At the beginning of April our young adults resumed their curriculum teachings, this time on “The Impact of Religious Extremism.” A mixed group of 20 Israelis and Palestinians joined us for this charged topic. After a short time of introduction and some games, we delved into the topic at hand. Many of the young adults do not have an opportunity to deal with radicalism in the way we dealt with it at this meeting. While we all have our own opinions and reflections on the radicalism we see in our societies, we rarely if ever have the chance to sit down with people from another national group to discuss these opinions and reflect on them together.

When addressing radicalism, we often jump ahead and look at its most gruesome manifestations instead of examining where it came from, which is often more important in understanding the phenomenon. Musalaha Director Salim Munayer spoke about the changes the Middle East has undergone in the past 100+ years with the decline of the Ottoman Empire, increasing Western interest in the Middle East, and the shifts in identity that followed. We examined radical Islam and radical Judaism, and afterwards we turned the discussion inward to how we as believers should respond, examining Jesus’ responses to his situation. Afterwards, we had a time for self-reflection on how we feel and should react to radicalism.

Throughout the lecture there were many opportunities for discussion and our mixed group had varied opinions on the topic. One of our Palestinian participants is a Muslim background believer and another Palestinian participant grew up in Gaza. Both of them had unique opinions to offer as their experience with Islam was very negative. Other participants expressed their less extreme experiences with Islam and radicalism, and a heated dialogue ensued regarding whether or not other Palestinian and Israeli experiences with Islam are valid. At one point the lecturer interjected that we need to make sure that our disagreements regarding radicalism do not lead us to polarizing statements where we claim that only we have the truth on this topic and that our experience is the only legitimate one. If we do this, we ourselves mirror the radicalism we reject.

Some of our Jewish participants shared their experiences with radical manifestations of Judaism. It was a good reminder that even though we do not hear about a certain form of radicalism as often, it still exists, and we need to be aware of it in our own societies.

Furthermore, we discussed the way the rise of radicalism leads to the marginalization and oppression of minorities, particularly women. As women began pursuing education and professional jobs, they shifted from being housewives to being educated, working women. When radicalism emerges in a community, one of its first manifestations is to control women by dictating the way they should dress, their level of education, and their rights in the public and private sphere.

Toward the end the lecturer asked us to turn our discussion inward. Radicalism has evil manifestations, so what is our response to evil? We looked at the New Testament and how Jesus addressed his enemies. We reflected on whether we respond to radicalism the way contemporary radicals respond to their opponents, or the way Jesus responded to those who opposed him. We considered how we have been affected by radicalization, and how we can respond. It led to a very open and vulnerable discussion between participants.

Some reflected on their own reactions during this very lecture, how the topic raised strong feelings and even anger. A Palestinian participant shared how his faith helps him to love Jewish people. He shared that he has had negative experiences with Israeli soldiers and for a brief time he was in a prison where he suffered at the hands of his Israeli jailers. It would have been easy for him to hate them because of his experience, but he shared he tried to keep perspective that they are also individuals and part of a system that makes them do this. He shared he wants to do his best to love others. A participant who works in Israel shared her experience working against trafficking in Tel Aviv. She shared that she loves the women she works with, but she has nothing but hatred for the men who take advantage of the women. She shared, “It’s easy to think that I’m right in my thinking, that I’m progressive and thoughtful, but most people think that way in life. Most people think they have the right view. That’s where it becomes dangerous. Rather than looking at others, I need to address my own faults, too.”

At the end, the lecturer challenged us to ask ourselves how our theology blesses our neighbors. It was a sobering and important thought. We all left challenged to think about our own responses to radicalism and evil in light of Jesus’ responses in his context.

–Musalaha Publications Department