Apologies for taking so long to follow up on my post from last week's Israeli Presidential Conference, but it will not surprise you to learn that the answer to the question of whether religion is part of the problem or part of the solution elicted a little of this and a little of that. The most lapidary comment came from Rabbi Michael Melchior, a staunch ecumenist and sometime member of the Knesset, who declared, "In the seam between the religions we can sanctify God's name."
Melchior himself has spent a lot of time trying to work that seam, engaging in regular dialogue with members of Hamas and other jihadis. His view is that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has from the beginning been conducted on purely secular principles, reckoning with religious actors (including, of course, on the Israeli settler side) only as radical political forces. In his view, the time has long since passed to try a more religious approach--one that appeals to the side of the Abrahamic tradition that exalts peace.
I suggested to the rabbi that, while he's at it, he might try encouraging pro-Israel evangelicals like Pastor John Hagee to put their shoulder to the peace wheel. He's tried, he said, and has found them much harder harder to deal with than the jihadis. Go figure.
As for Turkey providing a good model for balancing the secular and the religious in the Muslim world, I'd have to say that Istanbul looks like a case in point. The city shows the complete spectrum, from utterly secular men downing raki and women showing their hair and plenty of skin, to men in skullcaps and women in niqab--not to mention the T-shirted guys from the Gulf with two or three burqa-clad wives in tow out shopping and taking in the tourist attractions. In contrast to Jerusalem, in Istanbul the religious and the non-religious don't seem to exist in separate worlds. Teenaged girls in hijab and not can often be seen walking together--to say nothing of hijab-clad girls making out with boys in the park.
The other day, my fellow blogger Omid Safi wrote a lovely appreciation of Haghia Sophia, the inexpressibly immense basilica built by the Emperor Justinian a millennium and a half ago, converted to a mosque after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, now decommissioned and cleared of all repair scaffolding for all to experience. It's an amazing spectacle to be sure, but to me the place seems almost as much about thisworldly glory as it does about God.
I prefer the little Church of the Holy Savior at Chora, with its unparalleled 14th-century Byzantine mosaics and frescos. Theodore Metochites, the Byzantine stateman and intellectual who made it what it is, may not have been much of an ecumenist. But he sure knew how to sanctify God's name.