Creating Space for Jews and Muslims to Engage

Earlier this week, I had another productive and meaningful discussion with leaders from Canada’s Muslim community, in which we shared a sense of compassion, understanding, and a commitment to work together through peaceful dialogue to heal the growing divide in this country and in our respective communities.

Some continue to criticize such conversations between Jews and Muslims as problematic at a time when encampments are set up on Canadian university campuses, debates linger around how the conflict in the Middle East should be solved, and hostilities flare between communities online and in the streets.

Those who would rather see the tensions rise, instead of calm, do not like the idea that people from communities that have for too long experienced hostility between one another are willing to sit together. It works against their stated cause.

Why do these people, who themselves do not dare to allow for an exchange of ideas beyond an insult from behind a computer, work against productive dialogue?

A few weeks ago, during Ramadan, I visited the only Mosque in my riding, where we shared an iftar meal, spoke honestly, and agreed to continue talking. I was invited. I was welcomed. In addition to being constituents, many of those I met with are dear friends of mine that I have known for years. Although some disagreed with my views, we established areas of shared priority, of which there are many, and asked questions to help understand why we were arriving at different positions on the same issue. Imagine that.

It is important for them, as it is for me, that we show the ability to meet and talk, even during challenging times. Especially during challenging times. Many of those community members are supporters of mine, have knocked on doors with me, and will do so again, even though we do not agree on everything. The reason for this is that we share a mutual appreciation for each other that is rooted in compassion and respect.

They understand that a single, non-binding vote, layered with nuance and complexity, such as the one that Parliament dealt with in the form of an NDP opposition motion recently, is not a basis from which to halt all conversations, nor does it represent the totality of one’s views and positions. They know me as a person, and on a human level, because we have built a relationship over time.

What was the response from some after seeing a photograph of us together? It was to shame me for having the “audacity” to attend and to ask why they invited me to break bread. Ironically, some of the loudest voices opposed to us meeting belong to white, non-Muslims. Who are they to tell the leadership of Muslim communities that they need to reconsider who they are welcoming into their spaces?

If there are members of any community that are uncomfortable or upset with my position on any issue, my offer to meet and talk in safe spaces has always been there. I will never refuse to engage in conversation.

Every week, I speak by phone or meet in person with friends and constituents from the Palestinian and Muslim communities. Every week, I speak to Jewish and Muslim Members of Parliament. Our discussions often focus on how we can be an example of how to offer a more respectful approach to conflict resolution.

We choose, quite intentionally, to not broadcast every time meetings occur, because for us, it is simply a part of the way we believe we should approach conflict, and we are tired of the shouting, screaming, and aggression that we are facing from both sides. We are trying to create safe spaces for discourse at a time when it feels as though few exist.

It perplexes us that people criticize our choice to talk and be seen together, even if there are differing perspectives. As if lying to sneak into events to scream, banging on shop windows, going to the homes of politicians to intimidate their families, or personally attacking people is somehow a more effective path to peace?

My father was a founding member of the Arab-Jewish Dialogue. A group that was established to find common ground, with an aim of using dialogue to work through challenges facing our respective communities. I have always believed in the power of that group, and I am committed to continuing dialogue with the same spirit held by those initial members. I am blessed that many of those long-standing relationships continue to thrive.

We do not feel the need to justify our willingness to speak with one another.

We do not need to apologize for being seen together, even if we disagree,

We will not stop leveraging the principles of kindness and compassion towards one another as human beings as the building blocks for peace in our communities.

Ben Carr is the member of Parliament for Winnipeg South Centre

Originally published in the National Post