Brothers – Judaism and Islam

26 08 2013

Speech to Islam Awareness Week Launch, 26 August 2013 at Whare Waka, Wellington

Shalom aleikhem, Salaam aleikum, Kia ora tatau.

On the tenth anniversary of Islam Awareness Week, we can say that we have spent significant time together.  Not only are we more aware of each other, we are friends that know, like, trust, and respect each other.  This is the perfect time to roll up are sleeves and start doing some hard work together.

Judaism and Islam are like brothers, as embodied in the relationship between Isaac and Ishmael.  Our common father Abraham is a towering figure in our sacred texts, and his teachings and ethical guidance are central to both our religions.

Isaac and Ishmael never knew each other properly as brothers, as according to the Torah, Ishmael and his mother Hagar were banished shortly after Isaac was weaned (Genesis 21:14); they did not see each other again until Abraham was buried (Genesis 25:9).

Not only are we brothers in the spiritual sense, we are actually brothers in the biological sense.  I recently subscribed to a service called 23andme, where you spit into a small vial, send it off to the lab, they sequence your genome and tell you all sorts of interesting things about yourself.  In my case, they correctly predicted that I have type O+ blood (which has a significantly lower prevalence in Ashkenazim than in the general population), and blue eyes.  They also said that I am likely to have straight hair, so they’re not perfect.  They say I’m 93.9% Ashekenazi Jewish.  But if you look more closely at my maternal haplotype, T, the top listed example population is: Palestinans.

2013-08-26 17_31_11-My Ancestors - Maternal Line - 23andMe

Through the millennia and centuries our ancestors have lived as brothers; much of the time the relationship has been good, but at other times, and particularly modern times, there has been lots of room for improvement.

The story of our difficult times owes more to politics than to our religious differences – but there is a definite religious angle to these political issues which is ignored or denied at our own peril.

Right now, today, these differences centre on events in Israel and Palestine.  At its core, the central problem is that both Jews and Palestinians believe that the land is theirs.  In Māori terms, both iwi believe that they have tangatawhenuatanga over the holy land.  Problem is, both are right.  When my Māori friends start talking about the Jews as colonisers and Palestinians as colonised, it’s time for a history lesson, as things are not quite so simple.

Here’s a concrete example from my own family.  My niece grew up in Los Angeles and “made aliyah” (ie immigrated) to Israel about ten years ago, and married a lovely young man, a statistician from the Gilo neighbourhood in Jerusalem.  I attended the wedding will never forget her soon-to-be Father-in-law Yossi asking me about New Zealand.  “Who does it border?” he asked.  “It’s a series of islands surrounded by thousands of kilometres of water,” I answered, “the nearest neighbour is Australia, 3-1/2 hours away by plane”.  “Is there much water there?”  “It generally rains every week.  Where I live, we get about 1300mm of rain every year.  It’s very green”.  He paused, and looked at me and said, “it sounds like Paradise”.

Gilo sits in that part of the West Bank that was annexed by the Israeli government after it was recaptured in the 1967 war, and is now part of the Jerusalem Municipality.  The land on which Gilo was built was legally purchased by Jews before the second world war, before the land was captured by the Egyptian army in the 1948 war and became part of Jordan.  In biblical times Gilo was an important town.  The land was largely vacant until modern Gilo was built in 1971.

My point is that it’s very messy.  Occupied territory, or Jerusalem neighbourhood?  There is some truth to both statements, and the contradictory truths seem blindingly obvious to people on both sides.  And it is exactly these perplexing problems involving the lives of real people and contradictory narratives which we must navigate in order to make progress.

I will tell you this though – a sustainable peace will not be black and white, involving the complete victory of one side over the other.  Neither side is about to quit the land, and we had better do what we can to encourage the feuding brothers to reconcile lest the situation result in mutual annihilation.

Here, in Yossi’s Paradise, we have an opportunity to overcome our differences far away from the source of the problems.  Perhaps we can exhibit more generous and mature brotherly behaviour when we’re removed from the fighting and conflict over resources.

