve'ahavta la'ger-You must love the stranger). But then I added that it was a shame that the Saudis with all their wealth had not done more to help the Palestinians. The Finance Minister smiled and said that that was simply not true, but that Israel was not letting their aid come through. He is certainly right about the intransigence and human-rights-violating policies of the Israeli government as it attempts to punish the entire Palestinian population for the activities of a few (an explicit violation of international law). However, I pointed out that Palestinian refugees lived in Jordan, Syria, Egypt and particularly in Lebanon where their conditions were appalling and that the Saudis could rectify that.

The Finance Minister responded by saying that they had done more than was known, but that the particulars he was not going to discuss. I then pointed out that Gaza and the West Bank were in the hands of the Arabs from 1948-1967 and that their Arab hosts and the Saudis had done
nothing to improve their slum-like conditions. Several people pointed out to me that the Palestinian leadership that existed at that time (1949-1967) prior to the emergence of the Palestinian Liberation Organization) did not want to accept that the expulsion from their homes was permanent, and hence did not want to begin any housing construction project that would appear to be a resettling in the refugee camps.

Didn't I agree that the refugees had suffered a huge humanitarian disaster? Yes, I said I did agree with that, but that Israelis were fearful that if Palestinians were to return now with their millions of people, that would eliminate Israel as a Jewish state. And I referenced my article on Israel at 60 in May/June 2008 Tikkun in which I had analyzed the situation in terms of the Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome facing both Jews from our long history of oppression culminating in the Holocaust and the Palestinian people as a result of their displacement for the past sixty years.

My even-handedness was challenged by some who said that certainly the suffering of the Palestinian people couldn't be excused by reference to the suffering of Jews in Europe, since it was not the Palestinians who had participated in the Holocaust? I replied that the Palestinians had played an important role, along with the Saudis and other Arab states in convincing the British to cut off immigration of Jews to Palestine. They responded that this policy was understandable, given the explicitly stated goal of the Zionist movement leaders to create a Jewish state in Palestine, and thus, Palestinians feared, to exclude or evict Palestinian settlers (and as several pointed out, Israeli historians like Beni Morris, Avi Shlaim, and Ilan Pappe uncovered documents and letters from Zionist leaders revealing that their intent in accepting the UN resolution of 1947 to partition Palestine was only a first step in their larger intent to eventually take over all of Palestine-and that goal was clear to the Arabs as well as to the Zionist movement and accounted for their resistance to the partition agreement). I pointed out that whatever their fears, the reality was that they had chosen an immoral path in pushing the British to close immigration to Jews, and that a majority of my larger family had died in Europe during the Holocaust and might have been saved had there been a place to escape to, and that Palestine was the nearest place in which Jews had some historical claim.

At this point the Saudis challenged my contention that the Palestinians or Arabs had had much of an impact on the British in their decisions. I argued that the British in the 30s and 40s were following policies shaped by their concern for steady oil supplies for their coming war (either with Hitler or Stalin). The Saudis
responded by telling me that they (the Saudis) were not a major source of oil for the British and that in any event the British were a colonial power that was shaping the policies of other Arab states, and not vice versa. I was not sure that that was true, but then switched my line to point out that wherever colonial
authorities ruled, they always tried to set the native populations against their minority groups, and that this is what had happened in Palestine and more generally in the Middle East. The Jews, I argued, were the minority in Palestine at that time, and the potential Arab revolt against colonialism had been weakened by the distraction onto opposing Zionism.

But was it a distraction or were the Zionists really agents of colonial rule? The Saudis pointed to the Balfour Declaration in 1917 proclaiming Britain's commitment to supporting the Jews in establishing a state in Palestine. I argued that the British had no right to determine the future of the area, since it wasn't
theirs in the first place (a point that showed the Saudis that there were indeed Jews who did not identify with the colonialist perspective) and b. that most Jews coming to Palestine were fleeing oppression, most form Europe but some from Arab countries.

They responded that Jews had lived in harmony with their Arab hosts until the colonial period and the rise of Zionism. At that point, rather than pursue that argument (I disagreed with them and would have pointed out that the conditions were akin to apartheid for Jews in most of those countries through much of that history), I turned instead to the larger frame of our discussion and said, "Wouldn't it be better if we really wish to build a future of peace that we stop trying to get a triumph on the issue of guilt? There are two national discourses here, and each has lots of facts to back it up, but it is futile and destructive to follow the path now being followed in which each side tells the story as though
they are the righteous victims and the other side is the evil oppressors! Let’s move beyond that to ask what we can do to build peace now, and start by each side acknowledging that the other has a legitimate though partial view, and that each side has sinned and gone off course." I then explained the Jewish view of "sin" as similar to an arrow going off course, implying that the sinner was fundamentally good, not evil, but had lost his or her way. They seemed happy with that notion.

But then they turned to the current situation and told me how surprised and outraged they were that the Saudi proposal to end the struggle and create peace based on a return to the 1967 borders, a proposal offered to Israel several years ago, had gotten zero response from Israel. I responded that if they really thought that there would be a full return to those borders, they were mistaken, because no Jew would ever agree to give up access to the Western Wall which was part of Jordan before the 67 war (and while under Arab rule, Jews had been prevented from going to the Wall to pray). They thought that could be negotiated, but the point, they said, was that they had gotten exactly ZERO RESPONSE to a gesture which they felt should have been perceived by Israel as giving Israel the recognition that Israel always claimed to be central to its needs.

I could not justify the Israeli government's behavior, but said that I opposed the current and past Israeli governments since the death of Rabin precisely because they had given up on peace and seemed more interested in holding on to the West Bank. But, I argued, most American Jews and a large number of Israelis would accept major territorial compromises if they really believed that peace was possible.

The Saudis said that it seemed impossible to believe that when the Saudis had made it clear that peace was indeed possible. I responded by pointing to thePTSD thesis coupled with the continuing fear of Israelis that they might be wiped out by a combination of the Iranians plus the surrounding Arab states. Incredulously, they asked if any Jews in the US seriously believed that destruction of Israel was possible. I responded that such fears were frequently voiced in the organized Jewish community, though many younger Jews did not share that fear. At this point, the Saudis were so astounded they almost lost interest in the conversation.

