Isabella Conway: Dialogue, Friendship, and Peacebuilding

The way civilizations have been documented by historians pose a threat to the relations between civilizations today. Historians tend to create and perpetuate master narratives, which are invented stories and generalizations about the past that people believe to be true (Bulliet 2). Master narratives are most often false because they do not take into account each culture’s own narrative. They are usually created with a specific purpose in mind. Different religions and cultures can feel left out or slighted by master narratives. In class we talked about how when one challenges people’s or group’s individual narratives, that is when conflict is sparked. This tension between narratives is exactly the reason why a dialogue between religions must be reestablished. It is important that we create a narrative together, and that we recognize each other’s personal testimonies. In order to do this, we need to engage in dialogue, and hopefully such a dialogue will also result in friendship.

As of now, the people in charge of such dialogue are politicians. Many politicians echo the words of Madeleine Albright when she said that religion was not an appropriate topic to talk about when it came to foreign policy (Philpott and Powers 317). However, religions are essential in order to create a healthy cross cultural dialogue. In fact, the virtues needed for a friendly discourse are emphasized in holy texts. The Quran encourages discussion, “‘Come here for a word which is in common between you and us…’” (Abu-Nimer and Augsburger 137). Not only does it encourage conversation between those of different religions, but it encourages amicable conversation, “‘…argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious’” (Abu-Nimer and Augsburger 146). That in and of itself, is a foundation of peace building. It is through this discourse that we can rid our history of master narratives, such as the clash of civilizations that we discussed in class. The morals that are the foundation of peacebuilding are very present in religion. Incorporating those morals into discussions could lead to an easier path to friendship.

There are three different kinds of love, agape, eros, and philia. The type of love that is most conducive to friendship is philia. Philia is based on mutuality, and building a mutually beneficial relationship is part of the peacebuilding process. Different civilizations must share life (Vacek 287). Friendship between civilizations is necessary because friendship establishes justice. According to Augustine, justice is “giving each his or her due”, and that due is love (Heyking 130). Friendship based on philia is rooted in the mutual exchange of love. Love is a step towards friendship, and friendship is a step toward justice. These values can be found in many different religions. If this type of love and friendship is what religion is telling us we need, why is there such a schism and such animosity between religions? It is because the rhetoric of the “clash of civilizations” narrative has led us to believe in a false reality. This false reality has instilled so much dysregulated fear in both Christians and Muslims. However, in order to eliminate the fear, we must bring back the emphasis on these values through a renewed practice of religion.

The attachment theory states that there must be a secure base between two religions in order to get rid of any fear that there may be between them (Abu-Nimer and Augsburger 151). A lack of a secure base leaves much room for fear, specifically dysregulated fear. Dysregulated fear is created during times of low level awareness, when someone sees threatening faces of many people from the same culture (Abu-Nimer and Augsburger 161). The media is the biggest perpetrator of this. Many Christians in the U.S. see a plethora of pictures of Muslim members of ISIL, or other terrorist organizations. This leads to stereotyping, and instills fear into the people seeing such images. The way to reverse dysregulated fear is by creating a secure base between Muslims and Christians.

This secure base can be created through positive interactions between members of both religions. Although, if physical interaction is not possible, stories can work just as well. For example, if stories of positive collaboration between Christians, Muslims, and other religions become part of oral history and tradition, then a secure base can be created. And that secure base can ward off irrational fear of others. Despite the fact that those stories may not be well known, they most certainly do exist. The Medina Constitution is a perfect example. The Prophet Muhammad had a great reputation for developing friendships with those of other religious backgrounds. Muhammad helped create a pact between Muslims, Jews, and pagans that honored peaceful coexistence, freedom of religion, and mutual support. Muhammad also developed a relationship with a Christian delegation from Narjan (Abu-Nimer and Augsburger 148-151). These stories of old friendships between religions should be passed down in an effort to reestablish those relationships.

It is all fine and good to propose such ideas, but the question is, how do we put them into action? Education is the answer. But not just the education of those elevated in the religious hierarchical structure. It is the education of the followers, of the laypeople, that is most important. One priest or imam cannot educate all of their followers on their own. Instead, they must empower their people to educate themselves. Religion can be a very empowering thing, so we must begin the push towards mutual empowerment and the development of friendship between the laypeople. That is the way to broaden the global reach and strengthen the community. Not all the power should lay with the preachers. Through education, people will become more familiar with peacebuilding techniques that are deemed virtuous by their religions. Peacebuilding and foreign policy will no longer be a job just for politicians. By empowering followers through education, conflict resolution strategies become an integral part of the practice of religion, and an integral part of the day to day life of many religious people.


 

Bibliography

Abu-Nimer, Mohammed, and David W. Augsburger. Peace-building By, Between, and beyond Muslims and Evangelical Christians. Lanham: Lexington, 2009. Print

Bulliet, Richard. “Friendship Among Islamic and Christian Civilizations.” Lecture Series on “Ethics of Friendship in Muslim Cultures: Theory and Practice.”. Columbia University, New York. 9 Mar. 2010. Lecture.

Heyking, John Von., and Richard Avramenko. Friendship & Politics: Essays in Political Thought. Notre Dame, IN: U of Notre Dame, 2008. Print.

Philpott, Daniel, and Gerard F. Powers. Strategies of Peace: Transforming Conflict in a Violent World. New York: Oxford UP, 2010. Print.

Vacek, Edward Collins. Love, Human and Divine: The Heart of Christian Ethics. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown UP, 1994. Print.