DC: EVANGELICALS, MUSLIMS START RARE DIALOGUE
They sat facing each other, 14 evangelical preachers on one side, 12 U.S-based Arab diplomats on the other. Nabil Fahmy, the Egyptian ambassador to the U.S., listened as introductions began, and he found himself amazed.
"Robertson, Falwell, Youssef. ... I had heard these names before," Fahmy later recounted, "and I have to admit I was surprised they were here."
The initiative launched at that July 2 meeting came as a surprise to many. The evangelical community is known for its support of Israel, and many of its most outspoken leaders, such as Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell, have made incendiary comments about the Muslim world. But in recent months, an unusual rapprochement has begun between these two powerful communities, and the sons of some of those same pastors are participating.
Both sides have a lot to gain from a thaw. At a time when the evangelical leadership is seeking new outlets for influence, both domestically and abroad, it provides the possibility of an entree into the Arab world. For the representatives of the Arab-Muslim world, it offers the potential for improving relations with a previously hostile community as well as with Americans in general.
Whether this dialogue will lead to any concrete changes in an increasingly tense environment remains to be seen.