They found it impossible to believe that anyone could believe that Israel was in any danger of destruction. Israel, they pointed out to me, had close to two hundred nuclear bombs-no state would dare seek to destroy Israel for fear of being wiped off the face of the earth. Similarly, they perceived Iranian threats from Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to be a joke, since everyone knew that Iran did not have any nuclear capacity whatsoever and was unlikely to have anything in the next decade.

Many of the Saudis at the table felt that at this point they were listening to a typical Israeli propagandist (me) and that there was no point in continuing to talk since they believed that I knew and all Israelis and Jews knew that there was no possibility of Israel ever getting destroyed by the weak Arab or Islamic world, and that taking such concerns seriously were about as rational as thinking that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

In any event, they asked what I thought they should do-was there anyone among Israelis leaders who had the power and inclination to build peace. When I talked about Yossi Beilin they said I had misunderstood-they wanted to know about anyone who was likely to actually have the power to implement a peace agreement, and I was not sure who to suggest. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni does not seem to me to have the kind of commitment to peace that would be necessary to gain the support of the current cabinet for a path to peace that involved serious land compromises, and Bibi Netanyahu, who may be Israel's next Prime Minister, has zero inclination toward a negotiated settlement with the Palestinian people.

The Saudis then asked me about Obama and particularly his seeming capitulation to AIPAC immediately after securing the Democratic nomination. I told them about the divisions in the Jewish world, the way that the peace forces represented a majority of American Jews were largely without the finances or access to media to make their presence known, and that the pro-AIPAC dems would likely make it difficult for Obama to provide strong leadership on Israel/Palestine unless there emerged a powerful grassroots force in the Jewish world and in the Christian world that would push in a different direction. Many of them asked if that was not in part the role of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, and I affirmed that but pointed out major problems we faced: a. lack of finances b. media power of the Jewish right and the willingness of the
liberals in the media to assume that AIPAC and the Jewish establishment spoke for most if not all American Jews. c. turf battles that made groups like Brit Tzedeck unwilling to cosponsor Washington lobbying with NSP and Jewish Voices for Peace or any groups that were interfaith, the unwillingness of Christians forMiddle East Peace to align in their lobbying with Jewish groups,
the unwillingness of Jim Wallis' Sojo group to work with the Network of Spiritual Progressives on Israel/Palestine issues, the fear that J Street people seemed to have about getting involved with any group that might appear too critical of Israel or even too explicitly critical of AIPAC, and the contrast with the Jewish right which had been willing to all work together to support AIPAC for the sake of maximizing their political power.

I also discussed the lack of political coherence of the Christian Left and their inability to join in any effective public political action with other groups with whom they disagreed theologically (so, for example, it was rare to see progressive Catholics joining with progressive Protestants on Middle east issues, or even on issues like the Global Marshall Plan because they didn't want to align with groups that had a different stand than they on abortion or gay rights), much less with Jewish groups, except in the narrow frame of specific legislative issues on Capitol Hill (but not in challenging the dominant political ideas that shaped American thought on the Middle East and made Obama reluctant to challenge the willingness of the American government to follow the lead of whoever happened to be in power in Israel). But I also told them that all this could change. I pointed out that Obama had been intellectually close to Tikkun for many years, that his ideas on many issues closely aligned with the Tikkun perspective, and that he had signaled 8 years ago to our Chicago chapter of the Tikkun community that he was very sympathetic to our position on reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.

Still, I pointed out, in some respects the Clintons had been aligned with Tikkun before they took office, but our failure to mobilize enough public pressure on them had made it possible for AIPAC insiders in the White House and the Democratic Party to push them far from me or Tikkun's perspectives, and the same danger existed for Obama unless the progressive forces in all the religious and secular communities could organize a serious and systematic alternative in
every Congressional district.

But how could that help, the Saudis wanted to know. What could change the discourse in America or Israel in the way that I had suggested, a way that would recognize the humanity and fundamental decency of most Muslims, most Arabs and most Palestinians

To answer that I presented the Global Marshall Plan. Many were very positive about it, but insisted that the initiative would have to come from the United States in the first instance. If that happened, they felt sure that Saudi Arabia and many others would join such an effort. They hoped that the Global Marshall Plan would gain traction, and they fully embraced the view that security would come through generosity more than through military domination.

That was my discussion with the Saudis. I consciously held myself back on several fronts. I felt it pointless to argue with them about the deficiencies of this conference-the fact that though it was centered on the notion of "dialogue" that in fact the sessions were a series of presentations in which there was zero opportunity for dialogue with others in the room. I several times tried to raise the issue of the de facto exclusion of women from the dialogue, though there were some women in attendance, but I got zero response or understanding on that. I got nowhere in pointing out the contradiction of holding an interfaith dialogue in Spain at a time when the Saudis themselves prohibit the practice of any other faith but Islam inside Saudi Arabia. Many of these sessions seemed empty to me precisely because they were mere preaching about tolerance and dialogue, though the reality in Saudi Arabia provides so little dialogue or tolerance of other religions.

And yet, I realized that that point, though righteous, somehow missed the significance of this gathering, which was in fact more about advancing the idea of tolerance, peace, non-violence, mutual understanding and dialogue in the Islamic world and in particularin the religious community in the Islamic world.

The Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, and others who were in attendance here were props for this discussion, but what the King of Saudi Arabia was doing was nevertheless of historic significance. In a previous meeting in Mecca with Islamic religious leaders, he faced considerable opposition to his proposal for an interfaith conference around dialogue and mutual understanding. He had used his power and authority as the Guardian of the Sacred Mosques of Mecca and Medina to override opposition and go forward with this conference. Precisely because Saudi forms of Islam are perceived as the most conservative, taking this step is certain to reverberate for decades through the Islamic world and to be an historical marker in the process of modernization in Islam. For Islam, this gathering and the one before it in Saudi Arabia were roughly equivalent in significance to that of Gorbachev announcing the beginning of a new openness and tolerance toward the West that was the first step toward the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

And there is also another dimension. The Saudis are implicitly taking religious leadership in the struggle with a reactionary version of Islam that has emerged in Iran. Though Iran was never mentioned, this gathering, plus the actions of the Prince of Jordan in calling for an Islam that works in cooperation with the
Western world and with other religious communities, renouncing the "conflict of civilizations," appears to be a major challenge to the growing appeal of Iranian forms of Islam among young Muslims who are filled with righteous indignation against the West in light of the devastation brought to Iraq by the US and the UK.

Finally, a word about the media. As I listened to the Saudis at my table I realized once again what I've known for four decades-how completely the media misrepresents who the people are with whom the powerful in the US are at odds. I have long known that about the Jewish media as well-I'm portrayed often as an enemy of Israel or a self-hating Jew! And ever since the Clintons embraced my
"Politics of Meaning," the American media has represented me as a New Age thinker rather than as someone deeply rooted in Judaism, psychology, philosophy and still learning from all the other religious and spiritual traditions of the human race through its history. Still, with all that, I was amazed to find myself amazed at the humanity, intelligence, and shared commitment to rationality among all these leaders of the Saudi regime.

NO, I'm not giving up my skepticism, and no, I have not forgotten the barbarism of some Saudi legal practices, the strong misogyny of their culture, and the profound anti-Semitism that exists in their society. No, I was not holding some racist view-the Saudi system is actually extremely oppressive, its legal system extremely intolerant and imposing of a particularly reactionary version of Islam that goes with beheading some people for being But what I was discovering at lunch is that there is a modernizing Saudi elite that sees those reactionary aspects of their own society as problematic, and hopes to change that (indicated to me in many comments made during the two hours we sat together and which I've only partially summarized here).

I am not an advocate for the Saudi regime, but I now see that there are elements in it with a true and deep humanity. I see the fundamental decency of some who are engaged in an effort to "reform from within," and am reminded once again of how ridiculous it is to talk about a whole society as though it represented a single perspective or shared a single worldview. I also see now the need to work with the most progressive elements, and the need to avoid "Othering the Other."

Another point about the media: this conference is a front page story in most of the world, but is being largely ignored in the US media who were notably absent from the hundreds of media covering this event. This is a willed ignorance about the world fostered by the US media establishment.

What was also clear to me in this conversation was that these very enlightened Saudis had NEVER met or been in a conversation with Jews who held progressive values and took those value seriously. For them, it was an exciting revelation that there were Jews who were both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine, who could hold both narratives as having elements of truth and elements of goodness, just as it was exciting to them to learn about the interfaith Network of Spiritual Progressives. They too had fallen for the media distortions and for believing that the American elites with whom they have had contact represent the democratic will of the American people, so they were happy to be disabused of that notion.

I came away from this direct time with the Saudis with the distinct impression that I had helped foster more positive notions about who Americans are, who Jews are, and what Israelis are about. I believe that this happened in many other conversations that took place in the hallways between the 20 or so Jews at the conference and the hundreds of Muslims and Christians. While some of those Jews probably conveyed the same stuckness and stubbornness that Israel and the American Jewish establishment always conveys, there were fresh thinkers like Rabbi Michael Paley, Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, Rabbi Phyllis Berman, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Rabbi Marc Gopin, Rabbi Scott Sperling and Rabbi David Rosen who each have creative and exciting ideas on how to continue this dialogue. For that, as for many other aspects of this set of conversations, I give thanks to God for the opportunity that I have had to serve the causes of peace and reconciliation!

Returning to the rest of the conference would be a downer in comparison with this conversation, but I soon realized that that too was a premature judgment. I felt richly rewarded by the opportunities to meet and chat with many other Muslims, and to realize how safe the place felt for us Jews even though we were a
tiny minority in a hall filled with Muslims. But the actual formal presentations also raised some important issues and even a rather encouraging vision of the future, which I'll translate somewhat into my frame.

I mentioned above that this conference is a significant step in the process of modernization in the Islamic world. But of course, modernization in the West has been deeply linked to a process of "de-mystification of the world" that we at Tikkun call "scientism," the triumph of the worldview that the only things that count are those that can be measured or empirically verified, and that everything else is literally "non-sense."

The result is the empty public square, a public life devoid of values. And as I've showed in our empirical research at the Institute for Labor and Mental Health, and explained more fully in my The Politics of Meaning and in my Spirit Matters and The Left Hand of God, this has created a spiritual crisis of monumental
importance that is at the root of family breakdown, drug and alcohol abuse, narcissism and alienation, loneliness and a sense of the meaninglessness of one's life that has grown to monumental proportions.

While the poverty in the under-developed world is itself a major source of pain, one of the aspects of the West that is most resented and feared is the power of Western culture to uproot traditional cultures to replace them with the values of the marketplace and the demystification and scientism that is central
to capitalist enterprise.

Watching the spiritual suffering and degradation that in the West is taken for granted and rarely connected with the values generated by a society that measures "success" primarily in material terms and encourages a world view of "looking out for number one" and "me-firstism" and "values out of our professions and out of our work world and only have a place on a weekend religious moment but not in dailylife," people in the Muslim world are particularly concerned about this aspect of Western imperialism and are committed to fighting it.

So what was said by some of the speakers was that the kind of modernization that should be welcomed into Islam, and the kind of tolerance that should be an important element of Islamic culture, should not include a tolerance for those kinds of values that shape the culture of capitalist imperialism and are reflected in the pop culture it has fostered. Instead, they envision a modernization that is respectful, inclusive, and based on affirming the value of spiritual and religious diversity, but that does not accept the secularism and the scientism of the modern
world that parades under the name of Western "rationality" and "progress."

That, of course, is a vision closely aligned with ours. We do not at Tikkun or in the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP) affirm any particular religious tradition, nor do we believe that one must be religious or part of some religious tradition in order to be part of the NSP or in order to deserve our respect or connection.

