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Trustworthy community (THE BOSTON GLOBE OP-ED) By Michael Felsen 07/05/09) Source: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2009/07/05/trustworthy_community/
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WHEN the largest mosque in New England officially opened in Roxbury on June 26, more than 1,000 Muslim faithful attended the event, and Mayor Thomas M. Menino spoke words of welcome. Earlier that day, the dean of Harvard’s Divinity School gave the keynote address at an inaugural breakfast across the street, and Governor Deval Patrick offered warm greetings via videotape. The hall was filled with city and state officials, Muslim, Christian and Jewish clergy, academics, and leaders and members of assorted community groups.
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Conspicuously absent were officials from mainstream Jewish organizations. Why the apparent boycott?
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The answer, it seems, is that these organizations are uneasy about the true character of the groups directly connected with the mosque: the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center and the Boston chapter of the Muslim American Society. These concerns were reflected in leaflets handed out by a small group protesting the inaugural celebration, claiming, for example, that US prosecutors have identified the Muslim American Society as “the overt arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in America,’’ citing financial backing by Saudi contributors, and alleging ties to terrorism or offensive remarks by individuals with either a past or present connection to the mosque.
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So, are the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center and the Muslim American Society-Boston truly dominated by Islamist extremists, and hence properly boycotted by Jewish - and other - groups?
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My personal experience suggests they are not. As an officer and representative of a Jewish communal organization, I have encountered only graciousness, sincerity, and warmth in my dealings with leaders of both organizations. I have also observed these leaders demonstrate the same attitudes toward rabbis and lay leaders of an array of Jewish organizations.
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Consider two public statements crafted collaboratively with ISBCC and MAS-Boston leaders. The first, “Building a Community of Trust,’’ was rolled out in 2007 at every mosque in Greater Boston on the first day of Ramadan, and at synagogues on Rosh Hashana. Announcing the stated goal of replacing distrust and misunderstanding with respectful communication, the Muslim and Jewish signers decried all forms of terrorism, anti-Semitism, and anti-Muslim prejudice. The signers - imams, rabbis, and Jewish and Muslim community leaders and members - embraced a Greater Boston in which diversity is respected, and pledged to foster efforts to decrease divisions between our communities.
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More striking, perhaps, is an Interfaith Declaration that was born during the hostilities in Gaza in January. Drafted and signed by Jewish, Muslim, and Christian clergy and lay leaders - including, again, MAS-Boston and ISBCC leadership - the statement acknowledged the painful history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for both sides. It deplored any invocation of religion as a justification for violence against others or the deprivation of the rights of others, and decried any use of inflammatory rhetoric that demonizes the other and promotes hatred and disrespect. Calling on Hamas to immediately end all rocket attacks on Israel and on Israel to end its Gaza military campaign, it urged all parties to work vigorously toward a just and lasting peace that promotes the national aspirations of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.
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Are these statements - together with much other interfaith work in which MAS-Boston and the ISBCC are engaged - merely a ruse to camouflage their true extremist intentions? Are the leaders of these groups really fanatics in moderates’ clothing? I think not. All groups participating in civic life in the United States need be vigilant in addressing the elements amongst them that foment hatred and disrespect for the other. In my experience, MAS-Boston and the ISBCC have taken this challenge seriously. But to the extent Jewish or other organizations remain concerned: surely respectful, open, and honest engagement - consistent with the letter and spirit of the declarations cited above - will prove more effective than boycott in moving us all forward.
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Michael Felsen is president of Boston Workmen’s Circle, and a trustee of the Interreligious Center for Public Life. (Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company 07/05/09)
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