Let me say this upfront: I’m lousy at interfaith gatherings. They tend to have an oddly stilted feel. There’s something of Tarzan and Jane about them: “Me Jew, you Muslim, we friends.” Far better, I’ve long thought, to get together on a small scale, over the dinner table. Cook together, break bread together, drink together, and allow the conversation to develop without that weirdly over-determined self-consciousness.
That’s part of what so impressed me in the response of New Zealanders Khayreyah Amani Wahaab and her husband Jason Kennedy to an Islamophobic rant (Muslims shouldn’t be allowed on airplanes, etc) by Richard Prosser, a New Zealand member of parliament: as I reported here, they invited him to dinner.
And he came to dinner. Here’s Khayreyah’s post on it last night on her Facebook page:
Mr Richard Prosser has just left our house after having a lovely dinner of home-cooked tandoori chicken, salad and roti with raitha. He was very realistic about owning the words he said, but was very clear that whilst he is never going to apologize to terrorists, he is very apologetic and contrite about the hurt and whatever damage he has caused the rest of the Muslim community. He understands, accepts and recognises that the vast majority of Muslims are not terrorist types and have the same fears, values and aspirations that he does.
We both agreed that aviation security is a wider issue that does need to be addressed [Kahyreyrah has a degree in aviation management — LH], as well as that of Muslims having a louder voice in condemning extremists and their actions. Jason and I both thanked him in the end, since if it wasn’t for his brash words written in a news column, then we would not have identified these needs, that ultimately will benefit the entirety of New Zealand. All three of us are willing to forge a way forward for Muslims in New Zealand in order to make it a happier, safer place, and leading the world in Islamic – Western relations.
Richard did say, interestingly, that of all the mail, comments etc he received from people following the article, our letter by far made him feel worse than all the others. He finds himself to be a person who can deal with anger and resentment being directed towards him but felt out of place dealing with outreach born of love and a desire for understanding. Ultimately both sides agreed that we need to see each other as a whole and not just what the media had chosen to portray, that we cannot expect fair judgement if only one facet of ourselves are exposed to said judgement. We ended the night with a short TedX video of Lesley Hazleton’s talk about being a tourist in the Quran and we promised to have future interactions with a view to improving NZ as a whole. — with Jason Kennedy
Glad to have played a small supporting role.