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Dialogue, not accusations, will help Ramadan

Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, September 2, 2004

Does the Sept. 1 letter by Peter Walshe contribute to the advancement of interfaith dialogue in the public discourse of our University? His call for the University to press for a reversal of the decision by the U.S. State Department is grounded in the claim that “Notre Dame has no more important task than to facilitate an ecumenical process, an initiative called for in the documents of Vatican II, but not vigorously pursued in its aftermath.” Dialogue with Buddhism, Judaism and Islam falls into the category of “interfaith” rather than “ecumenical.” The document Nostra Aetate passed in the final session of the Council in 1965 indeed called for such dialogues. These dialogues have been pursued episodically but steadily by Christians, Jews and Muslims over the past 40 years. Some members of our faculty, including our University President-Emeritus Father Theodore Hesburgh, made major contributions to these dialogues. The Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem is a place of prayer, discussion and dialogue for the international community as well as those who live in that troubled area.

Walshe moves from the State Department to an accusation that “this bears the imprint of a maneuver by those influential supporters of Israel’s right-wing government now ensconced in the Pentagon.” His letter focuses the proximate cause for Tariq Ramadan’s problems exclusively on neo-cons and “Likudniks” like Daniel Pipes. Is our Notre Dame community to infer that the only reason for Ramadan’s problems come from a group of Jews? The letter by Kathleen Sappey (also published Sept. 1) would seem to indicate that concerns have been raised about Ramadan’s activities by European security experts. Even if their concerns are not valid, one could hardly call them “neo-Cons” or “Likudniks.” Ramadan did far more than “scold” Bernard Henri Lévy and Alain Finkelkraut. He accused them of abandoning “France’s noble traditions of universalism and personal freedom because of their anxiety over Muslim immigration and support for Israel.” The accusation of Jews for their “ethnicity” over “humanity” is a long-standing canard. With the growing number of desecrations of cemeteries and violence against Jews in France, Ramadan’s choice of words – even while denying anti-Semitism – was hardly judicious.

Our concern at Notre Dame should be to create a community where interfaith and ecumenical dialogues constitute daily discourse. Ramadan entered his own public plea in the New York Times. Members of this University are actively pursuing avenues to re-instate his visa. The ultimate decision lies in the hands of the Departments of State and U.S. Homeland Security. I do not believe that his case will be advanced by creating a discourse of accusation rather than dialogue.

Rabbi Michael Signer

Director

Notre Dame Holocaust Project

Sept. 2