The Rev. Dr. Fahed Abu-Akel (pictured here) was born in the Galilee area, not far from where Jesus grew up.
In 2002-03, almost 20 years after he became a U.S. citizen, he served as the moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the highest elected office in my denomination.
Today Fahed spends his time speaking to people around the country about the decades of turmoil in the land of his origin. His goal is peace, for sure.
But to get there he thinks it's important that Americans, who, he says, must be an integral part of the peace process, understand more thoroughly what he calls the "Palestinian narrative." That narrative, he says, "does not exist in the psychie of Americans. This narrative is a lost narrative. If we are serious about the Israel-Palestinian conflict, we need to hear both narratives," (meaning Palestinian and Israeli).
Fahed spoke to an adult education class at my church this past Sunday. It was one more effort on the part of my congregation to understand the many views about the Israel-Palestinian conflict and how we might get from the current situation to some kind of resolution.
He is a good and decent man and an articulate voice both for peace and for the desires of Palestinians. In addition, he's a critic of the Hamas charter for continuing to call for the destruction of Israel but he's also critical of Israel for some of its policies that Palestinians oppose.
What I took concluded from his talk is that there really is no single "Palestinian narrative," just as there is no single "Israeli narrative," meaning one description of how things got to where they are today in the Holy Land. There may be broad areas of agreement among Palestinians and among Jews about how to see things but in fact there also are differences within each group. Neither Palestinians nor Israelis are monolithic entities. (Similarly, Americans do not all agree about how we should be engaged in the Middle East, if at all.)
Those complexities may make the peace process more difficult but they do not make it impossible.
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WHAT REALLY HAPPENED HERE?
There's lots to this story that needs a fuller explanation. Was the teenage Muslim girl who converted to Christianity influenced to do so by anti-Islamic rhetoric and scare tactics used by some Christians? We don't know. What kind of counseling, if any, did she get from a disinterested party before either converting or running away? We don't know. What really goes on at the Columbus mosque that might be illegal or at least somehow supportive of radical and violent extremism aimed at damaging America? We don't know. It is difficult enough for Muslims from other countries to figure out how to fit into the American religious landscape without these kinds of puzzling cases. The sooner these and related questions are cleared up the better for all.
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P.S.: Please plan to join me and my co-author, Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn, at one of the two upcoming (Sept. 10 and Sept. 13) events described here to launch our new book, They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust. Rainy Day Books will be there to help you buy a copy and you'll even get to meet some of the people whose remarkable stories we tell in the book.