Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Common Ground News Opinion Columns

Title: Message from the Prophet is clear: coexist
Author: Hisham al-Zoubeir
Source: The Common Ground News Service, 25 September 2007
Word Count: 844

Title: The importance of meeting face-to-face
Author: Susan Harrison
Source: The Common Ground News Service, 25 September 2007
Word Count: 840

Title: Talk "Lebanon" first
Author: Michael Young
Source: The Common Ground News Service, 25 September 2007
Word Count: 692

Title: ~Youth Views~ Humanity doesn't change with geography
Author: Pensee Afifi and Jane Slusark
Source: The Common Ground News Service, 25 September 2007
Word Count: 691

**********

Message from the Prophet is clear: coexist
Hisham al-Zoubeir

Washington, DC – As the world watches the terrible eruption of violence between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq and is subjected to sporadic communiqués by vigilantes calling for violence against their opponents both within the Muslim community and without, many who are unfamiliar with Islam and Muslims may be forgiven for thinking the worst of both the religion and its followers. Yet in Islam and Muslim history, the precedent for religious co-existence is primordial.

The Qur'anic view of the carpenter from Nazareth is clear: Jesus is called the Spirit of God, and the Messiah. Moses is described as the prophet to whom God spoke directly, without any veil. Muslims still revere those men, and their followers are accorded special places within the book of Islam.

The Arabian Prophet, Muhammad, sent according to Islamic tradition as a "mercy to all the worlds", showed us how these theological abstractions were exemplified in practice in the first interfaith meeting between Muslims and Christians - held some 14 centuries ago.

A delegation of sixty Christians from a community about 450 miles south of the Prophet's city, Medina, visited him in the year 631. During this three-day meeting between representatives of one faith-community with the founder of another, the model of Muslim ethics vis-à-vis the religious "other" was made explicit for all time. There are many lessons to be drawn from this encounter, but three stand out.

The first is that neither the Christians nor the Muslims pretended to be other than what they were. The Christians insisted on Trinitarianism, and the Prophet rejected it as a matter of faith. Both sides believed that Christ was the Messiah, that he had been born without a father, and that he received revelation from God. There was no shying away from difference, but the search for common ground was primary. Remember the culture of the time - the Prophet held the upper hand as the leader of a powerful community - but he did not disrespect his guests, who were politically powerless.

The second was that difference was not a cause of religious conflict. When the Christians suggested they go out into the desert to perform mass, the Prophet invited them to carry out their rituals within his mosque. He did not partake of their rituals, but he invited them into his own place of worship to carry them out. This was not mere tolerance: this was respect, if not acceptance. He met them with what he considered to be absolute truths, but not as a bigot.

Later generations of Muslims took his practice very seriously: when he said that the rights of non-Muslims under the protection of the Islamic polity were sacrosanct, that he would be a witness for them on the Day of Judgement, Muslims listened. The millions of non-Muslims who are still very much a part of the Muslim world are testimony to that. The situation was not perfect, but non-Muslim historians record that it was the best model of its time.

The third lesson was that difference did not mean that co-existence on a social and political level was impossible. The Christians nonetheless accepted the Prophet as their guarantor in the political realm, and for 14 centuries other Christian communities have accepted Muslim rulers as their guarantors, with their lives, property and religion safeguarded in exchange for a tax, similar to the tax Muslims paid to their temporal authorities.

The above encounter with the Christians of Najran was by no means an isolated event in the life of the Prophet which points to ongoing interfaith relations. An earlier treaty, the documentation of which is still in existence, with Christians of Sinai bore this practice out:

"This is a message from Muhammad son of Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far: we are with them. Verily I, the servants, the helpers (people of Medina), and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by God! I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims' houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God's covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate."

None of the above was a medieval call for syncretism, nor should it be understood to be a denial that Islam, a universal religion, did call for Muslims to be fully committed to their faith. Rather, this was placing into Muslim ethics the need to respect the religious other, by respectfully engaging this other.

The Prophet is known to have claimed that he was not sent "except to perfect good manners", and his display of respect and co-existence is a model that has become sorely lacking in many parts of the world. While some may have forgotten his example, his practice nonetheless established precedents that we would do well to heed today with renewed commitment.

