Telling the truth about dialogue

Last week, I chaired a debate on the vexed question of interfaith dialogue. Our brave co-hosts were the Jewish educational charity Spiro Ark and Harif, which promotes the history of the Jews of North Africa and the Middle East.

Heated doesn’t come close to describing some of the exchanges. But the most moving account of the evening came from Dr Muhammed Al-Hussaini, a fellow in Islamic studies at Leo Baeck College, who had been urged by some Muslims not to attend.

He spoke of the danger of creating an “interfaith industry”, which gave cover to those who seek political influence rather than genuine dialogue.

This debate around the interfaith “industry” can be confusing and calls for genuine clarity of thought to avoid dialogue merely for the sake of dialogue. This is why I welcome the publication this week by the Centre for Secular Space of Doublebind, by the American author Meredith Tax.

The subtitle, The Muslim Right, the Anglo-American Left and Universal Human Rights, captures the subject well.

There remains a determination on the part of some on the left in Britain and the US to maintain a dialogue with the worst authoritarian tendencies in the Muslim world. Ms Tax describes this relationship as “the love that dare not speak its name”.

The author defines the Muslim right as those whose aim is the creation of a theocratic state based on sharia law, even though the professed means may be democratic or educational.

And yet, as she explains, the traditional left continues to find excuses for dialogue with the various national incarnations of the Muslim Brotherhood. The British cheerleaders of this tendency include the Muslim Council of Britain, the Islamic Foundation and East London Mosque.

As Ms Tax points out: “The goal of all political Islamists… is a state founded upon a version of sharia law that systematically discriminates against women along with sexual and religious minorities.”

Those who wish the talking to continue should ask themselves what form a genuine dialogue takes with those who believe a state should be built on the rule of God rather than equal rights under the rule of law?

Last updated: 4:45pm, February 14 2013