I have close personal experience of reconciling brothers.  I am the father of three sons, currently age 21, 17 and 10.  When they were younger, the eldest and middle boys used to squabble and fight continually. When the eldest went away to university, they both realised what they had been missing.  Ever since, they’ve been best mates and whenever the eldest is in town they spend a lot of time together.

We can make progress by exploring the relationship with our brothers with an open heart.  But we must look at things warts and all, and not seek a kumbaya moment by ignoring the bad stuff from the past.  It won’t last, and we need to build a sustainable future.

Part of this process of reconciliation relies on good faith, and liberal application of the Golden Rule.  In the Talmud, this is stated as “what is hateful to you, do not to to another person”, and derives directly from the biblical commandment to “love your neighbour as yourself”.

This rule also appears in many places in the Hadith, for example Sahih Muslim, Book 1, 72:

Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said: “None of you has faith until he loves for his brother or his neighbor what he loves for himself.” 

These same principles form the foundation of Karen Armstrong’s Charter for Compassion, an excellent blueprint for how we can get along with each other.

This week, in the leadup to our Days of Awe and the Jewish New Year (similar in many ways to Ramadan) we are reading the Torah portion Nitzavim, in which Moses (pbuh) is delivering his final lecture to the Jewish people.  He tells us that we have the choice between a blessing and a curse; the blessing should we act according to God’s will, and the curse if we do not.

It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?: Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?” Rather, [this] thing is very close to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can fulfill it. [Deuteronomy 30:12-14]

Ultimately we are commanded to “choose life”.

It is in our capacity to learn about each other and treat each other with the compassion that is in both of our religious traditions, and work to respect even the things within each other that we do not like.  For that is at the heart of love – the ability to empathise, and to work together even though you may not like everything about each other.  We’ll never like everything about each other, but we shouldn’t let that get in the way of working together for a better New Zealand, and a better world.

To make this happen at a personal and organisational level, speaking as the Jewish Co-Chair of the Wellington Council of Christians and Jews, in the next year it is our stated intention to extend our hands to our Muslim brothers and sisters, and transform that organisation into an Abrahamic Council.  In that way we will be able to continue our dialogue, or rather trialogue as mature equals.

So let us get to know each other, and transform our childhood squabbles into mature, adult brotherly love.  We can only do that with a complete, unreserved understanding of each other and our historical narratives.

Thank you.




Religion and science need not be at loggerheads

11 03 2013

Today is Commonwealth Day, which celebrates the establishment of the Commonwealth of Nations whose values as expressed by the Commonwealth Charter include the promotion of democracy, human rights, international peace and security, tolerance respect and understanding, freedom of expression, the rule of law, good governance, sustainable development, protecting the environment, access to health eduction food and shelter, gender equality, recognition of the importance of young people, recognition of the needs of small states, recognition of the needs of vulnerable states, and the role of civil society.

Commonwealth Day is marked across the Commonwealth with multifaith services.  In the UK, these take place at Westminster Abbey and are attended by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. In New Zealand these services take place at the Anglican Cathedral in Wellington, and are attended by the Governor General, His Excellency Lieutenant General The Right Honourable Sir Jerry Mateparae and commonwealth high commissioners, ambassadors as well as other dignitaries.

This year’s theme is Opportunity through Enterprise: unlocking potential with innovation and excellence. I was invited to speak representing New Zealand’s Jewish Community, and was allocated two minutes to do so. Here is what I said:


These days, in our high-tech world, it is unfashionable to be a religious person. The cool kids compare God to the Invisible Pink Unicorn, or mockingly proclaim their religion as “Jedi” on the census form. They prefer to worship science.

The scientific method is arguably the most important development in human civilisation in the last 500 years. The cycle of hypothesis – experiment – analysis – conclusion has enabled ever accelerating expansion of the limits of knowledge and capabilities of the human species. But while science is the perfect descriptive tool and has strong application in predictive modelling, it is limited by our ability to perceive, measure, and imagine. Ignoring these limitations, unquestioning adherence to science amounts to worship.

Sam Arbesman in his recent book “The Half Life of Facts: why everything we know has an expiration date” describes how this ever accelerating knowledge leads us to discard yesterday’s scientific facts as today’s historical curiosity. Knowledge, as such, is inherently uncertain.

