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Irshad Manji (Muslim) praises Elie Wiesel (Jew)

October 22, 2008

This represents the kind of ‘toasting’ that is essential for the peace.  Irshad’s clear distinction between  . . . “pluralists — people who appreciate multiple perspectives and truths — without producing relativists, people who will fall for anything because they stand for nothing” . . . is profound insight.   Read on and hats off to Irshad.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me explain why I love Elie Wiesel. Bobby Kennedy characterized moral courage as the willingness to speak truth to power within your own community for the sake of a greater good. Because calling out injustice within always incites backlash, Senator Kennedy deemed moral courage to be more rare, and therefore more valuable, than bravery in battle or even great intelligence.

Elie Wiesel exemplifies moral courage by insisting that his tribe be reconciled to our world. Here’s how I know. As a young journalist in 1993, I remember feeling pained by global indifference to the suffering of Muslims in Bosnia. I also remember hearing about Elie Wiesel’s chutzpah in front of President Bill Clinton.

You see, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum had just opened, and as the original chair of the project, Professor Wiesel joined President Clinton on stage. The professor used this platform to compel the president into action, arguing that something — anything — must be done about the slaughter of Muslims in Bosnia.

Some of his fellow Jews criticized Elie Wiesel for capitalizing on this hallowed forum to raise the Bosnia problem. But Elie Wiesel wielded moral courage as his personal compass. He told his detractors that the museum itself is not a sacred site, and that “Jews do not have the right to be silent” when “men are dying, when innocent people are subjected to rape and torture, when cities are being transformed into cemeteries.”

Jews do not have the right to be silent. Wow. Instructive words for a Muslim woman who would, less than a decade later, have a similar message for her tribe.

[TURNING TO ELIE WIESEL] Professor Wiesel, identity protectionists may bristle at the thought you, a Jew, are teaching us Muslims about moral courage. Let them cringe. You’re in the finest company of border-busters. Gandhi, a Hindu, taught Martin Luther King Jr., a Christian, about the virtues of soul force and non-violent resistance.

Another teacher of Reverend King was Lillian Smith, a white, Southern woman whom fellow liberals smeared as an extremist for her outspoken opposition to segregation. She embraced that smear, arguing that in times of moral crisis, moderation is cop-out. You must be an extremist — of love.

Lillian’s lesson came in handy, especially when eight “progressive” clergymen, a rabbi among them, accused Reverend King of creating needless tension. To which MLK replied, “I must confess I’m not afraid of the word tension… Constructive, non-violent tension is always necessary for growth.” The fact that a white woman guided a black man about to how to fight for his civil rights reveals our shared humanity. And it captures why I, as a Muslim, believe that you, as a Jew, are such a mentor to my co-religionists.

Your actions help address one of the most vexing questions of the early 21st century: Can open societies produce pluralists — people who appreciate multiple perspectives and truths — without producing relativists, people who will fall for anything because they stand for nothing? The answer is yes! A joyous, jubilant “yes!” For proof, just watch Elie Wiesel.

Irshad Manji blog and official website » Why I love Prague — and Elie Wiesel

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 30, 2010 12:08 pm

    I reviewed Irshad Manji’s book here – I think you may find it interesting

    Feel free to contact me if you have any comments or suggestions about this book review.

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