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Friday, July 17, 2009

The Alliance of Civilizations: Members Advocate for Peaceful Means

The Alliance of Nations was established in 2005, at the initiative of the Governments of Spain and Turkey, under the auspices of the United Nations. The program seeks to counter extremism through action based upon cross-cultural dialogue and interfaith cooperation. 20 individuals from a wide array of countries and disciplines were chosen by then Secretary General Kofi Anan to forge new partnerships and generate ideas aimed at building trust, while under no pressure to represent a state or national interest.

These distinguished members have much to share. Those from China and Senegal share long histories in which harmonious co-existence was achieved among citizens of divergent nationalities and religions. Perhaps most importantly, the Alliance exposes the “war of civilizations” to be a sort of mirage, or even delusion. Listening to member interviews (link below) we are reminded that clashing economic and political interests are the true drivers of conflict, forming a vortex into which religions are often secondarily swept, to devastating effect.

All religious traditions are vulnerable to the pitfalls of extremism. Groups who adopt extremist views that lead to violence are few, but their actions are potent, and widely publicized. The Alliance strives to turn up the volume on moderate voices, particularly Muslim, which represent a vast majority of the Muslim world. The members have come together to clarify complex underlying causes, to create a written report, and to make their recommendations actionable, all with the understanding that equality, liberty and democracy are universal concepts, non-exclusive to any one system or region of the world.

My favorite interviews (outlined below) feature members from Spain, Egypt, Tunisia, South Africa and Morocco. Also listen to inspiring members from other countries, including Qatar, Turkey, Indonesia, China, Russia, North America, Uruguay and Brazil:

Access VIDEO Interviews here:
Alliance of Civilizations

Also: See this VIDEO of the remarkable speech that President Obama delivered recently in Cairo, Egypt, where he acknowledges the work of the Alliance of Nations, and articulates how the creative core of our American founding principles tie with the values of others around the world: President Obama in Chairo

Favorite Alliance Interviews:

Federico Mayor, Spain
On solving poverty and choosing diplomacy over force:
Co-Spoonsor, Alliance of Civilizations; President, Foundation for Culture of Peace

Dr. Ismail Serageldin, Egypt
On re-capturing the spirit of the ancient world’s first library:
North Africa Director of the Library of Alexandria

Dr. Mohamed Charfi, Tunisia, North Africa
On common principles shared by all branches of the Abrahamic religious traditions:
Former Education Minister of Tunisia, Law Professor, Human Rights Expert

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South Africa
On the enrichment of coming to know the other:
The Rt. Hon. Archbishop of Cape Town

Ms. Shobana Bhartia, India
On media self-regulating for balanced perspectives on culturally sensitive issues:
Managing Director of the Hindustan Times, New Delhi

Mr. André Azoulay, Morocco, North Africa
On changing hearts and minds through cultural exchange:
Adviser to His Majesty King Mohammed VI of Morocco

Access VIDEO Interviews here:
Alliance of Civilizations


Thursday, May 7, 2009

U.S. Muslim Engagement Project: A New Response to Terrorism

A cross-section of American leaders met recently via the U.S. Muslim Engagement Project in order to address the underlying causes of terrorism, and to help set a new course of action in the Middle East. Terrorism measurements are difficult to pin down. But most intelligence data suggest linkage between the “war on terror” and significant increases in terrorism worldwide.

The Iraq war has emboldened Iran with greater influence in the Middle East, and the radical groups Hamas and Hizbullah--primarily sponsored by Iran-- have gained ground in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Extremists on both sides are in control of the region, and increasing violence dims the prospects for compromise.

When the military mission was unwisely diverted from Afghanistan to Iraq in 2002, the Taliban and al Qaeda terrorist groups began to re-organize. They now operate with impunity along both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border. The annual State Department terrorism report shows that, in Pakistan alone, attacks more than quadrupled between 2006 and 2008, with a sharp increase in “coordination, sophistication and frequency.“ The Taliban and al Qaeda now threaten the fragile governments of both countries, and seek to control Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, a potentially catastrophic scenario for the Western world.