Science can tell us within its limits, to great precision, of the way things are, but is silent on the way things should be. Enter religion. The religious values of “what is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow”, “love thy neighbour as thyself”, “welcome the stranger” and “we are each created in the likeness of the Divine” provide a moral compass for how we should lead our lives. And as with science, we should continually and progressively question these values and the institutions that gave rise to them to ensure their validity and continued relevance.

Science and religion need not be at loggerheads. In fact, it is at the intersection of increasing knowledge and moral imperative where we find the most interesting opportunities for enterprise, particularly in the world of high-tech startups.

Collaborative consumption, democratisation through increased direct communication, reputation metrics, crowdsourced information repositories, and open education are all important Internet startup trends for this coming year, and all of them are creating value driven by bringing people together to do good together, as well as holding individuals and institutions accountable for their positive and negative contributions to society. And the further development of social enterprise holds promise for us to transcend the profit motive for the greater good of society and the planet.

We can be optimistic about our future. With average intelligence rising by 3.5% per decade, the global death rates due to violence and malnutrition at historical lows and falling, global life expectancy at an all time high and rising, we seem to be increasingly capable as a species of doing the right thing, improving ourselves and those around us.

So let’s work together to encourage, empower, and lend our moral compass to the next wave of entrepreneurs who will continue to make our world a better place.




My message to the Israeli ambassador: Put down your weapons, and negotiate in good faith

13 12 2012

Last night, the Klezmer Rebs performed for the Hanukah party in Wellington’s Civic Square.  I felt particularly elated to be playing Klezmer music in the main square of my home town, a thriving multicultural city that has gone from strength to strength in the thirty years that I’ve called it home.  Props to our Mayor Celia Wade-Brown for inviting the Jewish Community to celebrate in the square.

The main organiser of the event was the Israeli Embassy.  I have never been happy with an embassy organising what is essentially a religious event, for complex reasons which will be articulated in a future blog post.

The Klezmer Rebs collectively, and I personally have been very uncomfortable with the recent actions of the Israeli government, and we feel that there has been no measurable progress toward a sustainable peace, due in significant part to a lack of leadership by the Israeli government.  So we took the opportunity to make a political statement directly to the Ambassador, Shemi Tzur, in our introduction to our medley of peace songs.  I wrote the statement, and the band helped me revise it.  Here’s what I said:

Mr Ambassador, I’m glad you implored people earlier today to pray for peace, but we need more than prayer – we need action.  Praying, singing and dancing for peace aren’t enough; bringing about peace, and overcoming decades of counterproductive attitudes and actions is very hard work and requires individual and collective leadership and commitment from everyone including the Israeli government.  The time has come to tell your Government to show that leadership, put down your weapons, and seriously negotiate in good faith to bring about peace.  Bombing civilians and building settlements on land whose ownership is in question is not good faith.  Fulfil the words of Isaiah, and show that Israel is called into righteousness as a light unto the nations.  The time is now.

Prior to making that statement, I called to Shemi by name from the stage to make sure he was paying attention.  He was standing directly in front of the PA, and I looked him in the eye as I made the statement.  Today’s DomPost ran an article on page 2 (print version only) entitled “Peace plea made to Israeli envoy at Hanukkah Concert”, which said that “… Mr Tzur said via a spokesman he had not heard the message and had no further comment”.  All I can say is that this is an indication that the Israeli government is either disingenuous, pathologically deaf, or both.

We feel it is important that the Ambassador and his government hear this message from Jews.  Many of us abhor the actions of the Israeli government, and feel that successive governments since 1967 have let down their citizens, the Jewish People, and the world through their inaction and lack of leadership to address the fundamental issues that need to be resolved to create a lasting peace in the Middle East.

Several people came up to me after the concert and congratulated me for the courage to make such a statement publicly.  Only one person approached me, my cousin, and admonished me for making political statements on behalf of the Jewish community at a public event. Nowhere had I purported to be making statements on behalf of anyone, other than myself and the band, but I do know that there a large segment of the local Jewish community agrees with the statement that I made.

