(This is the fourth in a series about civil discourse, respectful dialogue across difference, and nonviolence. Read Marie’s first post here, second post here and third post here. And join in the conversation by posting comments on the website below this post and future ones, as well as participating in the dialogue on our Facebook page and Twitter.)
As heads of state and delegations to the United Nations gathered in New York for the opening of the U.N. General Assembly, significant attention, including in President Obama’s address, was given to critical questions raised by the insulting video produced in the United States and the violence it sparked in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Sudan and elsewhere in the Middle East. The violent fruit of extreme polarization, ignorance, demonization and manipulation was made highly visible by international media and electronic networking sites, but the other side of the story was neither well told nor adequately discussed.
At the end of the week, Religions for Peace and the Institute for Global Engagement invited representatives of faith-based civil society to a dialogue with several States, including the U.S. and Kenya, representatives of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Alliance of Civilizations, researchers and analysts.
The brief remarks of Libyan Islamic scholar Dr. Aref Ali Nayed were deeply moving and extremely important. This was the first time he had spoken publicly since the killing of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three embassy aides. He described Ambassador Stevens as a great friend of Libya. He also spoke with tremendous sadness about the many others in Libya whose lives were lost in recent days, including ten youth who were trying to stop the violence – who were, as he said, “brave enough to say ‘no’ to the stealing of the Libyan revolution.”
Perhaps if the media and all of us had focused more attention on the sacrificial efforts of many in Libya and elsewhere to stop the violence, we would be able to turn the tide on the escalating hate.
Dr. Ali Nayed identified five principles to guide us as we try to move from a deeply polarized world to one of mutual care and understanding:
- A transcendent vision that places compassion above national or individual ambition
- Preservation of the sacredness of all that God holds sacred, including all persons and certainly what he called “paradigmatic” persons – Mohammed and Jesus. Free speech, he said, can never be used to attack this sacredness.
- Dedication to service
- Persistent determination – the revolution, including against our own selfishness, will be long
- Appreciation of gifts, including the gifts of diversity and of other persons who can keep us honest
These are deep and rich principles that are alien to the current political discussion in the U.S. but would be well worth pondering in this last month before the elections. They might help us probe more deeply the crucial decisions we will make on November 6th and examine our own narrow-mindedness that facilitates enemy-making of exactly the sort our world needs to overcome.
Marie Dennis is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace and the Co-President of Pax Christi International.