Friday, October 31, 2008

"Thanks, But We're Not Actually Going to Do Anything."

Over at Crossroads Arabia the proprietor, John Burgess, notes the increasing crescendo of interfaith dialogue events. One story in the English-language Arab News even headlines a story, "UN move proves success of Saudi initiative".

I don't believe a word:
The move to the U.N. is not a sign of the success of the Interfaith Dialogue Initiative, but the U.N.’s tribute to the Saudi King. Judge for yourself: at home, when the King brings up the subject the response is rather unenthusiastic, along the lines of “We heard you the first time. And the second time. And the third time. Thanks for the free food, swell trips, and increased budget. But we’re not going to commit to actually doing anything.”

The IDI reached a peak at the Madrid Conference earlier this year and failed to take off as it should have. Madrid, in my opinion, should have ended with a statement of agreements and differences and a commitment to institutionalizing the IDI at an Interfaith Institute on Saudi soil under the responsible direction of accountable individuals of an appropriate Muslim or Saudi organization. That would have ensured continued engagement. Instead, the process is being allowed to die a dull death: by definition, if people aren’t talking among themselves, dialogue isn’t happening.

How is pushing responsibility on to the U.N. supposed to help? The U.N. is a world-wide diplomatic institution and any religious dialogue process there must necessarily take place within the organization’s normal limits and conform to the U.N.’s other purposes. For example, if a Sunni-Shia conflict threatens to break out somewhere, is the U.N. really going to risk an interfaith dialogue (and maybe its own role as arbiter) if it feels a slip of the tongue could cause a war? The answer, of course, is a resounding “No!”

However, throwing the IDI to the U.N. does allow the Muslim World League, which organized the Madrid Conference, to wash its hands of the whole thing. Maybe other Muslims will now think that the failure of the IDI isn’t their fault any more, either.

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