We are at a turning point.  Some would say that we are beyond the point of no return, but I am a perennial optimist and know that with enough good will and political pressure, we can make real progress toward peace.  And if they can’t hear us, perhaps we need to turn the volume up.




Bright Ideas Need Scintillating Teams

22 06 2011

I was invited to speak for five minutes at the Bright Ideas networking event last night. Here’s what I said:

You’ve heard of them before -

Orville and Wilbur
Hewlett and Packard
Jobs and Wozniak
Page and Brin
Mitchell and Youens

Even Zuckerberg had a team behind him, even if he screwed most of them along the way.

So you have a bright idea. I’m told there are some really interesting ones here tonight, ranging from geeky Internet plays to innovative service offerings through to novel contraceptive devices.

BUT

Ideas on their own are nearly worthless.

It’s your ability to execute that will determine your ultimate success.

It’s unlikely you’ll be able to do it all on your own.

Are you an inventor, engineer, sales person, strategist, customer support, company director, financier, and janitor all rolled into one? It’s not impossible, but it’s pretty unlikely.

If you don’t have the vision, passion, drive and charisma to get a team around you, you’re unlikely to have the charm to sell your first unit. So get a team around you.

Investors are far less likely to invest in an individual than in a great team.

I don’t know if you’ve seen Matt Ridley’s TED talk entitled “When Ideas have Sex”, but he posits that the engine of human progress has been the meeting and mating of ideas to make new ideas. It’s not important how clever individuals are, he says; what really matters is how smart the collective brain is. Bottom line: you can’t do it on your own. Sharing ideas is fun, and results in better and stronger ideas that naturally select and adapt to the environment.

So that’s why you’re here tonight – to meet other people and – well – share your ideas with them in the hope that you can improve your ideas and more importantly get together and put some real capability to execute behind those improved ideas. And when you can do that – you start looking a lot less like a pipe dream, and a lot more like a business.




Summer of Tech: Building great businesses from Wellington, New Zealand

16 03 2011

In January 2011, I spoke to a Summer of Tech event about why Wellington and New Zealand are great places to start an online venture, and the importance of keeping your exit in mind.

Tech Entrepreneurship with Dave Moskovitz from SummerOfTech on Vimeo.




Open Source Contributors

24 11 2010

I was one of the judges this year at the NZ Open Source Awards, and presented the award for the Open Source Contributor of the year, which was won by Tabitha Roder for her work on the One Laptop Per Child project.

Watch the YouTube Video, including my now-famous quote, “We cannot afford to have a proprietary fist squeezing the testicles of scalability”




The Bright Ideas Finale – Inspiration, Courage, and Stamina

17 11 2010

The Bright Ideas Challenge was born out of a conversation that I had almost exactly a year ago with Nigel Kirkpatrick, the CEO of Grow Wellington at an event designed to address the problem of how to better commercialise IP coming out of our region.  Mark Clare helped whip the original concept into something that might have a chance of working, and Mary-Anne Webber and her team at Grow Wellington turned that bright meta-idea into a great competition that brought out the best in just about everyone who was involved.

I was invited to give a keynote speech at the finale event, in which the winners were announced.  A number of people have asked me for a copy, so here it is for your reading and viewing pleasure.

Inspiriation, Courage and Stamina
Speech to Finale of Bright Ideas Challenge
16 Nov 2010
Dave Moskovitz

Thank you to everyone who has been through the Bright Ideas Challenge cultivating that rare mix of INSPIRATION, COURAGE, and STAMINA to take your bright idea from just being a vague notion in your head to something you’re willing to expose to others, and ultimately build a business around.

My name is Dave Moskovitz, and I’m the Chairman of WebFund, a seed investment company and incubator for online businesses. We aggregate ideas, people, and resources to build online businesses that are ready to scale globally.

Many of you have come a long way, a very long way from where you started, and have begun to explore the limitations as well as possibilities in your bright idea, in the environment around you, but most critically within yourselves. For it is you, in the final analysis, who will ultimately win the accolades of success, or bear the stigma of failure for your own ideas and their ensuing businesses.

So good on all of you for having a go, taking risks, putting yourselves out there, and strutting your stuff to your friends, strangers, and anyone who might listen. In my experience, people can find it hard to take risks – after all, if you take a risk, it means you might fail, and if you fail, you not only lose something, but you end up looking silly as well. Right? Well, not necessarily.

