Irshad Manji, a courageous Muslim liberal and open critic of Islam, who lives in the United States, believes that we need to lay aside our tribal tendencies and differences and really talk to the people we don’t agree with. In her new book Don’t Label Me: An Incredible Conversation for Divided Times, Manji, argues that we need to stop vilifying the other side, and “give a fair hearing” to our critics.” As she says, “If you want to be heard, you must first be willing to hear.” Manji, the author of The Trouble With Islam Today and Allah, Liberty and Love adds “Labels are fine as starting points. Where we get into a problem is when they are finishing ones.”
When asked about how she thinks her approach applies to the Israeli Palestinian conflict , Manji, the founder of the Moral Courage Project, says “I see no other way out of this paralysis [in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict] than by the exercise of moral courage”, and “doing the right thing in the face of your fears.” She elaborates by saying that “The only way I see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict being resolved is if people from ‘one side’ begin to exercise moral courage and acknowledge where they have gone wrong about the other…what violations they have done to the other, and over time they’ll begin to hear that people on the other side will reciprocate.” She again goes back to the “iron clad rule of human psychology which is if you want to be heard you first need to try to hear.” She emphasizes that sometimes we can be as “dogmatic” and “authoritarian” as we accuse the other side of being, and that when we strike up a relationship with someone whose views are not our own, ultimately we will build trust, and glean information that we wouldn’t otherwise know about.
Manji says she knows that Yasser Arafat wasn’t enough of a statesman “to go for a two state solution, and he copped out.” She is of the view that ultimately “the two state solution is the only solution that’s sustainable” and she doesn’t think that “the one state solution is workable for either side.” She knows that “there are Israeli politicians who say we have no one to talk to.” She says she understands that Mahmoud Abbas isn’t a partner who can be spoken to, and says that “the whole oligarchy that runs the Palestinian Authority is obsolete.”But she is of the view that “the Palestinian Authority isn’t the only partner to engage with.” According to Manji, “There are plenty of younger Arabs who represent a new generation who want to shake things up on their side, not just on the Israeli side.”
Manji says “It would be refreshing if Israel could work with honest brokers such as the Canadian government to launch a task force of people in their 20’s from Israel and the occupied territories to engage in a process of moral courage and create media content based on that process that the Canadian government would officially present to the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority.”
Manji, who is openly gay and lives with her wife in Honolulu, emphasizes that “Canada needs to step up its leadership in this regard as there are very few countries who have the ability that Canada does.” Manji, the New York Times best-selling author, says “the United States is no longer an honest broker under Trump.” When asked whether in her view the United States could go back to being an honest broker after Trump, she says it will take at least another generation before the United States can go back to being an honest broker. “Until the United States can show the leadership it takes in nation building and applies it to itself it has no business in pretending to advise other states.”
Manji urges everyone to speak to someone on the other side that has labelled them. She says that when confronted with a person who has labelled her, she tries to ask questions, and the more she asks questions, the more heard the person will feel. It’s only by speaking to a person on the other side and asking questions that one can learn how multi-faceted the other side actually is. In her new book she emphasizes that one should take disagreement as an invitation to engagement.
Manji refers to an incident when speaking in Toronto where she was heckled. After the event she asked the heckler if he wanted to out for coffee. They did go and the result was that she learned the man “was rationale not evil” and “it turned out that on many points we had a heated agreement.”