The Twain Shall Meet

7 November 2007

THE historic exchange between Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz and Pope Benedict XVI came at strangely troubled times and should go some way in smoothening cross-faith interaction that has been injured in ways owing to current geo-politics.

Things have calmed down considerably since the Pope angered Muslims and prompted agitation in many parts of the Western world in late ’06 when he leveled Islam with violence, and the meeting with King Abdullah all but puts an end to that episode.

But there is indeed weight in popular Muslim sentiment, embodied in a letter recently presented to Pope Benedict signed by 138 prominent religious leaders and scholars, expressing fear that the common future of both faiths might be in danger. Extremism in the Muslim world has no doubt put the West in a quandary, but their unwarranted response has only made matters worse.

Sooner or later, the two sides will have to sit down and trace the menace to its roots, which lie in unfair treatment of Muslims at the hands of the West, predominantly in the troubled Palestinian territories. Forums like the one in question can go a long way in turning popular attention to issues that merit it, especially since throwing all but the kitchen sink at the terrorism phenomenon has only increased it. Yet the West remains painfully oblivious of the right way forward.

It is in the interest of all to rid the world of extremist tendencies. Islam and Christianity, the two most popular faiths, both embody peace as their essential defining character. It is in that core message that much of today’s dominant troubles can find solution. Muslims and Christians should reach out to each other, like the King Abdullah and Pope Benedict have done, lest today’s trend of ‘ending the enemy’ gains yet more momentum.

Contrary to expectations, the 21st century has so far been a let down for those expecting unprecedented inter-faith human bonding as the world shrinks into a global village. Perhaps more than anything, Tuesday’s meeting at the Vatican is a reminder that in the relentless drive for progress, mankind has been edging away from what holds it together, and must return to it or be lost forever.