###

* Hisham al-Zoubeir is a researcher of classical Islamic thought. He holds a Ph.D. in the history of European Muslims, and writes on Islam-West relations. This article is part of a series on apostasy and proselytism distributed by the Common Ground News Service and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 25 September 2007, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.


**********

The importance of meeting face-to-face
Susan Harrison

Toronto - Does it matter if we meet face-to-face?

In 2004 I went to Qom, Iran to participate in a conference called "Revelation and Authority", a dialogue between North American Christian Mennonite scholars and local Muslim Shiite scholars. A few months ago, we met again - this time in Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. It was a joyful, collegial reunion and, in addition, a nonverbal connection seemed to occur when we looked at each other again, face-to-face.

Each time we gather for dialogue, there is a kind of audible relief in realising that we both really exist, that we are dedicated to making this dialogue happen.

Face-to-face meetings are the moment when the research and media-informed opinions we hold are measured against the experience of the encounter with the other. There is something profound about meeting face-to-face: noticing that someone limps or has a hard time staying awake in a long lecture, seeing the way someone's eyes light up when they hear a new idea, or watching the quizzical looks on a Muslim's face when a Mennonite explains the worship of a triune God (a God in 3 forms).

People are like "living books", but unlike a published paperback, our plots are constantly changing. And, as living books, our stories interact with each other when we meet; they take account of the new characters, who in turn affect the plot line and the ensuing chapters.

However, these kinds of meetings are becoming increasingly more difficult to arrange these days because travel visas are regularly denied on both sides. Tense political relations in past months and tighter borders in the wake of 9/11 have resulted in stringent travel restrictions and have made such face-to-face visits more difficult.

The Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), a religion-based non-profit development organisation, first became involved in Iran following the 1990 earthquake. A friendship formed between Ed Martin, the then-director of MCC's Asia desk and the Director General of International Affairs in Iran, Sadreddin Sadr. Working together in disaster relief, they shared a vision to build relationships that would un-demonise Iranians for North Americans and vice versa. A student exchange program was proposed and Toronto, Canada, where a sizeable Mennonite graduate student community could be found, became the venue. The Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute (IKERI) volunteered to host Christian Mennonite students in Qom.

In addition to the student exchange program, which began in 1998, the MCC developed "learning tours" that brought groups to Iran on itinerated programs. Two tours of 10 days each allowed Mennonites and Muslims to meet and learn about each other first hand.

An example of the power of first hand meetings is captured in the remark of an Iranian Muslim, attending a Canadian school: "meeting face-to-face works as a source of miraculous mutual understanding. I can say that people who are afraid of you, as a Muslim or as an Iranian, after 10 to 30 minutes of conversation begin to recognise you as a human being."

As I write this, I am aware that I had been planning on attending a conference, "One God of Abraham, Different Traditions", at Eastern Mennonite University in September 2007. The participants were Mennonite scholars and a guest delegation from the Islamic Republic of Iran led by Ayatollah Araqi, head of the Organization of Culture and Islamic Relations. The delegation included Iranian religious leaders and scholars, Morris Motamed, a Jewish member of Iran's Parliament and Archbishop Sarkissian of the Armenian Church in Iran.

One week before the guests were due to arrive, 4 out of 15 visas were refused for "security reasons", though the US State Department did not send this message in writing. Since Ayatollah Araqi was among those refused entry, the visit was unfortunately called off.

This is not only a US-specific problem. In May 2007, 15 North American Mennonites were denied entry into Iran for a fully itinerated learning tour. During this same time, the Western media accused the institute of having a direct line to President Ahmadinejad's government, and critics accused the MCC of therefore supporting Ahmadinejad's government by association with IKERI.

The notion that dialogue between people of different faiths poses a security risk to their home countries continues to be the underlying theme of this ongoing problem of blocked encounters. N. Gerald Shenk, a professor at Eastern Mennonite University, wonders "whether the freedom protected by 'security' overrides the freedom to build better understanding across these dangerous divides."

Face-to-face encounters, according to contact theories, will break down stereotypes and build the understanding and trust that is greatly needed between the West and Iran. Yet as Martin remarked when the visas were refused, "It is back to 'square one' to figure out how to develop relationships of understanding, trust and friendship between Iranians and Americans that will prevent war between our countries."

While people can criticise the MCC for engaging with IKERI as Muslim dialogue partners, the fact remains that a constructive relationship has developed between the two communities, and if allowed to grow it could influence the stories of those individuals who are touched by it.

