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A universal answer to religious violence

In rallies and protests Saturday, Israelis and Palestinian decried an attack on an innocent family in the West Bank. This rare case of unity reflects the effort by many theologians of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity to define a common Abrahamic doctrine that ensures peace.

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    Protesters in Tel Aviv hold signs during an Aug. 1 rally condemning Friday's arson attack in the West Bank that killed an 18-month-old toddler and seriously injured three other family members, an act that Israel's prime minister described as terrorism.
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In a rare case of finding common cause, thousands of Israelis and Palestinians gathered Saturday in rallies and protests. They took to the streets a day after suspected Jewish terrorists set fire to a Palestinian home and burned a toddler to death, presumably to expel more Palestinians from the West Bank and expand Jewish settlements.

The loss of the child was enough for people on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide to rise up and affirm a basic tenet of their Abrahamic faiths: That innocence is a blessed right and must be protected. 

“We must be thorough and clear – from the educational system, to those who enforce the law, through to the leadership of the people and the country. We must put out the flames, the incitement, before they destroy us all,” said President Reuven Rivlin at a rally in Jerusalem. He criticized the Jewish terrorists who have attacked their Muslim neighbors for their “blatant disregard” for human dignity and a love of mankind. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose government encourages Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, said after the arson attack that Israel is determined to fight “hate, fanaticism and terrorism from whatever side.”

This moment of unity should not be forgotten. It reflects a search by many religious leaders, whether Jewish, Islamic, or Christian, to define the core doctrine of these sibling Abrahamic religions and help them find peace with each other.

In a new book, Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, writes the simplest definition of the Abrahamic faiths is this. “It is not our task to conquer or convert the world or enforce uniformity of belief. It is our task to be a blessing to the world.” The basis for this blessing, he states, is that the Abrahamic faiths have made the claim “that every human being, regardless of color, culture, class or creed, was [created] in the image and likeness of God.”

The book, “Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence,” looks at cases in history when this spiritual understanding has challenged religious violence and reset humanity on the path of progress:

“Too often in the history of religion, people have killed in the name of the God of life, waged war in the name of the God of peace, hated in the name of the God of love and practiced cruelty in the name of the God of compassion. When this happens, God speaks, sometimes in a still, small voice almost inaudible beneath the clamor of those claiming to speak on his behalf. What he says at such times is: Not in my name.

He says all three monotheistic religions must combat a type of dualism that claims there is not one reality but a grand conflict between two realities, good and evil. This dualism, if tied to a quest for power, can lead to the demonization of other people and a justification of violence.

The rise in religious violence, he says, is really God’s call “to heal the ills and cure some of the self-inflicted injuries of humankind.” Like these recent protests against the arson attack in the West Bank, the Abrahamic faiths are a “sustained protest,” which he defines as this: ”Can I see the image of God in one who is not in my image, whose color, culture, and creed are different from mine? That is the theological challenge, and it’s there in the Bible.”

This affirmation of a universal identity is the best response to those who commit violence in the name of religion. The Abrahamic faiths, Mr. Sachs says, speak jointly “to our better angels.” 

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