While these developments are not the fault of American policies alone, we unquestionably hold the leading role of responsibility. Most thoughtful people here and across the West are prepared to change course in the Middle East.

A coordinated effort to stop the terrorists is imperative. But as reaction to the recent drone bombings in Pakistan has demonstrated, hard power continues to be a high-risk game. Now obvious to most observers is that violent action, with its attendant peripheral destruction, incites further hatred of America within the general population and serves as a propaganda tool for further terrorist recruitment.

The relationship between America and the Muslim world is key to achieving security at home and around the world. The U.S. Engagement Project was formed to build bridges between our societies, to overcome differences, create improved relations and avoid disaster.

Please visit this link to learn more about this creative action project, and email me with other project links to similar East-West initiatives. Thank you.
U.S. Muslim Engagement Project

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Inauguration Day: Youth Inspired by Barack Obama’s Dream

The record crowd of seven million people impelled to Washington D.C. on Inauguration Day included a huge percentage of students.

Nicholas Anderson, 21, who traveled from the University of North Carolina to bunk with friends in Virginia, says he and his friends stepped aboard the metro train January 20th at 3:00 AM, in time to garner a decent view of Barack Obama's being sworn into office as the 44th President of the United States.

By 4:00 AM, Anderson was surrounded by rush-hour-level crowds heading for the Mall in the bracing, pre-dawn darkness. As the sun rose gracefully over the capitol, he recalled a sense of “Joyous anticipation and also apprehensiveness,” —perhaps born of unprecedented security around the city, and prayers that the day would achieve its exceptional promise, indelible to memory.

Anderson had traveled to some of the poorest areas of the Carolinas during the primaries and the general election, to canvass door-to-door. On Election Day, in a cold and rainy East Durham, North Carolina, he and his friend David worried that the weather might diminish turnout, so they crisscrossed neighborhoods in a last ditch effort to secure voters. Excitement flew on the local air, even among undocumented citizens not qualified to vote. Many residents had already visited the polls. Hold-outs were inspired by the canvassers to get moving. One African American woman was enthusiastic about an Obama presidency for her children’s sake, but lacked transportation. The young men raced to their car and drove the parents to the polling place at the elementary school. “When the couple walked out [of the booths,] they were beaming,” says Anderson. By the end of their long, rain-drenched day, Nicholas and David felt thrilled and rewarded by their contribution.

Looking for more insight into the phenomenal youth movement that coalesced around Mr. Obama during his campaign, I asked Anderson if he detected (within himself or his peers) any cynicism or anger in response to the Bush years. His answer was a qualified “no." In regard to our national debt, foreign entanglements and declining national reputation, he said, "It's our generation that will be saddled with the consequences." But his remarks clearly suggested no interest in wasting time on imbibing the bitter pills. The younger set seems rather unfazed, less backward glancing and more forward looking, as Obama himself advocates in his speeches.

I asked Anderson to name his concerns, as he cast his vote for Barack Obama's promise of change. The candidate was Anderson’s preferred choice on all fronts, from the Iraq war to education, to the environment, to creating an economic balance between market regulation and dynamism. He was drawn to the candidate’s tone of tolerance, his vision for dissolving the causes of terrorism and reducing reliance on military means. Obama also received high marks on character, perceived as aligning his actions with his professed beliefs.

Anderson is himself a young man acting on his own words. His special interest in the environment motivated him in 2007 to lead a college project in rural Argentina, improving health and quality of life for a village school. His Project Isonza restored a greenhouse and chicken coop for improved nutrition, and installed a solar hot water system for better hygiene, cutting down on transmittable illnesses and infection. Nicholas has worked with UNC and Duke University to design an on-going summer program whereby the project will be continued and developed for lasting impact on a wider scale. He plans to start a solar panel installation business here at home, in a growing renewable energy marketplace under President Obama.