But we do affirm that there is something in the spiritual worldview, even the "spiritual but NOT religious" worldview that is an essential part of a fulfilled life. While that spiritual element may manifest as play, art, music, dance, or even study of the wonders of the universe as experienced through the study of science, it is an irreducible element that cannot be accessed solely by scientism (though it could be by scientific investigation). To be spiritual in our sense is to recognize that there are aspects of reality that are real and knowable, but cannot be know through measurement or empirical verification.

What the advanced-consciousness-Muslims whose wisdom was in full flower at this conference seem to be promising us is that the coming spiritual renaissance of Islam may provide a foundation for precisely this kind of tolerant, loving, and
generous form of religion that becomes a beacon for future generation. This kind of Islam will speak to people who may be experiencing the crisis of spiritual emptiness of the contemporary world but are not willing to embrace fundamentalisms of any sort or give space to worldviews that do not include tolerance, mutual respect for others, and a true spirit of generosity. This is precisely the kind of renewal that many of us in the NSP are seeking to build in the Christian and Jewish worlds today.

It may be hard for many of us to imagine a world in which Islam becomes identified with these values of love, generosity, kindness, tolerance, social justice and peace. Such a development for Islam, or for that matter for Judaism and Chrisitianity, would certainly be an incredibly wonderful development. For those of us who despair about Christianity or Judaism having gone astray from the loving elements in their founders' visions that these religions now embody, in at least part of their practice, exactly the opposite values from those that made these religions catch fire in the hearts of their adherents (that may be what it means to see the Burning Bush), the notion that Islam might be the spark that generates a new religious revival based on mutual respect and spiritual intensity could dramatically expand our understanding of the endless potential for God to surprise us, un-do our conceptual certainties, and open our hearts to each other.

Well, I won't hold my breath for that in Islam or any other religion. As moved as I was by this conference, I believe that the historically significant process that the King of Saudi Arabia helped advance in Madrid will take decades to fully mature in the actual reality of daily life in Saudi Arabia. In fact, I expect that we are more likely to see progressive visions from Islam emerge from the diaspora communities of Muslims in the U.S. (see the work of the Zaytuna Institute in the SF Bay Area), Canada, England, and France, and from Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and Palestine. But none of these will have as much lasting impact as the transformation, however difficult and long it may take, that was set on path by this process initiated by King Abdullah. Similarly, those of us who are seeking to build a renewal in Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism have our work cut out for us, and overcoming the out-of-balance energy toward repression, distrust, fear of the other, and commitment to "domination as the path to security" (the legacy of what I call "the Right Hand of God") will be a task that will not be completed in my lifetime, not even in Western religions. But I think it is very important to acknowledge victories and steps forward, and I believe that we are seeing now a major step toward strengthening the Renewal forces in Islam, and I am grateful to have been part of that experience.

I also came away with a hopeful attitude about what is possible in the way of Middle East peace once the Israeli people come to the place of being willing to give up the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan, and to the consciousness of recognizing that their security will come more from a spirit of generosity and caring for others than through domination and occupation. But that, too, is not around the corner. All the more reason why we at Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives have to be willing to remain true to our faith that love and generosity will eventually triumph in the hearts and minds of all people on the planet, and that our task is to do what we can to accelerate that process so as to relieve the suffering that is happening as long as the old paradigm of fear and domination continue to shape the policies of states around the world.

Rabbi Michael Lerner, July 18, 2008 Madrid, Spain

If you find this perspective moving and wish to support it, here's what you can do: 1, copy and send this to everyone you know or who is in any email discussion group or list you are on; post it on your own web-site, YOUTUBE, or wherever else you have access, and talk about it to everyone you know. An electronic version can also be found at www.spiritualprogressives.org 2. Join the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP) at www.spiritualprogressives.org and give us the financial support we need to keep this kind of analysis coming. When you join NSP you will automatically receive a one year subscription to Tikkun magazine.. We need your financial support, not just your agreement with our principles or perspective-so how about acting NOW to strengthen our voice!

Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun magazine www.tikkun.org,
chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressive www.spiritualprogressives.org, and author of 11 books (including The Politics of Meaning, Healing Israel/Palestine, and The Left Hand of God, the latter a national best seller in 2006). He is rabbi of Beyt Tikkun synagogue in SF, conducts Friday evening services in SF, and teaches Torah on Shabbat mornings in Berkeley (see www.beyttikkun.org for schedule) and High Holiday services in
S.F. You don't have to be Jewish to register for the High Holiday services, which are among the most creative and unique traditional services you'll ever experience.

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Divisive words - Pro Israel or Palestine

The words pro-Israel or pro-Palestine are divisive, we ought to consider looking at the issue in terms of Justice, peace and security for the people of the area understood as Israelis and Palestinians rather than dividing ourselves in to the divisive camps.

It is human to crave for Justice and every faith is designed to deliever that to the people. Justice is the only thing that sustains peace and security for the people. The simple truth is that neither the Palestinians, nor the Israelis will have peace for themselves, unless they want the peace for the other and take steps to achieve it. Security will not come to either party, if other party is not in the equation. Continue

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Religion and Oneness of God

Essence of Religion and Oneness of Creator
Mike Ghouse

Oneness of God is also expressed as oneness of the creation, oneness of the humanity and oneness of the people.

The phrase like God is one; world is one express Unity of the universe as numerical number “one”. It is a large embrace of diverse people to live together without conflict, when you do that, you have embraced them all and a sense of oneness surfaces, in essence, a conflictless world.

If we can learn to accept and respect the God given uniqueness of each one of the 7 billion of us, then conflicts fade and solutions emerge; peaceful co-existence.

One may wonder how each group praises the lord, to many it remains a myth as they are afraid to explore the truth; they have a sneaky suspicion that other ways of praising the divine is as legitimate as their own and erroneously believe that it would amount to infidelity to their own faith.

