Dalai Lama joins controversial Muslim scholar at McGill-organized event
By KAREN SEIDMAN
The Dalai Lama will join controversial Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan in Montreal on Wednesday for a conference on world religions and peace in the aftermath of 9/11.
But rather than promising inspiration in a world plagued by religious tumult, the conference has already stirred up controversy and dissension as critics charge that the Dalai Lama is being duped into promoting Islamic fundamentalism.
The Second Global Conference on World’s Religions After Sept. 11 is being organized by McGill University and the Université de Montréal and organizer Arvind Sharma, a professor of comparative religion at McGill, says the goal is to debate how religions can contribute to peace in the world.
He is also hoping to have the participants adopt three resolutions, including one that says violating the sanctity of the scripture of any religion amounts to violating the sanctity of all religions.
To Tarek Fatah, founder of the Canadian Muslim Congress, this is just a way of saying religions are above reproach and tacitly endorsing Sharia, or Islamic law, and he is furious the Dalai Lama would be asked to support that.
“This is a sugar-coated attempt by Islamists to co-opt other religious leaders being asked to come here in good faith,” said Fatah, a critic of Ramadan who, he charges, masks his true views of Muslim fundamentalism behind a fake facade of moderation.
“This is another way of saying you can’t criticize religion and that’s a catastrophe,” he said. “It’s a very sad day when the Dalai Lama is co-opted into signing this. He’s been duped or he’s very naive.”
But Sharma said the con ference is all about trying to erase the bad name religion acquired after 9/11.
“Religion became a byword for evil,” he said. “We want people to realize that if religion is part of the problem, it can also be part of the solution.”
Sharma understands that Ramadan is a controversial figure, but says he is the most prominent voice on the place of Islam in the modern world. He also believes Ramadan has a right to be heard and that true debates aren’t just between moderates but must include all viewpoints.
Ramadan will be participating in a panel discussion on Peace Through Religion with Robert Thurman (Buddhism), Gregory Baum (Christianity) and Steven Katz (Judaism). In addition to the Dalai Lama, there will also be a presentation by Deepak Chopra, the author.
But Fatah said the conference should be adopting a resolution on women’s rights rather than what they have proposed.
“The Dalai Lama needs to make a firm declaration on gender equality,” he said. “What’s happened is that any attempt to attack Islamism is portrayed as racism. It’s very disturbing.”
The conference opens Wednesday at 9 a.m. at the Palais des Congrès. For information visit gcwr2011.org.
The Dalai Lama will later speak about global citizenship at the Uniprix Stadium in Jarry Park at 1 p.m.