Indelible interfaith progress has been made in last year
Last week marked the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, ushering in the new year. It is a time of reflection on all that has occurred over these past months and all that the future can bring, but it is also a time of self-examination that requires deep soul-searching by each individual.
As I look back on the past year, I see the continuation of great advances for peace and understanding in the Middle East; steps that have laid a stronger foundation for the region in the coming year.
Old enmities are ending, as the Abraham Accords political breakthroughs give way to increased people-to-people exchanges and business and personal partnerships. Tensions that have wracked this part of the world are easing somewhat. We saw a tenuous truce take hold in Yemen, Gulf countries improve their relations with Turkey, and Saudi Arabia and Iran even tiptoe into a political dialogue.
All these steps at least offer the hope of an expanded realm of peace in a part of the world that has known too much competition and conflict. Yet, with its abundance of talent and resources, the region can be a global center of collaboration and partnership.
And any uncertainties over the policies and priorities of the US were settled after President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel and Saudi Arabia, and the public commitments he made to America’s close allies in the region.
Great obstacles to peace remain, not least with an Iranian government that continues to menace the countries of the Middle East and brutally repress its own people. The most recent manifestation of this regime’s brutality came through the savage killing of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini for the infraction of failing to wear a hijab and its subsequent crackdown on civilians who clamor for greater freedom.
Nevertheless, the last year has been one that has given me renewed hope. And it is not just the politics that make me optimistic.
A year ago, I began writing a regular column for Arab News. The idea of an American rabbi publishing his views in a Saudi newspaper might have been unthinkable just a few years ago. But it shows how attitudes are shifting — mine included — as Saudi Arabia marches on with its dramatic transformation as a country.
It has been a great pleasure to engage with the readers of Arab News and the open hearts and minds of the region. It is you who are making the profound changes that are inspiring so much optimism.
In all of my articles, I have sought to focus on how the new interfaith understanding, harmony and partnerships of the region are altering mindsets and advancing peace. I see it with every trip I make to the region, whether it is in consultations with presidents and foreign ministers or meeting the welcoming faces and curious minds of citizens who have never been more eager to extend the hand of friendship to someone like me.
Some of the steps I have written about may seem small — a cemetery being refurbished in Aden, a thriving minority community getting official support in Azerbaijan, a tolerance museum surviving despite some sharp blowback in Indonesia. But taken together, they show the currents blowing through the Islamic world. They are truly warm, embracing and positive winds of change.
With its abundance of talent and resources, the Middle East can be a global center of collaboration and partnership.
Rabbi Marc Schneier
For anyone engaged in the broad concept of civilizational rapprochement and interfaith harmony, it is obvious the work is still not done. But I can proudly look back on a year of indelible progress in the project that has been my life’s work. And I hope I have made a humble contribution.
In the next year, we can build on what we have accomplished and further the causes of peace, understanding, tolerance and solidarity, which are every bit as critical as the peace processes and political dialogues that often garner the headlines.
As the Middle East moves forward with great speed, the space for what is possible seems to expand constantly, as well as for what we all can do as individuals to push the principles of peace and build an alliance of hearts that binds each and every one of us.
- Rabbi Marc Schneier is president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and a noted adviser to many Gulf states.