The guardians of the faith have a vested interest in promoting the idea that their faith is the best, and others are deficient, or even inferior or illegitimate. This protects their interests, but spiritually they are wrong, a majority of the people believe otherwise, they simply want to get along with others and do not believe for a moment that, their good friends who follow another faith will not receive God’s grace, they instinctively know that God will not cheat them.

When my daughter Mina was little, I took her and her brother Jeff to every place of worship… and then I would share the essence of what they pray or sing…One day, Mina’s excitement floored me; she exclaimed “Gee dad, it is cool that God can be worshipped in so many different ways.” Indeed, each way is beautiful to the believer. Like they say, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, I would say “faith is in the heart of the believer”.

To be spiritual is to live in humility. Arrogance and spirituality are mutually exclusive or inversely proportional to each other; the greater the arrogance, lower the spirituality and vice versa. Claiming a faith to be superior is sheer arrogance as it knocks the humility and spirituality out, indeed, it is the source of conflict and puts one on missionizing exercises, constantly undermining the other.

The goodness of one's faith does not hinge on the perceived or propagandized badness of other faiths, each faith is good and beautiful to the believer. When we can get to the point of appreciating every faith, it brings liberation to you from the aggressive emotion of arrogance, and you pave the way for you to achieve Nirvana, Moksha, Mukti, Nijaat, salvation liberation.

Now let’s quickly review the essence of a few faiths (to represent all);


His holiness Bahaullah and the Bab, founded the Bahai faith some 150 years ago, it is simply founded with the idea that the creator God is one, humanity is one and the world in one place.


Twenty five hundred years ago, Gautama Buddha, the learned one, shared that life is a struggle between pain and pleasure, and categorized his teaching into four truths, learning which will help one attain Nirvana, the state of being free from pain and suffering. Those truths are: i) Life means suffering ii) The origin of suffering is attachment iii) The cessation of suffering is attainable and iv) the path to the cessation of suffering must be followed.

When you are free, and when the 7 billion of us are free, it is one heaven of a world to live.


Jesus taught these truths* to follow – Love thy neighbor, when you love the people; you are free from tension, anxiety and malice. Imagine if most of us can do that, the world would be a better place to live. And when Jesus said, turn the other cheek – it simply meant that when you are angry, don’t aggravate it by slapping back, instead mitigate the conflict and bring a solution. It is a very powerful message of peace and non-violence. By the way, one cannot have peace unless others are in peace.


The Hindu scriptures mention the concept of “Vasudeva Kutambam”, meaning the whole world is one family. When a family in Iowa suffers, you feel the pain and when you work to relieve the person from that pain, there is a relief for you, there is freedom and Mukti. It is a release from the conflict. Hindu faith has been around for over 5000 years and continues to evolve.


To live in peace, we have to accept the diversity of the world. The Creation is intentionally diverse; no tree, no mountain, no ocean and no life is alike, each one is unique and they all are designed to accept each other’s uniqueness. As individuals our views are different as well, but we have to embrace them all to co-exist in peace. This powerful concept is called Anekant Vaad in Jainism following which will bring Moksha, liberation and peace to diverse people. Lord Mahavir is the 22nd and the final spiritual master in putting the knowledge together known as Jainism some 2500 years ago.


The essence of Judaism is the Law. The law brings justice and equality to one and all; it binds the individual with the divine. God’s will is that our will should conform to His: “Be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44). It is such powerful statement “Be holy, for I am holy” When people follow the law, the ten commandments– no stealing, no lying and no cheating, the world would become a better place to live. Each one of us has to do our own work to create a better world for us and all others to live. It is an individual responsibility.


About 500 years ago, His Holiness Guru Nanak saw the need for unifying people for the common good of humanity. He saw the essence of different faiths and developed a system that is founded on caring for Humans. Like all faiths they believe in the oneness of mankind. Guru Gobind Singh, the 9th Spiritual Master put together the Holy Book called Guru Granth, which is the final teacher for the followers of the faith of Sikh, Sikhism.


Wicca Spirituality is the practice in pursuit of reunion with the Divine. There is ONE Divine Source, whose essence is Love - and all things are part of this One. It is about connecting with the earth that facilitates life. The divine is a non-discriminatory, equal opportunity creator and sustainer.


The Zoroastrian system may be defined as monotheism modified by a physical and moral dualism, with an ethical system based on the triad of Good Thoughts, Good Words, and Good Deeds, and on a divinely revealed moral code and human free will. If we dedicate our life to this path with Devotion, we will reach Perfection and be attuned with the divine laws of nature. True Happiness and Immortality is assured through the achievement of perfection. The United Nations just commemorated the 5000 years of heritage of Zoroastrianism; some say it is 10,000 years old.


If I were to define Islam in one word, it would be Justice. The ultimate focus of the religion is on creating a just society. It comes with a strong belief in a single source of creation and following the guidance provided. God asks the believers to submit to his will, as the Torah says “be holy, for I am holy”, you can feel the same vibration when Lord Krishna asks one to surrender to him, and of course, Jesus tells to follow him. When you are like God, everything is yours, and you belong to every one, creating a conflictless abode.

God in the Qur’aan says, the best amongst you is the one who does good deeds, and Prophet Muhammad explains a good deed as planting a seed, when you plant the seed, you know very well that by the time that seed takes the form a mature tree to yield the fruit or shade, you are not the beneficiary, but the unknown others are. A good deed is defined as what you do for others without any thing in return.

Religion defined - To be religious is to be a peace maker; one who constantly seeks to mitigate conflicts and nurtures goodwill for peaceful co-existence of humanity - God wants his creation to be in peace and harmony, and that is purpose of religion; every religion.

Mike Ghouse

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Inclusive-Exclusive Factor


I am pleased to respond to an article posted on the web in response to the article published on this site, http://www.wisdomofreligion.org/ of Foundation for Pluralism.

At this moment, let me address a few statements

"Jesus is making a very exclusive statement at this point. He is saying that if they love him and follow his example, they will have life. If they refuse him,.."

and this statement, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him."

