For nearly 40 years, Mohammed Dajani Daoudi has felt that something was wrong with Palestinian politics. In 1975, while studying at the American University at Beirut (“doing everything except studying”), he was deported to Syria for political activities. Fatah operatives supplied him with a fake passport to get back. But they mistakenly put a Syrian exit stamp into the passport rather than an entry stamp; which looked odd when Syrian passport control moved to give him an exit stamp. The officer went to check with a superior, and Dajani says he grabbed his documents and fled back to Lebanon.
The incident made him feel like he was “fighting Israelis and fighting Palestinians, and it’s too much for me,” he told +972 Magazine in an interview in Jerusalem. After eight years in Fatah, he saw the organization as full of corruption, nepotism, mis-governance. That was when “I divorced politics and married academia.”
Decades and two American doctoral degrees later, his criticism has spread from politics, to religious life, to Palestinian society itself. Palestinian society was traditionally characterized by moderate Islam, he says; now it has been hijacked by extremism, the Quran has been misinterpreted for cynical political gain, and ignorant people fall for it.
His response, in 2007, was to found Wasatia – “moderation” – a framework through which he promotes values of moderation in religion and society. Drawing liberally on Quran, he advances his ideas in lectures, booklets and articles. He brings them to his classroom as a professor at al Quds University, where he founded American Studies.
But his credo goes beyond calmer religious interpretations. It extends into embracing diversity, cooperating with, learning and accepting the narratives of the other, even enemies. Even Israel.
He has supported the broadest possible negotiation concessions, such as advocating the recognition of a Jewish state. Most recently and controversially, he took a group of his students on a trip to Auschwitz.
It’s hard to think of more divisive activities in Palestinian society today. Regardless of whether one agrees with his actions, it is exceedingly rare to see someone publicly buck the fiercely dominant trends in Palestinian discourse: “anti-normalization,” and the desperate struggle for recognition of Palestinian history and present suffering.
Dajani’s own complex personal political evolution may contribute to his...Read More