That depends on the type of risk your taking. If you’re taking a blind risk against enormous odds, then that’s probably just plain stupid, unless the potential payoff is enormous or the likely outcome of not taking the risk is as bad or nearly as bad as the outcome of failure. On the other hand, if you’re taking a calculated risk, and you have an “unfair advantage” or can somehow manipulate the odds in your favour, then taking that risk can be the smartest move you’ll ever make. The best and brightest ideas have the best chances of beating the odds.

But failure is not necessarily a bad thing, if it is the result of a calculated risk and you’ve given it your best shot. In fact, at WebFund, one of our criteria for investing in an entrepreneur is that they’ve experienced failure as well as success – we want to work with people who know how to recover from setbacks. Walter Brunell is attributed to have said that “Failure is the tuition you pay for success”. And often, a failure is really success in disguise. Take the examples of Post-It Notes (glue that failed to stick very well), Penicillin (a contaminant that caused bacteria to fail to grow quickly), or Columbus’s failure to find India – he got America instead. The trick is to be able to pick yourself up from failure, and recognise the lessons that failure is attempting to teach you.

Now in tonight’s finale, there will be only one winner. The last thing we want is for everyone who didn’t collect the grand prize to think that they’re a failure. Far from it. The real winners in this game are not the people who win awards and prizes, and the real judges in this game are not in this room tonight. No. The real judges are collectively called “The Market” – your customers, and the real winners are the ones who can build their ideas into thriving businesses that bring benefits to themselves, their shareholders, their employees, to our region, and to the whole country. It’s too early to know who the real winners are, so even if you didn’t take out a prize tonight, you still have the stunning opportunity to show everyone how great your customers think you are, and win the real game. So how well you can please your customers will ultimately determine your success. And you are the only ones in control of that!

As entrepreneurs, you’ve taken a really important first step – transforming your idea into a business. So to paraphrase Winston Churchill, tonight is not the end, nor even the beginning of the end, and it’s possibly not even the end of the beginning. It’s another step along the hard-slog road to success. You’ve already demonstrated INSPIRATION, COURAGE, and STAMINA to get you this far, and you’re going to need a lot more of all three to get you through the forthcoming roller-coaster ride that is running a start-up. I know that many of you have what it takes, and where you take your Bright Ideas from here will speak volumes about the people behind those ideas. Ie You.

One of the best things about living in Wellington is our highly connected community; we have huge amounts of “social capital” here. People in Wellington go out of their way to help each other. There are so many different groups involved with helping people bring their bright ideas to fruition, and many of them will be working with you in the future to help take you to the next stage, and make your ideas successful. Guy Kawasaki describes a word in the Yiddish language, farginen, which is the exact opposite of envy, what happens when you can celebrate others’ accomplishments as though they were your own. Rabbi Nilton Bonder further explains that “every time we are able to celebrate someone else’s happiness, we will, by definition, have greater reason to celebrate ourselves. In this way, we can widen our chances for enjoying life, freeing ourselves from the imprisonment of our own luck. Farginen sets up networks of confidence that enrich life.” Wellington has these networks, in spades, and it’s an excellent substrate on which to build the society of the future, right here. Big ups to Grow Wellington for leading by example. We know the end result will be a region that we want to live in as we contribute to and draw strength from its success; a region from which we can have global influence for good, through farginen.

So this, then, is the job of everyone in this room: to come up with bright ideas, to develop them, to try them out, to not fear failure and learn to recover from things that didn’t go the way we wanted them to, to be generous when we ourselves are successful, to rejoice in the success of others, and no matter what, to keep on trying. And with our individual and collective INSPIRATION, COURAGE, and STAMINA, we can bring success to ourselves, and those around us.