Most people receive the essence of their religion in their heart; which translates Jesus's primary message.

Jesus taught the simplest truth to follow – Love thy neighbor, when you love the people; you are free from tension, anxiety and malice. Imagine if most of us can do it, the world would be a better place to live. And when Jesus said, turn the other cheek – it simply meant, that when you are angry, don’t aggravate it by slapping back, mitigate the conflicts and bring a resolution. It is a very powerful message of peace and non-violence.

This is what Jesus wanted us to believe and practice, that would make him happy. When we become that person, certainly, those who receive his message, will be showered with God's grace, it is through him that state of mind is achieved and to him that gratitude must be expressed.

The essence of his teaching was to take the ordinary human to become a good human, who is in balance by following the principles, focus was on creating a just society and not the society who brand themselves with words.

Just as Jesus wanted us to be good beings, other spiritual leaders have given the very same message and all are valid to the followers of those leaders.

The ultimate focus of the religion is on creating a just society. It comes with a strong belief in the creator and following the guidance provided.

God in Qur'aan asks the believers to submit to his will, as the Torah says “be holy, for I am holy”, you can feel the same vibration when Lord Krishna asks one to surrender to him, and of course, Jesus reiterates the same message "to follow him."

When you are like God, everything is yours, and you belong to every one, distinctions are faded; and that creates a just society, a society with least conflicts and that is what heaven is all about.

All of us, be it Baha'i, Christian, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Shinto, Sikh, Wicca, Zoroastrian and all the native traditions teach the same message and all of them will be in that heaven, when they follow the message they have received. All of us need to follow the REFRESH button to rethink Religion, a beautiful gift to the believer.

Referred articles:
1. http://wisdomofreligion.blogspot.com/2008/06/americans-tolerant-of-religions.html
2. http://wisdomofreligion.blogspot.com/2008/07/who-owns-god.html

Mike Ghouse

Back to the Basics Part Six: "The Inclusive-Exclusive Factor"

“Is Jesus the only means of salvation: The Inclusive-Exclusive Factor?”

John 14:5-7, Acts 4:12, 1 Timothy 2:3-6 Romans 2:12-15

The Foundation for Pluralism posted an article on the web that stated:

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life concluded that 57 percent of evangelical church attendees said they believe many religions can lead to eternal life, in conflict with traditional evangelical teaching.In all, 70 percent of Americans with a religious affiliation shared that view, and 68 percent said there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of their own religion.[i]

This raises questions not just for Christians, but for all religious. But for us as Christians, the question is: Is Jesus the only means of salvation. If the answer is yes, then what happens to all of those people who have never heard about Jesus?


The first answer that is often given to this question is that: all religion, including atheism are equal paths to finding the ultimate truth. This view is called pluralism. Let me spell out the argument for you.

1.We cannot know everything there is to know about God.
2. All religious expressions of God are human attempts to understand God.
Because we cannot know everything about God, we cannot say one religious expression is more valid than any other.
3. Therefore, all religions are equally valid paths to God.

John Hick, who is a philosopher who has really defended this position, begins his argument for pluralism by arguing that the reason these four points make sense is because neither Christianity, nor any of the world religions are any more moral than any other group. Often we even find that Christians can act less moral than non-Christians.

I find that oftentimes Christians are just as immoral as those who are non Christians. The other day I was shopping for groceries and I got to the check out line just in time to witness the lady in front of me chew some poor kid out for making a mistake. When I got to the parking lot, for some reason I was so convinced that she was a Christian, I looked for a fish sign on her car. Thankfully I did not see one. Imagine, if I would assume that someone who just chewed out a kid was a Christian, think about what non-Christians assume about Christians.


On the flip side, Christians have claimed that the Bible uniquely reveals the means of salvation and that Jesus I exclusively the means by which a person is saved. The argument is as follows

1. Salvation is given uniquely through Jesus Christ. Therefore salvation is “exclusive” to those outside of a relationship with Jesus.
2. God’s gift of salvation is given through special revelation, i.e. the Bible
3. Therefore those who do not confess a belief in Jesus in this life will not have salvation.

This view espouses that God sent Jesus exclusively into the world to bring salvation and that salvation is 100% dependent upon both hearing and accepting the message about Jesus. One of the positive aspects of this belief is that is takes seriously the claims of the Bible about Jesus and confirms our Christian faith.

To review in broad terms, pluralism says that God’s offer of salvation in inclusive to every person, no matter their faith and background. Exlcusivism teaches that salvation is exclusively given through Jesus.

The Bible and Salvation

It is important to note that in the 1st century, Rome was in control of most of the known world. Rome has a pretty relaxed religious policy with one exception. They would accept and tolerate people’s religion as long as people acknowledge that the Emperor was sent by God and worshipped. The 1st century was very pluralist by all appearances. As a matter of fact, the Romans called Christians atheist because they did not acknowledge all of the gods. The writers of the Bible were not narrow minded knowing of only one faith, they were well aware of many gods and religious belief.

As we begin our search in the New Testament, the best place to begin is by reading the most notably controversial text. John 14:5-7 says,

Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?"
Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him."

To understand this passage, it is important, as always, to understand its context. Jesus has just predicted his death when Peter asks Jesus where he is going. Jesus then tells them that where he is going, they cannot come. Peter, being persistent as normal then wants to know why he can’t go. Jesus then tells Peter that he cannot come because he is unwilling to lay down his life, but Jesus will be laying down his life. Then Jesus tells them to trust him, that what he is doing is a good thing and he will prepare a place for them and then he will come back and take them to be with him. Then Jesus tells them that they know the way to the place he is going. Thomas then speaks and tells Jesus that they actually do not know they way. Jesus then tells them that he is the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus is essentially telling them that the way can be seen through his own life. If they want to love God, they need to love him. In loving him, they love God.

Jesus is making a very exclusive statement at this point. He is saying that if they love him and follow his example, they will have life. If they refuse him, they refuse life. In John’s gospel, Jesus and the Father are seen as one and the same. If you love one, you love the other, if you reject one, you reject the other.

