"Dialogue Must Begin in Muslim Societies"

Advice from Archbishop Henri Teissier of Algiers

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ROME, DEC. 3, 2001 (ZENIT.orgAvvenire).- Archbishop Henri Teissier of Algiers, Algeria, believes that the Muslim world´s fear — that the struggle against terrorism would become a struggle against Islam — has lessened.

Still, Archbishop Teissier, 72, believes that Islam must at last opt for dialogue and democracy to overcome its own problems.

–Q: The Pope has convoked the Holy Land bishops again. In your opinion, what is it important to reflect upon today?

–Archbishop Teissier: The situation in Palestine is difficult and this is certainly no news. However, I believe that the West has at last begun to understand the problem of a people who have rights, who have agreed to enter a peace process, while there is another part, Israel, which continues with its policy of gaining time, of retarding the implementation of the Oslo agreements.

Perhaps today the peace process can really take steps forward, and the Church must be ready to play its part.

–Q: In the Muslim world, however, a feeling of «dislike» toward the West persists. Where does it come from?

–Archbishop Teissier: I would not say that there is a generalized «dislike.» However, up until today, continuing with the topic of Palestine, very many Muslims wonder how it is possible to speak of peace and, at the same time, do nothing for peace.

On this point, perhaps, a «dislike» has been created. Moreover, there certainly are groups that have made a choice against modernity. However, the great majority of Muslims accept this modernity; they live with computers, telephones, planes, television.

–Q: And yet, since Sept. 11, there seems to be great tension. All are agreed that the terrorists do not represent Islam. But tension exists.

–Archbishop Teissier: It is due, rather, to the fact that tension exists between the world´s North and South. Life is very hard in many countries, and there are many who think that globalization is not something that benefits everyone but especially the North. This is a critical point.

Many Muslim countries belong to the world´s South. Although it is true that some have oil and, in a certain sense, belong to the economy of the North, many others are subject to the pressures of the world economy.

–Q: To what degree is it possible to begin an authentic dialogue with the Muslim world to change this situation?

–Archbishop Teissier: I think dialogue does not begin as dialogue between the Muslim world and the West, or between Muslims and Christians. First there must be dialogue within every nation and among the Muslim countries.

If, for example, we take the reality in which I live, I believe that within Algerian society this dialogue has already begun. Because what is important is the good of the nation, which depends on the ability of different groups to dialogue among themselves.

I think progress depends on undertaking this way, finding a terrain for dialogue among the different Muslim countries.

We have in Algeria today greater freedom of press than the majority of Arab Muslim countries: There is pluralism, debate, including controversy.

This is important because development toward democracy also implies the dimension of more peaceful relations among peoples.

–Q: However, there is the impression that Sept. 11 caused a crisis in this ability to dialogue within the Muslim world.

–Archbishop Teissier: I don´t agree. Following Sept. 11, different currents have arisen, but all are substantially in agreement about the need to isolate these fanatical Muslim groups.

However, fear developed later that the struggle against terrorism might end in a division between the Western and Muslim worlds. Fortunately, this has not happened and the fact that different Afghan groups can now plan, along with the West, a new era for their nation is proof that there are possibilities to seek the future together.

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