My Speech at Islam Awareness Week 2010 – From awareness through engagement to partnership

2 08 2010

From Awareness through Engagement to Partnership:
Cultivating Positive Emotions for a Healthy Society

Dave Moskovitz – Wellington Progressive Jewish Congregation (Temple Sinai)
Speech to Islam Awareness Week launch at Kilbirnie Mosque in Wellington, NZ
2 August 2010

Distinguished Guests, members of the FIANZ council, Ladies and Gentlemen – Shalom Aleichem, thank you for inviting me to speak again this year in the Masjid at Islam Awareness Week 2010 on the topic Cultivating Positive Emotions for a Healthy Society.

The theme is apt, and I love the metaphor of cultivating emotions, as if they were a crop being prepared for harvest. Often we go through life forgetting that each interaction we have with others forms part of a programme of cultivating relationships, and that ultimately we reap what we sow in terms of the relationships we build. As it is written in the books of Job (4:8), “As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it”, and Hosea (10:12), “Sow for yourselves righteousness [and] reap the fruit of unfailing love”.

In contemporary society we are often led to believe by popular culture that our emotions are responses to events outside our control, but we also know through many psychological studies that we can have a positive effect on our own emotions. Interestingly, studies have shown that religious people are twice as likely to report being “very happy” than their irreligious counterparts. So you could say that even scientists agree that religion is a good thing if you’re looking for happiness.

But today, I’d like to talk about some specific ways we Muslims, Christians and Jews can cultivate the positive emotions we would so much like to characterise our lives, and public perception of our religions, and more specifically, the interaction between our religions as well as interactions between adherents of our religions.

For me, if we would like people to have positive emotions about our religions, we must seek a greater state of empathy between ourselves and others. Empathy means identifying with and understanding another person’s situation, feelings, and motives. Without empathy, we are necessarily prejudiced in our outlook; without really knowing someone else and their situation, we are stuck resorting to stereotypes and third-party accounts to try to figure out what makes them tick.

I believe there are three specific steps we can take to develop this empathy: awareness, engagement, and partnership.

The first step is “awareness”, understanding the other person’s context; their whakapapa, their history, their belief system, what’s important to them. I applaud Islam Awareness Week for being an important door-opener both for Muslims and Non-Muslims to find out more about each other and take the first step toward developing deeper relationships.

The second step, “engagement”, is to connect directly as people, to build person-to-person relationships. In the engagement step, we can begin to understand the other’s self-image, challenges, struggles, aspirations, and vision for the future for themselves, their whanau, their community, and the world. Once one starts engaging, you learn a lot more about the richness of experience of the other, warts and all, and we do have warts. None of us are perfect, we all have strong points and weak points, and any direct relationship or friendship which cultivates positive emotions needs to take into account both the positive and the negative.

We can only do this on the basis of honesty, transparency, and mutual respect, which must be based on trust. I am not aware of any shortcuts for developing trust between people; trust is something that is earned, rather than something that is given. There are no quick fixes, and it can take years or even decades for people to interact with each other to the point where they can know that they are safe sharing information, and can rely on each other for support. In some cases this involves acknowledging and overcoming the past, both individually and collectively. We learn to respect others, even if we disagree with some of their fundamental assumptions about the world. It can be hard work, emotionally draining, and downright risky. But the reward for being able to punch through the stereotypes and have a glimpse of the true inner soul of another person is very much worth the effort, and even necessary if we want to create a society where we can live together as partners. And the empathy that enables us to view the world through another’s eyes gives us unimaginable insight into our own fundamental beliefs, our views of each other, our communities, society, and even God.

Confidence is a critically important ingredient in this kind of engagement. If we are not confident about our own identity, our own beliefs, and our own security we become worried about our own identity, beliefs, and security being overtaken or even attacked by those with whom we are engaging. It’s up to us and our communities to encourage, develop, and build up our own confidence before we embark on a programme of engagement with others. It’s really hard to cultivate positive emotions without underlying confidence.

The third step to deep empathy – partnership – is to envision and create a shared future, where we work together as partners, helping each other to thrive. Like a well-functioning marriage, we put the needs of others equal to our own, respecting and valuing our differences, and treat each other with generosity, understanding, and even love. We know each others’ limitations, sore points, quirks, drivers, goals, affinities and strengths. Our own objectives for our wider society become entwined, and we work together on them side-by-side for the common good. I mentioned earlier that religious people tend to be happier than irreligious people, but I am also pleased to report that married people tend to be happier than singles. I believe that the common element between these phenomena is that working together for shared goals, and celebrating the achievement of those goals together, is an excellent way to increase happiness.