In the book of Acts, Peter confirms this thought. In his third sermon in the book of Acts he says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved.” This sermon is preached after Peter and John have healed a lame man and then preached a sermon and converted a bunch of people. They are questioned by the Jewish authorities and they defend their actions and say this lame man was healed because of Jesus, who they crucified and God raised from the dead. He then says that there is no other name that is given for salvation.

In the midst of religious pluralism on the one hand and among the Jews who believed exclusively in monotheism, Peter announces that Jesus is the only name that brings salvation.
Paul though adds a twist. In 1 Timothy 2, he tells Timothy to be in prayer for the rulers of the world because, “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Paul continues by explaining the truth, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and human beings, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.”

Paul affirms the truth laid down by both John and Peter that salvation is exclusively through Jesus Christ, but takes it one step further. He adds that God desires that everyone come to this knowledge. He does not say only those who hear the gospel and repent, he does not say the frozen chosen; he says point blank that it is God’s desire that every person know the truth about Jesus. You could say that God wants all people to find salvation.
I want to share one more passage from Paul, this time from Romans 2. In this passage, Paul has first talked about how Gentiles have exchange the truth about God for a lie and worshiped the creature rather than the creator. He then tells the Jews not to look down on the Gentiles because they have had the advantage of the law given to them and they are equally sinful. He then says,

12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)

This is a difficult passage, but let try to explain what I think Paul is driving at. God has always been working for the salvation of humanity and is trying to reach people anyway he can. For the Jew he gave them the law in physical form, for the gentile he gave them nature to reveal himself to them. Paul then goes on and says now God has given every person Jesus as means to reveal himself. Paul is saying that God will do whatever it takes to bring salvation to the world

Inclusive-Exclusive Factor

I believe the Bible teaches what I would call the Inclusive-Exclusive factor.
1. The Bible teaches, God desires the salvation of everyone. Therefore God is “inclusive”
2. Salvation is given uniquely through Jesus Christ. Therefore salvation is “exclusive” to those outside of a relationship with Jesus.
3. Therefore, God will use any means possible to bring people into a relationship with Jesus Christ, including other religions.

I am not always sure how God will offer the unique opportunity for salvation to ever person through Jesus, but I am convinced he will. I believe Jesus is God and I believe salvation comes through Jesus, but I also believe God will go to whatever he has to in order to offer salvation to every person. I believe God can use other religions to lead someone to Jesus, but God does not have to. That is God’s decision, not mine.

The amazing thing about the belief we hold about Jesus is that we truly believe Jesus is the salvation of the world and we believe that God wants every person to find Jesus. We believe every person really matters to God. This theology is so great, the problem is that often times we act as if we want to share the good news of Jesus with the least amount of people. If we really believe that Jesus brings salvation. I mean if we really believe it, we will do what the disciples did at the end of Acts 5. “They never stopped teaching and proclaiming the name of Jesus.”

When I was in Orlando some time ago I was getting a ride back to my hotel room late at night to a guy who had grown up Catholic and had been to a Christian school all his life. He was very intelligent. He knew theology and Church history very well, but he told me he had become an agnostic. I asked him why he had concluded this and he shared with me how much he had been hurt by the church. He was gay and his family and their church had basically put him out. He shared with him about how he missed having God in his life but that he really could not be a Christian anymore. It was obvious that he was hurting and broken, as most of us have experienced.

In our conversation I asked him if he liked Jesus and he said, Yes, I think Jesus one of the most profound people I have ever read.” I agreed with him, of coarse! Then I challenged him with the challenge I want to give you. I told him to go back and fall in love with Jesus so that Jesus could set him free. Follow the truth of Jesus’ life show you the way.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Blaming the religion is dumb.


I am responding to an article (posted below my article) by Menon who blames the religion for the ills of the society.

Blaming the religion is dumb.

Mike Ghouse

Each one of the incident mentioned below; be it labeled Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and others has an individual behind the atrocity. You can look at 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, Gujarat, Bosnia, Palestine, Israel, WWII, Golden Temple, Sinhala, Ireland and as far back as you want to go including the inquisitions, Crusades, Ghazni’s raids into Somnath, you can always trace the evil to an individual.

The reason for evil to persist is due to the good people not stopping the bad boys, than those evil doers themselves. Edmund Burke had said some thing similar to that.

Blaming and accusing some one has to have a purpose; to bring justice. We have a choice to blame the religion or the individual.

If we blame the religion, we do not stand a chance to punish it, it is intangible. No one will be ever satisfied by blaming the religion, you just cannot do a thing about it. The world has been wrong about it for centuries, it is time to wise up and do the right thing; to bring justice to the crimes.

Individuals commit crimes and not the religion, we can punish the individuals in each case, those who are alive, bring them to justice and do what the law of the land permits, and those who are dead we have a choice. Either brood for eternity and destroy our own inner peace or clean the slate by forgiving them.

Each one of the religious traditions; Aztec, Bahai, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Hopi, Islam, Jain, Jewish, Oloriyo, Shinto, Sikh, Toltec, Wicca, Zoroastrian and others have stressed that, the way to keep one’s balance is through forgiveness and repentance. I have scriptures from every faith, but I can pull Islamic quote from the memory; the dearest person to the creator is the one who forgives. Please understand that every beautiful religion teaches the same stuff, forgiving the other is not doing a favor to the other, it is doing a favor to oneself, as it brings one’s balance back and frees one from the bondage that comes with hate, anger, greed and other evils such as desire to control others. Jesus Christ knew the effect of forgiveness and mitigation of conflicts to the point he made it central to his teachings.

The kings of Europe, India, China, Egypt, Incas, Mongols, Greece and others had only one business. To invade and annex the land from next door, loot their wealth and pillage the families. Religion did not matter to them, if it did, it would not have given them permission to kill even a single soul. Each one of the religions rightfully given the advice to humans to treat the world as one family, to kill one is like killing all. Blame the king not their religion.