Anderson articulated his overarching concern; that America, a land born to foster self-reliance and unlimited dreams, seemed to be reaching a point in which “its government is not as good as its people.” Most of us can relate. We have long experienced disconnection from leaders whom the system has deemed worthy. The grass roots rise of Barack Obama and his team promises a more authentic mirror of the people, deeper investment in the public interest and, daring the optimism, steps toward a more perfect union.

Those of us a bit older might ponder when last we looked in trust to our government for direction rather than in suspicion for its blunders and missteps. Disillusionment was rampant during the 60s and 70s, and the ensuing decades. We might marvel at this younger generation’s relative calm, its departure from the cynicism we have grown used to, like a worn pair of jeans.

There is some comfort in this. The earlier pendulum swung fiercely in opposition--fire fought with fire. This one swings more gently in pro-action--flames casting a wider light. America is 232-years-young. As cynical realism needs its dose of optimism, optimism needs its dose of hard-won realism. The generations have much to share. Historical lessons seem to be merging with a polarity shift toward positive solutions. Is a new consciousness really dawning? Too rosy an outlook, some might say. But what true and lasting change (or art) has ever been born of cynicism?

Anderson says his favorite segment of the inaugural address is the President's point that our American inheritance issues from those who gave their all to difficult tasks, as in prevailing through the gravest point of the Revolutionary War:

“Let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how
far we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest
of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on
the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy
was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment
when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father
of our nation ordered these words to be read to the people:

“Let it be told to the future world…that in the depth of winter, when
nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the
country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet it.”

The power in those words brings our challenges into perspective. It could be argued that the dramas of our era pale in comparison to George Washington's, and that unprecedented opportunity is opening its door to invite the next, great generation, in.

Featured Link:

Project Isonza: Insight Out See ***Page 5*** for
more on Nicholas development project in Argentina
Insight Out

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Creative Commons: Copyright Reform of the U.S. Congress:

I have only just discovered this interesting new voice on the public scene. His name is Lawrence Lessig. If you haven’t already heard of him, you might want to take note. His book, “Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy,” tackles art and copyright issues as they relate to new media. He outlines new realities that creators face in our online world. He also comments on Barack Obama, whom he knew from his earlier Chicago days. Last but not least, he discusses reform of the U.S. congress, advocating the weaning of the system from its over-dependency on raising money. Follow this link to a very interesting Charlie Rose interview with Lawrence Lessig. Charlie Rose Interviews Lawrence Lessig

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Charter for Compassion: Changing the Religious Dialog:

Each fall season seems to roll in through the back door. The wind sneaks in and out between the cracks, until finally outsmarting the sun. It’s a halting thing, this transition into constant chills and comforting teas. Warmed bones are pried loose from complacent afternoons. We enter a world of sensation--mums and lungs on potent air -- at once familiar and new. Recent experiences gather, like thickened clouds, calling a contest for the store houses of memory. Consolidating the layers of present with past, space is made for new steps. Like most change, entering fall brings both the bitter and sweet. As nature folds in anticipation of winter, the fall can symbolize internal processing and introspection.
In creative terms, the “fall” inward provides a sort of refuge for creative renewal. Autumn of the creative cycle invites rest, reflection, evaluation, appreciation. It seeks permission to perfect, in repetition, what is yet to be mastered. Until intuition demands we stretch forward, once again, to test, learn, and shape the outer world. Through contraction and repetition, energies emerge, once again, into expansion.
In the "falls" of creative change, anxious thresholds aren't just normal, but essential. Varied themes meet in tension-filled counterpoint, ultimately serving progression. If we work at accepting each movement in the present for what is, rather than resisting the present for what is yet to be, we will enjoy more peace during the highs and the lows.
FEATURE OF THE WEEK: Pulling at the Roots of Extremism In this video presentation, scholar Karen Armstrong articulates an elegant core message of unity among all religions. Having veered sharply away from religion and its dogmatic pitfalls, Ms. Armstrong turned toward literary studies and writing. Along the way, she developed a compelling vision for how the world may join to rescue religion from abusive justification for violent means in the midst of political struggles. She delivers a powerful call, not only to religious leaders, but to media professionals and all of us, to support her vision.