I’d also like to say that whether or not we cooperate in partnership, our futures are nevertheless entwined. The choice is ours as to whether we explore how we can work together enjoyably and cooperatively, or expend our scarce resources on fighting each other. That choice seems clear to me.

So this is why I believe that empathy is the key to going forward in our relationship, and that developing that empathy can be achieved through three steps: awareness, engagement, and partnership. It would be really cool if Islam Awareness Week were to evolve into Islam Engagement Week, and eventually to Islam Partnership Week. However, at that stage it’s an ongoing process and not something that only happens one week every year.

The road ahead however is likely to be bumpy, and entails a significant amount of risk. There are a number of groups, the haters, to whom partnership is not a desirable outcome, and to whom divisiveness is far more valuable than cohesion.

So how do we deal with the haters? We all know them, they exist within our own communities, as well as externally in wider society. The haters believe that if we get to know each other, cooperate and even partner with each other, our own core values somehow become polluted, and we run the risk of being taken over by “the other”. The haters have no place in a pluralistic society such as 21st Century New Zealand, and indeed if the world is going to survive into the 22nd Century, we need to work together to either bring them into the age of empathy and partnership, or disempower them and make them irrelevant.

To disempower the haters, we can stand together with each other, both in our own communities and together as people who believe in a pluralistic future, and drown out their message of hate with our own message of cooperation. When one group seeks to deligitimise another, or suggests that violence is an appropriate method to bring about specific goals, together we can stand up to those haters in our own communities and say “No”. If enough of us do this within our own groups, and often enough, we will have an impact, one person at a time, one issue at a time. It’s worth noting that this is far more effective when we do this within our own groups, as to tell another group how to behave is generally considered to be interfering and divisive.

We cannot pretend to understand God’s will, but our religions all teach us that life is sacred, and that we should avoid violence, anger and strife. The book of Proverbs tells us, “A man shall eat good by the fruit of his mouth, but the soul of the treacherous shall eat violence” (13:12), “Make no friendship with a man that is given to anger; and with a wrathful man thou shalt not go” (22:24) and “It is an honour for a man to keep aloof from strife; but every fool will be quarreling” (20:3)

The media are often distinctly unhelpful, because their business model is based on selling stories, and people are much more excited by violence, anger and strife than they are by peace, cooperation, and friendliness. Watching news reports, you would think that the world is becoming ever more violent. In his delightful 2007 essay “A History of Violence”, Steven Pinker shows how violence has been in steady decline in society over the last several centuries, and proposes four theories about why this might be so. Whatever the underlying cause, you can bet that good footage of a bombing will always trump a snapshot former enemies shaking hands. The lesson for us is that the personal relationships that we forge – one relationship at a time – will carry much more weight than media reports. One day the haters will wake up to find that people would cooperate with each other to build a better society, rather than blast each other into the stone age. To paraphrase Nietzsche, with no-one to listen to their sensationalism, the traditional media will be dead, replaced by direct relationships between people and the sources they trust.

Using empathy as a tool to work from awareness, through engagement, to partnership, we can begin to emulate those aspects of God which we hold most admire. Just take the first five of the 99 attributes of God: Ar-Rahman – the Compassionate; Ar-Rahim – the Merciful; Al-Malik – the Ruler; Al-Quddus – the Holy; As-Salam – the Peaceful. I’d like to point out that all of these Arabic words are cognates with their Hebrew equivalents; they are essentially the same words, and represent qualities in God that Jews hold equally dear. We all seek to emulate these attributes, which are completely aligned with empathy and partnership.

So now that we are building awareness during Islam Awareness Week, let us resolve to start work toward the next phase – engagement, so that we can ultimately move on to partnership. Muslims, Christians and Jews have much fertile ground with which to cultivate positive relationships. A small number of us have been quietly breaking the soil, and we are now ready to be joined by many others who are ready to work alongside us. Join us in sharing our rich traditions with each other with confident respect, and learning more about each other so that we can work together in partnership for our common good.

Thank you.







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