A few humans are born evil, no matter what religion they wear, they are going to be evil. If they can get some of their religion, any religion into their blood stream, they will be good individuals like 99.9% of us are. The purpose of religion is to create just and peaceful societies of co-existence.

It is time we quit blaming Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism or any faith as it will not do any good to the blamer and the blamed. Nothing will be accomplished by it.

Let’s do the right thing and laser point at the individuals; yes, individuals who are the cause and source of the wars and incarcerate them and bring justice. You have to have the guts to blame the individuals and wisdom to not blame the religion.

Mike Ghouse is a Speaker, Thinker and a Writer. He is president of the Foundation for Pluralism and is a frequent guest on talk radio and local television network discussing interfaith, political and civic issues. He is the founding president of World Muslim Congress with a simple theme: Good for Muslims and good for the world. His comments, news analysis and columns can be found on the Websites and Blogs listed at his personal website http://www.mikeghouse.net/. Mike is a Dallasite for nearly three decades and Carrollton is his home town. He can be reached at MikeGhouse@gmail.com

I am provoked to write this
-M.S.N. Menon , Organiser

Yes. When I’m told that Hindus “live in darkness” I’m provoked.
I’m a Hindu, not the usual one, for I took the trouble to make a special study of human civilisations and religious atrocities. Naturally, I see religions in a different light. Not the way the “faithful” see them.

Religions are full of lies and false claims.

The Jews claimed they were “the chosen people of God.” Where did this delusion take them? To the worst persecution known to man! They remain the object of the longest hate in human history.

Take Christianity. What is its claim and what is the reality? It claims to have civilised Europe. In fact, it destroyed one of the greatest civilisations of man—the Greek civilisation.

Vassili Vassilevsky, one of the most stimulating authors of Greece, says: “It took us inheritors of a joyous paganistic culture, a long time to internalise the notion of ‘guilt’.
Even today we do not wholly accept the idea that the body is the source of evil.” And yet Jesus had said that the “Kingdom of God is within you.” Then, who put the Devil inside the Christian to torment them? The Organised Church.

And it also destroyed the Roman empire. One of the first acts of the Christians (that of Emperor Theodisius), when they came to power in Rome, was to order the destruction of the most splendid library in the temple of Serapis.

Obviously, the Church had no desire for enlightenment. The Hindus pray for light daily.
The Church converted the pagan temples into tombs, says W.E.H. Lecky, “for the adoration of the bones of the basest and most depraved of men among the Christian monks.” (History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe”, Vol.II)

And a Christian mob stripped and cut into pieces a gifted, virtuous and beautiful lady in Alexandria. What was her crime? That she was the leader of the Neo-Platonists!

The Roman empire had produced some of the great men in history like poets Horace and Virgil, historians like Livy and Polybius, philosophers like Epictetus and Plotinus, orators like Cicero, lawgivers like Cato. What did Christianity produce in the 1500 years of its dominance over Europe? Not one man of greatness! And almost every great man who was born in Europe after the Renaissance was outside the Church.

And the Roman empire spread the Hellenistic civilisation in half the world. What has the Christian empire to show?

It is the claim of the church that it made a major contribution to the growth of morality in Europe. In fact, it made little contribution. It called Descartes, father of moral philosophy, an atheist!

The Church gave its blessings to both capitalism and imperialism. And later to colonialism. Secretary of State Amery (UK) says that an active empire and an inactive Church cannot go together.

The Church had a big hand in slave trade. If there was a conscience problem, it helped to ease it by saying that the black man was the son of the Devil.

Denouncing the trade in black men, Lord Palmerston says: “If all crimes committed from creation down to the present day were added together, they would not exceed, I am sure, the guilt of the diabolic slave trade.” In America Lincoln had to fight a civil war to outlaw the trade. The Church was behind the rebel southern States.

According to the Church, the dark races were not required in God’s scheme of things.
The genocide of the Incas, Mayas and others has no parallel in human history. They were more civilised than the Europeans. “By millions upon millions” says Draper “whole races and nations were remorselessly cut off.

The Bishop of Chiape affirmed that more than 15 million were terminated in his time. From Mexico and Peru, a civilisation that might have educated Europe, was crushed out.” (Intellectual Development of Europe, Vol. II)

On Galileo’s incarceration, Draper writes: “What a spectacle! This venerable man, the most illustrious of his age, forced by the threat of death to deny the facts…treated with remorseless severity during the remaining ten years of his life….” In the dungeon.

There is nothing in human history as diabolic as the Inquisition. It was created by the Popes to perfect the “art” of torture of the apostates. I can only think of the gas chambers of the Nazis, which did away with six million Jews.

“What strikes me most in considering medieval torture is not so much this diabolic barbarity, which is impossible to exaggerate, as the extraordinary variety and what may be termed the artistic skills they displayed”. (Lecky)

What else can one expect from a religion which had thought of eternal hell fire as a punishment for even small wrongs of men!

What about Islam? Space compels me to make it a short review. In his book “In the path of Mahatma Gandhi”, George Catlin, the American philosopher, asks: “What has Islam to offer to compare with the philosophy of Vedanta and the Upanishads?” So much for its “Superiority” claim!

Be that as it may, what is the record of Islam’s atrocities? “The Islamic conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history,” says Will Durant, the American historian.
The Muslims do not want to be reminded of their past. But it is necessary, says S.Bashiruddin, former Vice Chancellor of Dr. Ambedkar Open University. (See his ‘Deen and Dharma”).

He says: “Through the present generation of Muslims is not responsible for what has been done centuries ago, an awareness of such a legacy can sensitize the Muslim opinion leaders…”

With such a record of their past, I would like to know from Christian and Muslim brothers, in which way they are “superior” to the Hindus.

Do not tell me that your religious texts do not permit these things. This is an easy explanation. I don’t take it.

Men are judged by what they do, not by what they believe or by what is written in their scripture.

Related story: RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE @ http://worldmonitor.wordpress.com/2008/01/22/religious-tolerance-is-the-answer/

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