###

* Susan Kennel Harrison is a PhD candidate at the Toronto School of Theology and has been coordinating the Toronto side of the MCC student exchange with Iran since 1998. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 25 September 2007, www.commongroundnews.org Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.


**********

Talk "Lebanon" first
Michael Young

Beirut - For many Lebanese, Syrian involvement in regional peace negotiations is only desirable if its practical outcome is increased respect for Lebanese sovereignty and independence.

However, the Lebanese are not that optimistic. They fear that once negotiations begin between Syria and Israel, the international community will have little mind to support the international court prosecuting those involved in the February 2005 assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafiq Hariri. Syria remains a prime suspect in that crime and has systematically sought to derail efforts to establish the tribunal in Lebanon. And though the UN Security Council approved the tribunal under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, Syria's peace talks with Israel could earn Damascus a reprieve.

Advocates of Syrian-Israeli talks have underlined the importance of a breakthrough, arguing that Syria and Israel are much closer to a settlement than the Palestinians and Israelis, thanks largely to negotiations throughout the 1990's and unofficial agreements reached in recent years. However, these advocates routinely fail to address the possibility that Syria may not be able to afford peace. President Assad's regime may benefit from a negotiating process, but not necessarily from a peace agreement. After all, peace with Israel would oblige the regime to largely dismantle the military and security apparatus used to prop up its authority. Could Assad, who heads a minority regime, accept a peace that would undermine his Arab nationalist credentials domestically and regionally, and also threaten his burgeoning strategic alliance with Iran?

While many maintain that Syria's interest in negotiations with Israel is to reclaim the Golan Heights, its leadership has shown in recent years that its true aim is to preserve control over Lebanon. As the late Yitzhak Rabin once put it, "Better Syrian troops in Lebanon than on the Golan." It was his indirect way of admitting that though Syria was negotiating a return of the Golan, the late Hafez Assad was also keen to ensure that Syria maintained its hold over Lebanon. And in fact, that was exactly what happened. Lebanon's negotiating track with Israel was fully absorbed into the Syrian track, a move approved by the Clinton administration and all of the main Arab and European states.

Lastly, the promoters of a Syrian-Israeli negotiating track have failed to provide options to protect Lebanon from persistent efforts by Damascus to re-impose its hegemony over its smaller neighbour. The Hariri tribunal remains a major obstacle, so that international conflict resolution institutions have offered convoluted solutions that respect the tribunal but also ensure the protection of Syria's leadership. Their casuistry has failed to take into consideration that a thorough and legitimate trial process might very well point the finger at the same Syrian leaders whom the promoters of negotiations want to spare.

Lebanon should not pay the price for a Syrian-Israeli dialogue, nor should Syria be denied an opportunity to talk to Israel in goodwill. That is why the international community should impose certain conditions on regional peace talks, which can test Syrian intentions while also guaranteeing Syria's respect for Lebanese sovereignty and independence.

The first condition for international backing for Syrian-Israeli talks has to be Syria's formal acceptance of all UN resolutions relating to Lebanon, particularly Resolutions 1559 and 1701, which Damascus has repeatedly violated. Syria must specifically agree to end its interference in Lebanon and its arming of Lebanese parties. It must also agree to open an embassy in Beirut, something it has never done on the grounds that Lebanese and Syrians are "one people in two countries", and it must agree on final borders with Lebanon.

Syria must also make a clear statement that it will collaborate with the Hariri tribunal and send any Syrian suspects to Holland, where the court is to be set up, not try them in Syrian courts, as Syrian officials have repeatedly insisted. These conditions are now part of international legislation, since Chapter VII authority obliges all parties to obey the tribunal's requests.

Once these conditions are met, a Syrian-Israeli peace track would be eminently desirable. But there is no reason for Lebanon to be Syria's ticket to a settlement. Until this issue is resolved, Syria and Israel are likely to tiptoe around without going very far.

###

* Michael Young is opinion editor of the Daily Star newspaper in Lebanon. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 25 September 2007, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.


**********

~Youth Views~ Humanity doesn't change with geography
Pensee Afifi and Jane Slusark

Cairo/Iowa City, Iowa - The Arab world and the West represent two sides of the same coin. Though we are from different parts of the globe, we are two parts that make up a whole: we live in the same world. In that respect, though we all have our distinct cultures, it is worth remembering — and strengthening — our universal culture.

