Closing Ceremonies

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Ari Alexander is guest blogging (via Blackberry) from the World Conference on Dialogue in Madrid, organized by the Muslim World League under the patronage of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

I am sitting at the closing ceremony now. On my left is the past speaker of the parliament of indonesia, the largest muslim country in the world. In front of me is the Secretary-General of the World Association of Muslim Youth. Two seats in front of me is the Deputy Minister of Culture of Saudi Arabia.

I spent the last coffee break with a guy who went to berkeley and studied international relations. He is walking his frail father around. His father is the vice-president of the international council of Muslim scholars.

Jr. is running an organization in jeddah and london for ‘fatwas’ to be filtered (his word) by younger scholars in order to figure out which ones should apply to modern times. He told me immediately that he wanted to get involved in children of abraham and invited me to visit him in Saudi.

I’m also surrounded by israel singer, david rosen, brad hirschfield, arthur schneier, bert vissotsky, steven jacobs. They are on ‘our’ side, but I’m not sitting near any of them.

There was a book with a thought-provoking title that came out when I was in college. It was called ‘Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria” When I read that book, I thought a lot about self-segregtion and comfort zones. I understood the comfort, the familiarity, the safety in surrounding oneself physically with one’s own kind. Afterall, nearly 100% of my friends were Jewish for the first 18 years of my life.

But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to value the less comfortable choice, the one where I’m the odd man out. I’ve grown so much more from those moments and so each one builds confidence for the next that something good – and indeed unexpected – is likely to result.

And so I go back and forth between being a hometeam fan, surrounded by people in my uniform, and a visitor, an outsider.

The pope’s representative here, Rev. Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, is now speaking. Why doesn’t he engage me the way my Saudi and Indonesian neighbors do? Because of the 40 years of work some brave, persistent and passionate Jews did to heal Catholic-Jewish relations.

I pray that my children will feel inclined to type away on their wrist-embedded computer chips when Saudi, Iranian, Syrian, Palestinian and Indonesian speakers address future conferences because of the tikkun we do to render Muslim-Jewish relations kinda boring.

Posted on July 18, 2008
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