Watch Video

In follow-up to my Gateways post on September 25th, Scholar Karen Armstrong is leading the call for a “Charter for Compassion” to be created by people all over the world. As every religion has a history of intolerance, so each religion has principles for overcoming intolerance. The Charter aims to shift religious conceptions and relieve polarization. This new collaboration between the world’s religions is being conducted in partnership with the UN Alliance of Civilizations, and other multi-faith initiatives. The project begins with a focus on the Abrahamic faiths, since they account for much of the world's inter-religious conflict. If they can reach common ground, it would be a huge step. As I understand it, the final Charter would appeal more broadly to include members of any world tradition, plus all people choosing to remain outside the structures of religion. This link will take you to an artful 3-minute film articulating the aspirations of the project. Visit the site, contribute your stories in writing, or simply watch this inspiring piece:

FEATURE OF THE WEEK: Pulling at the Roots of Extremism

Charter for Compassion

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Monday, November 10, 2008

American Freedom Campaign: Film by Naomi Wolf Defends Constitution:

We are entering a period that promises renewal in our country. Most of us are optimistic that a return to our most deeply held collective values is imminent. If you love the freedoms provided by our American Constitution and believe in our ability to continue realizing its ideals, I ask you to watch this important film in its entirety. Journalist Naomi Wolf at first resisted the deeper implications of the last eight years' "War on Terror."

Prompted by an insistent German friend, Ms. Wolf finally directed her research to the history of fascism. Her film illustrates the step-by-step breakdown of democracy, using vivid historical parallels. Wolf in not an alarmist. She is a true American patriot, bringing to light this important moment in history, helping us to clarify what has been at stake. This film is about danger, but also hope. It's a moving tribute to our founders, and a stark reminder that an informed public is the essential safeguard to our inheritance--no matter who occupies the presidency. (The film will start after a short commercial message.) Watch Film

Visit the site:
Scroll to view Al Gore speaking on the balance of powers as intended by the constitution:

American Freedom Campaign
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Friday, October 17, 2008

Hole in the Wall Camps: Tribute to the Creative Life of Paul Newman:

September brought a sad, sweet farewell to Paul Newman, who died of cancer at the age of 83. Amidst the media gloom and campaign rancor of the season, a glance at his life makes for refreshing fare.

What film lover could forget Newman's understated blue-eyed "Cool Hand Luke," his tortured soul as Brick in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," his romantic charm as Butch Cassidy. Over the years, his characters helped us to articulate the spirit of our times. He became like a friend, journeying alongside us through the decades. His colleagues have long commented on his lack of outsized ego, his generosity on stage, and his abiding Ohio-born, down-to-earth perspective.

But he left not only fine creative work as an actor, or warmth of personal character. He left us an example, by his later work in philanthropy.

It all started the Christmas of 1980, when he and his Westport neighbor, A.E. Hotchner, filled old wine bottles with Paul's homemade salad dressing as gifts to friends. They wound up lining the shelves of a local gourmet shop, as a joke. But sobriety arrived when the dressing sold out, detailed in a book the two penned years later -- "Shameless Exploitation in Pursuit of the Common Good." In a nutshell, by 2008, Newman's Own Foundation had donated more than 250 million dollars to charities around the world. His Hole in the Wall Camps bring, at no charge, joyful experiences to seriously ill children. He also helped found the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy.

Strange how we can grow to love a public figure whom we've never met. His passing, for many Americans, feels akin to losing a family member. One whose roles are still very much alive:
loving family man and friend, gifted actor, progressive activist, and philanthropist with a sense of humor. To sum it up, a humanitarian we will never forget.

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