09/08/2011 01:57 EDT | Updated 11/08/2011 05:12 EST

Dalai Lama to Extremists: "Your Enemy is Your Best Teacher"


It was probably no surprise to the Dalai Lama that his participation at the Second Global Conference on World's Religions, organized by Montreal's McGill University, caused unease among some.

To others, it was par for the course for His Holiness.

Tarek Fatah, founder of the Canadian Muslim Congress who is heroic in his opposition to Muslim extremism, feared that the Dalai Lama might be duped into supporting radical Islam.

While my respect for Fatah is undiminished, I doubt after a lifetime of standing up to Beijing's oppression and lies, that the Dalai Lama is likely to be either naïve or duped.

The inclusion of radical Swiss-born Tariq Ramadan at the conference was also controversial -- and maybe concern is justified, although to me he seems rational and balanced when he advocates that Muslims have a duty to obey the laws of the countries they live in.

If that attitude were adopted by all Muslims, instead of just most, there'd be no trouble with blending in and being accepted.

Designed to mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11, where the conference raised some eyebrows was the hope of organizer Arvind Sharma (a professor of religion at McGill) that there'd be agreement that violating the sanctity of any religion violates the sanctity of all religions.

If you think about that for a moment, it not only makes no sense but is a grotesque insult to those religions that are above reproach, or guilty of nothing.

To Tarek Fatah, saying religions are immune from criticism is a justification or rationale for the imposition of Sharia law, which wittingly or not, denigrates women and justifies their continuing oppression.

And a religious faith can be so corrupted or misused that it undermines the trust and integrity of that religion. That is what Islamic fundamentalists, jihadists, extremists, have done to Islam.

It's up to Muslims to rescue their faith from those who abuse it.

The controversial Mr. Ramadan is on record saying that Sharia law should be amended to fit with the laws of countries in which Muslims live, and that the draconian penalties (death by stoning, amputations, etc.) should be softened according to satisfy societies in which offenders reside.

Critics of Tariq Ramadan say he changes his tune according to the audience he addresses, and that he's plausible and dangerous. Perhaps, but much of what he's written or has said sounds reasonable. If he's a dangerous radical, he disguises it well.

As it turned out, the Dalai Lama reminded people that "your enemy is your best teacher" which, one supposes, is another way of saying that you can learn from those who oppose you. By following a path of gentle, persistent, non-violent resistance the Dalai Lama drives Beijing nuts.

The idea that by bringing all religions together at a conference can advance world peace is a noble ideal, but not if select religions are deemed immune from criticism. Or accountability.

The greatest terrorist threat in today's world comes from Islamic extremists. To deny that reality is to perpetrate a deception.

Moderate Muslims seem to be slowly responding to the challenge to take their religion back from the extremists who are doing so much harm. Tarek Fatah and Salim Mansur are voices of sanity and hope, but if they remain lonely, courageous symbols, the enemies of tolerance and decency will continue to prevail.