Three Voices: Talking about Interfaith Trialogue in the Wake of Paris and San Bernardino

In this guest post, John K. Roth, coeditor of Encountering the Stranger: A Jewish–Christian–Muslim Trialogue, discusses the importance of including Muslim voices in ongoing interfaith discussions, especially following the mass shootings in Paris and San Bernardino.

French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy wrote in Vanity Fair last month that our troubled world needs “a Nostra Aetate for three voices.” That remarkable 1965 Catholic document, he rightly says, “marked the beginning of the end of Catholic anti-Semitism.” Fifty years on, relations between Christians and Jews are immensely better than they have been for centuries. As Lévy underscores, however, a third voice—Muslim—needs to be added more than it has been, and indeed more than ever, to the Christian–Jewish dialogue that continues to make valuable progress.

In the wake of murder committed in Paris and San Bernardino in the late autumn of 2015 by ISIS-instigated terrorists, widespread anti-Muslim campaigns inflame xenophobic fear and hateful acts of revenge. In the two weeks after the December 2 mass shooting in San Bernardino, at least three dozen threats and attacks against Muslim Americans and mosques in the United States have been documented by Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. How large that number will grow remains to be seen, but there can be no doubt that the imperative for Jews, Christians, and Muslims to stand together in solidarity that resists radicalization and its pervasive violence is ignored at humanity’s peril.

Good models for that solidarity exist. Some of them can be found in Encountering the Stranger. Convinced that the Holocaust, Nazi Germany’s genocide against the Jewish people, profoundly showed what can happen when individuals and religious traditions fail to regard the other as inviolable, the contributors to this book—six from each of the Abrahamic traditions—began their face-to-face work at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington, DC, where they explored how the Holocaust’s implications for interreligious engagement could advance understanding, cooperation, and mutual support among Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Obviously, this work took place before the mass killing in Paris and San Bernardino in late 2015, but the writers well knew that events of that kind could happen even as we tried to raise voices to prevent such atrocities.

At USHMM, minefields tested even the mettle of a group committed to Jewish–Christian–Muslim trialogue. Primarily provoked by interfaith disagreements about conflict in the Middle East and by intrafaith controversies concerning how a tradition’s scripture and teachings should be interpreted, unruly passions arose from time to time in our deliberations. But we were able to tame them, and our engagement encouraged friendship that has lasted far beyond our joint effort in producing a book. The reader will be the judge, but Encountering the Stranger offers reflection and insight that can encourage the steps that need to be taken to increase not only the safety and security but also the generosity and hospitality that mending of the world presently and urgently requires.

The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber wisely observed that “when a man is singing and cannot lift his voice, and another comes and sings with him, another who can lift his voice, the first will be able to lift his voice too.” As we head into 2016, the need is for three voices—Jewish, Christian, Muslim—to find ways to sing together in ways that lift each other and all of humankind.

John K. Roth is the Edward J. Sexton Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Claremont McKenna College and coeditor with Leonard Grob of Encountering the Stranger: A Jewish–Christian–Muslim Trialogue (Stephen S. Weinstein Series in Post-Holocaust Studies). Roth’s latest books include The Failures of Ethics: Confronting the Holocaust, Genocide, and Other Mass Atrocities (Oxford University Press, 2015).

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