The most basic roots of global culture are derived from the fact that we, as humans, experience the same basic feelings — pain, love, anger, fear, etc. We all aspire to avoid pain and maximise pleasure. It is the existence of fear that holds us back from forming relationships or trusting another person, especially one we perceive as different from us. Our mutual understanding of how death, life, war and tragedy affect a person should be a platform upon which we can foster respect and friendship. No one wants to lose a son, a mother or a grandfather, so we should all be able to see the insanity of needless violence.

We also understand the personal connection a person has with his or her home or village — it would pain us to see it destroyed. But the shared culture of the world can become clouded through dehumanisation. War is only possible when we perceive the enemy as being less than human. The rhetoric of politics and overzealous leaders allows the mass populous to forget that they have the same heart as the person they "hate" across the border. If you strip away the external factors, what you have left is the same basic individual with the same basic needs.

There are also values, morals and traditions that are respected and appreciated around the globe, such as the role of the family. The form may differ, but the relationship between family members is important in all communities and cultures. In the Arab world, the family represents the past, present and future. It is believed in the Arab world that individuals are not only educated in schools, but also in the home. With that belief, families exert tremendous effort in shaping their children's personalities. Kinship ties also often bring considerable responsibilities; an Arab individual would be considered less of a person without his or her family's ongoing support and guidance.

In the Western world, the independence of individuals plays a larger role in the development of family ties. In that regard, Western families provide education, guidance and support but also teach independence and responsibility to allow individuals to form their own lives outside the family boundaries.

In both cases, the importance of the family is apparent. Although Arab and American students sometimes argue over the level of responsibility and independence expected by the family in their respective cultures, it is easy to realise that though we differ, we still agree that the family plays an important role in education and support.

Countries define their culture by their history. But one may ask, "The history of what?" Most of what is found in schools' textbooks is the history of politics, the history of conflict. Yet, every country has a period they look back on as a darkened era, in which grave mistakes were made, or as "the good old days" when everything was simple and people were happy. Each has had its share of triumphs and trials. It is important to remember the histories, but it is also important not to read too much into them. The grudges of the past should not prevent two nations from respecting each other in the present, or from working together toward a common goal. By focusing on events, we forget the collective feelings, the human aspects that led to the eventual settlement of the conflict.

To achieve true respect and understanding on a global scale, we must interact and focus on our common human characteristics. We are all human beings, and share the same feelings, needs and values. What we forget most of the time is that even though we disagree, we can't separate ourselves from the other side of the coin; we all have something in common. At the very least, we can share in our thirst to understand one another.

###

* Pensee Afifi is a student at the American University in Cairo and Jane Slusark studies at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. They co-wrote this article as part of the Soliya Connect Program's West-Muslim World intercultural dialogue program. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 25 September 2007, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.


end

Common Ground News Opinion Columns

Title: Message from the Prophet is clear: coexist
Author: Hisham al-Zoubeir
Source: The Common Ground News Service, 25 September 2007
Word Count: 844

Title: The importance of meeting face-to-face
Author: Susan Harrison
Source: The Common Ground News Service, 25 September 2007
Word Count: 840

Title: Talk "Lebanon" first
Author: Michael Young
Source: The Common Ground News Service, 25 September 2007
Word Count: 692

Title: ~Youth Views~ Humanity doesn't change with geography
Author: Pensee Afifi and Jane Slusark
Source: The Common Ground News Service, 25 September 2007
Word Count: 691

**********

Message from the Prophet is clear: coexist
Hisham al-Zoubeir

Washington, DC – As the world watches the terrible eruption of violence between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq and is subjected to sporadic communiqués by vigilantes calling for violence against their opponents both within the Muslim community and without, many who are unfamiliar with Islam and Muslims may be forgiven for thinking the worst of both the religion and its followers. Yet in Islam and Muslim history, the precedent for religious co-existence is primordial.

The Qur'anic view of the carpenter from Nazareth is clear: Jesus is called the Spirit of God, and the Messiah. Moses is described as the prophet to whom God spoke directly, without any veil. Muslims still revere those men, and their followers are accorded special places within the book of Islam.

The Arabian Prophet, Muhammad, sent according to Islamic tradition as a "mercy to all the worlds", showed us how these theological abstractions were exemplified in practice in the first interfaith meeting between Muslims and Christians - held some 14 centuries ago.

