Interfaith dialogue becomes contentious

Peter Iversen

The Barber Room was filled to capacity on Nov. 5. Individuals filed in and sat in the neatly arranged chairs. Attendees both young and old represented a variety of religions: Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and Paganism. They all came together peacefully in the same room to hear an “Interfaith Dialogue on the Future of Jerusalem.” The panel of this dialogue consisted of nine individuals from various religious and ethnic backgrounds, from both on and off campus. Ray Feller represented Lawrence’s Jewish community, and Ed Maxwell represented LCF. The panelists came together under the auspices of educational discourse on an incredibly contentious issue. Each individual sat down that evening with his or her own presuppositions on the future and, more significantly, the past of this holy city.

The discussion started off with two seemingly harmless questions: What does Jerusalem mean to you, and what hope do you have for Jerusalem? Each panelist was given a turn to speak. The speeches ranged from emotional readings of religious text, to the citing of historical observations, to pleas for peace. As each member stood up and addressed the audience, a common thread emerged. Every person who spoke regarded Jerusalem as a city to be treated with reverence.

The discussion then focused on what type of government Jerusalem should have. Some argued that a political solution was needed. They contended that Jerusalem would best be governed by politicians. Others thought that Jerusalem should be governed by an international body. A final predominant opinion was that Jerusalem should be governed by a council of religious elders. The council would be representative of religions that lay claim to Jerusalem. In the end, no consensus was reached.

During the question and answer session, the discussion became more heated.

Raj Attilla, an Arab Christian, was the first to rise. He took leave of the preceding calm and directly insulted the Rabbi on the panel calling for “truth” and “justice.” This incited an equally flamboyant response on the history of Jewish and Muslim cohabitation from the Rabbi. The argument went back and forth; each time, the intensity rose. Members of the audience became noticeably uncomfortable; one even raised his hand and asked the panelists to calm down. The heated argument continued until Professor Kueny stepped in and asked that other panelists be allowed to speak.

This permitted other panelists to reiterate their call for understanding. In vain, they requested their peers on the panel to allow a calm mood to determine the remainder of the debate. However, emotions of the audience members overcame this desire.

The discussion was opened up to audience members. Immediately, multiple hands shot into the air. Questions were asked—some were demanded. The panelists fielded questions that dealt with the historical bias of who was in Jerusalem first, who had more of a religious claim to the land, and why can’t you just get along?

Noting that the panelists had been on the spot for more than two hours, Professor Kueny brought the dialogue to an end. Despite the official completion of the lecture, audience members swarmed panelists to seek answers to their unanswered questions.

Those who came to see a fight found one. Those who came to have issues resolved walked away disappointed. However, everyone who attended this lecture surely came out with a new reverence for the political, religious, and historical problems that exist in Jerusalem.