Like “freedom”, “tolerance”, “moderate”, “secular”, “martini”, “thong”, “bagel” …
In the course of my travels – from the Middle East to Central Asia to Southeast Asia – it has been my great privilege to meet and become friends with many devout Muslims. These friendships are defined by frank respect as we listen to each other; understand and agree on the what, why, and how of our disagreements, political and theological; and, most of all, deepen our points of commonality as a result.
I have learned much from my Muslim friends, foremost this: Political disagreements come and go, but genuine respect for each other, rooted in our respective faith traditions, does not. If there is no respect, there is no relationship, merely a transactional encounter that serves no one in the long term.
As President Obama considers his first speech in a Muslim majority country (he visits Turkey April 6-7), and as the US national security establishment reviews its foreign policy and public diplomacy, I want to share the advice given to me from dear Muslim friends worldwide regarding words and concepts that are not useful in building relationships with them. Obviously, we are not going to throw out all of these terms, nor should we. But we do need to be very careful about how we use them, and in what context.
This is serious, as far as I can tell. His point seems to be that Muslims don’t hear what we mean for them to hear. Freedom, for example, doesn’t necessarily mean individual liberty, but might be taken for licentiousness.
Of course. Happens every day.
Get the wax out of your ears, you stupid Muslims! These concepts aren’t patented by us, or foreign to you. They are universal. And if you’ve lost familiarity with them out of disuse, don’t blame us.
Put your tongue behind your top teeth—that’s it—and say “t”. T. T-o-o-o-lerance. Good. Tolerance. F-f-f-f-re-e-edom.
Say it first, then practice it.