In response to Nonie Darwish
Published: Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, March 17, 2010 07:03
Last Thursday, March 11, Arabs for Israel founder Nonie Darwish spoke on campus about Islamic law and the Arab−Israeli conflict. After the lecture and the subsequent question and answer session, Conversation, Action, Faith and Education (CAFÉ) — Tufts' student interfaith group — felt that it was necessary to respond to Ms. Darwish's claim that her remarks support and encourage interfaith activities. On behalf of CAFÉ, while we do not question Ms. Darwish's right to speak on campus, and in fact we commend Rabbi Jeffrey Summit and the sponsoring groups for providing the audience with a time for responses, we believe that Ms. Darwish's remarks ultimately undermined the key tenants of interfaith work by generalizing and attacking the Islamic faith.
The purpose of interfaith action is not to avoid differences or difficult issues, and we cannot pretend that a few magic words will end all of the world's problems. Nevertheless, how we discuss these difficult issues is very important, considering that the ultimate goal of interfaith work is finding ways to work together despite our differences. Therefore, when Ms. Darwish issued generalizations and superficial statements about Islam, she did not contribute to a greater understanding of the Muslim faith. Instead, by characterizing her controversial personal interpretation of Islam as the true Islam, she portrayed it as something many in the audience do not believe to be true. While CAFÉ often uses religious scholars — something Ms. Darwish professed she is not — to further our discussion and knowledge, we never assume that they are presenting the only interpretation provided by the religion. Therefore, we encourage the participants of the lecture to explore for themselves the evidence used by Ms. Darwish, who is not an expert on the issues she discussed. Without repeating Ms. Darwish's specific attacks on Islam, we wish to point out that Ms. Darwish did not make her statements in a way that is conducive to interfaith learning. It is a shame that Ms. Darwish chose to share her powerful and relevant personal story in a manner that does not advance the discussion on these issues.
At Monday's New Initiative for Middle East Peace dialogue, which was dedicated to the lecture, many of these issues were expressed, and there was general consensus that Ms. Darwish spoke well beyond the scope of her qualifications and that her controversial opinions on Islam were rooted in misunderstandings and generalizations. At the dialogue, a question was brought up about whether Tufts should feature controversial and critical speakers on religion. In CAFÉ, we discuss religion frequently and believe that it is a topic that should be broached more, not less, and this includes raising certain concerns about particular religions and about religion in general. However, this discussion of religion must be enlightening and productive — "bringing light and not heat," as Rabbi Summit wonderfully says in response to difficult issues — so that the discussion promotes cooperation and not alienation. This means that each speaker would present only his/her interpretation of the issue, and that there would be a forum to respond to the speaker, so that there is a space for all the identities represented to be heard. Personally, CAFÉ believes that this type of conversation on religion is best represented in a discussion format, in which it is easier to talk about heated issues in an intellectual, rather than impassionate, way and in which it is easier to find common ground for cooperation.
On that note, CAFÉ wants to reaffirm its commitment to the Middle East Peace Coalition, which consists of a number of diverse groups that aim to see more peace in the region. The Coalition has promoted many cooperative events since the spring of 2009, and CAFÉ hopes that we can use Ms. Darwish's lecture as a learning experience and as a stepping stone for more cooperative action in the future.
Dan Resnick is a sophomore who is majoring in International Relations. He is the co-president of the Tufts Conversation, Action, Faith and Education interfaith group.