I had the extraordinary opportunity to attend the opening session of the Brookings Institute U.S.-Islamic World Forum tonight in Doha. I continue to be astounding by being here and how so many fortuitous things happen to place me in the path of interesting people who are doing such incredible things around the world. I was contacted by a Georgetown University (D.C.) professor and former U.S.A. Ambassador to the Netherlands, to talk about how the Brookings Institute might partner with Qatar Foundation to support one of the "U.S.-Islamic World Forum" programs - the Arts and Culture Leaders initiative. I offered to meet Cynthia before the conference began and this unfolded into an evening at the conference, including the opportunity to hear His Excellency Hamid Karzai, President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State of the U.S.A., and others discuss "The Opportunities and Challenges Ahead in the U.S.-Muslim World Relationship."
The atmosphere of the opening session was upbeat but it very clearly and honestly explored the incredibly bad position the U.S.A. is in with its Arab relationships. All the speakers noted that 9-11-01 and politicians and media portrayal since that time has driven a deep wedge between the relationships the U.S.A. previously had. Albright's analysis of what it will take to rebuild included five key points that she proposed as top priorities for the new President of the U.S.A.:
1. Figuring out how to deal with terrorists without creating more in the process.
2. Curbing the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Gulf and elsewhere.
3. Restoring the good name of democracy after a period when it has been so abused and maligned.
4. Learning to deal with both the up and downsides of globalization.
5. Finding ways to effectively address environmental degradation.
She went on to say that it is a mistake to divide the Arab world into simplistic, either/or dichotomies and that it is crucial that Americans cease to see Islam as the enemy. In order to do this, America needs to listen more and lecture less, something on which we've been very short over the last several years. Her final comment was reciting three core messages of faith:
1. Blessed are the peacemakers (from the New Testament of the Bible)
2. Swords shall be beaten into plowshares (from the Old Testament of the Bible/Torah)
3. Enter in peace, one and all (Quran)
These are simple and direct statement that identify the essential core of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Passionate moderates who believe these principles will be those who will save our globe from slipping further into a camp mentality that undermines our ability to learn from each other.
The U.S.A. has some formidable challenges ahead but new leadership is on the horizon. Choosing wisely for both domestic and foreign affairs reasons will make all the difference to what kind of world our youth and children will inherit. Note to self - what am I doing to listen more deeply and to help my fellow U.S.A. citizens understand that U.S.-Islamic affairs are not as hopeless as one might think?