Thursday, July 17, 2008

Madrid Conference in Progress (Updated)

The Conference has a website, but it isn't very good, at least not the English version. I'm commenting on the event over at John Burgess' blog:

July 13: Saudi Interfaith Conference to Start on Low Key. If the delegates emerge without giving their followers license to kill it will be counted a success, but please no empty "Kumbaya" moments!

July 14: Problems for the Madrid Conference. Not "problems", but "challenges".

July 16: Saudi Interfaith Conference Begins. Live blogging is great!

July 17: Madrid Conference Coverage. The press seems to be putting words in King Abdullah's mouth.

Update, July 17: From the Saudi government's mouthpiece, the Saudi Press Agency's Madrid Conference Website, three articles are of note:

- one extolling the virtues of informal meetings at the Conference;

- one covering a meeting between a Saudi official and local Saudi students, explaining to them the significance of the Conference;

- and finally, one describing how the lone Iranian official at the Conference hopes it will serve to implement the hard-line resolutions of last month's Mecca Conference.

Glad am I to read from the news articles and the blogs that no one else in Madrid appears to be taking the hard line of Mecca seriously.

July 18:

Arab News interviews Saudi scholar Sheikh Hassan Al-Saffar, who
urged Muslims to be more objective and reasonable in dealing with other faiths. “Our problem is we don’t read others correctly and depend solely on preconceived notions about others, having images of others that do not conform with reality.”

A statement amazing for its modesty and self-criticism. I wonder what impact the Sheikh's words will have upon his co-religionists.

The ME Times runs Madrid's Interfaith Conference: Optimists, Pessimists and Wishful Thinkers. Most interesting to me was the story's photograph of one of the Madrid attendees from Saudi Arabia's local Center for National Dialogue, demonstrating that the Saudis recognize that their needs for national and international dialogue are connected.

Arab News also runs two stories I find disturbing, for they bring the U.N. into the dialogue picture. This raises the specter of one of the more controlling resolutions of the Mecca Conference, the one forbidding criticism of religions as a "thought crime". Do the Saudis really want the U.N.'s political cords to strangle the baby in its cradle?

Which raises a larger question: who will shape the proposed "King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Center for Civilization Interaction" that I expect the Madrid Conferees now enthusiastically endorse? Well the Center be a fount of progressive idealism, or betray the spirit of Madrid and become a sink of hatred? The devil is in the details.

Update, 5/27/09: Follow-up report from Rabbi David Rosen:
...I replied that an authentic 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. While this must not be used to justify actions or policies that conflict with Judaism's ethical foundation, to deny or try to separate this bond is to fail to acknowledge, let alone respect, the way most Jews define themselves. Moreover, because of the centrality of the land of Israel to Jewish life, without Israeli religious representation, no claim to full and genuine dialogue can ever be credible. link

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