With a good deal of fanfare, a group of 138 Muslim clerics from around the globe released a statement to Christian leaders earlier this month calling for peace and understanding between the two religions. American and other Western newspapers and media lapped it up. "Muslim Leaders Reach Out to Christians" announced the Los Angeles Times. "Muslim Leaders Send Peace Message" headlined Time magazine.
Addressed to Pope Benedict XVI and a long list of metropolitans, patriarchs and archbishops, the letter literally cites chapter and verse in the Bible as well as the Koran spelling out the duty of believers to love God and one another. If "Muslims and Christians are not at peace," the clerics write, "the world cannot be at peace."
There is more -- much more -- along these lines. The missive closes with this peroration: "Let us vie with each other only in righteousness and good works. Let us respect each other, be fair, just and kind to one another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual goodwill."
Fine words. Professor John Esposito, director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University (and the foremost American apologist for Muslim extremism), presented the letter to the American audience as "an historic event."
So what do we have here? The statement is chock-full of Biblical and Koranic injunctions to love one's neighbor and to pursue righteousness. And yes, it would be a lovely world if people could simply apply those dictates to their daily lives and abjure hatred, violence and sin. Arguably, millions do. But all of that skirts the elephant in the room. You can read through this entire letter and never learn that there are Muslims all over the world currently interpreting their faith as a license to slaughter innocent human beings (very much including fellow Muslims). Moreover, the overall thrust of the document suggests that misunderstanding between Muslims and Christians (rather than problematic interpretations of Islam) is what threatens world peace.