A delegation of sixty Christians from a community about 450 miles south of the Prophet's city, Medina, visited him in the year 631. During this three-day meeting between representatives of one faith-community with the founder of another, the model of Muslim ethics vis-à-vis the religious "other" was made explicit for all time. There are many lessons to be drawn from this encounter, but three stand out.

The first is that neither the Christians nor the Muslims pretended to be other than what they were. The Christians insisted on Trinitarianism, and the Prophet rejected it as a matter of faith. Both sides believed that Christ was the Messiah, that he had been born without a father, and that he received revelation from God. There was no shying away from difference, but the search for common ground was primary. Remember the culture of the time - the Prophet held the upper hand as the leader of a powerful community - but he did not disrespect his guests, who were politically powerless.

The second was that difference was not a cause of religious conflict. When the Christians suggested they go out into the desert to perform mass, the Prophet invited them to carry out their rituals within his mosque. He did not partake of their rituals, but he invited them into his own place of worship to carry them out. This was not mere tolerance: this was respect, if not acceptance. He met them with what he considered to be absolute truths, but not as a bigot.

Later generations of Muslims took his practice very seriously: when he said that the rights of non-Muslims under the protection of the Islamic polity were sacrosanct, that he would be a witness for them on the Day of Judgement, Muslims listened. The millions of non-Muslims who are still very much a part of the Muslim world are testimony to that. The situation was not perfect, but non-Muslim historians record that it was the best model of its time.

The third lesson was that difference did not mean that co-existence on a social and political level was impossible. The Christians nonetheless accepted the Prophet as their guarantor in the political realm, and for 14 centuries other Christian communities have accepted Muslim rulers as their guarantors, with their lives, property and religion safeguarded in exchange for a tax, similar to the tax Muslims paid to their temporal authorities.

The above encounter with the Christians of Najran was by no means an isolated event in the life of the Prophet which points to ongoing interfaith relations. An earlier treaty, the documentation of which is still in existence, with Christians of Sinai bore this practice out:

"This is a message from Muhammad son of Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far: we are with them. Verily I, the servants, the helpers (people of Medina), and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by God! I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims' houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God's covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate."

None of the above was a medieval call for syncretism, nor should it be understood to be a denial that Islam, a universal religion, did call for Muslims to be fully committed to their faith. Rather, this was placing into Muslim ethics the need to respect the religious other, by respectfully engaging this other.

The Prophet is known to have claimed that he was not sent "except to perfect good manners", and his display of respect and co-existence is a model that has become sorely lacking in many parts of the world. While some may have forgotten his example, his practice nonetheless established precedents that we would do well to heed today with renewed commitment.

###

* Hisham al-Zoubeir is a researcher of classical Islamic thought. He holds a Ph.D. in the history of European Muslims, and writes on Islam-West relations. This article is part of a series on apostasy and proselytism distributed by the Common Ground News Service and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 25 September 2007, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.


**********

The importance of meeting face-to-face
Susan Harrison

Toronto - Does it matter if we meet face-to-face?

In 2004 I went to Qom, Iran to participate in a conference called "Revelation and Authority", a dialogue between North American Christian Mennonite scholars and local Muslim Shiite scholars. A few months ago, we met again - this time in Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. It was a joyful, collegial reunion and, in addition, a nonverbal connection seemed to occur when we looked at each other again, face-to-face.

Each time we gather for dialogue, there is a kind of audible relief in realising that we both really exist, that we are dedicated to making this dialogue happen.

Face-to-face meetings are the moment when the research and media-informed opinions we hold are measured against the experience of the encounter with the other. There is something profound about meeting face-to-face: noticing that someone limps or has a hard time staying awake in a long lecture, seeing the way someone's eyes light up when they hear a new idea, or watching the quizzical looks on a Muslim's face when a Mennonite explains the worship of a triune God (a God in 3 forms).

People are like "living books", but unlike a published paperback, our plots are constantly changing. And, as living books, our stories interact with each other when we meet; they take account of the new characters, who in turn affect the plot line and the ensuing chapters.

However, these kinds of meetings are becoming increasingly more difficult to arrange these days because travel visas are regularly denied on both sides. Tense political relations in past months and tighter borders in the wake of 9/11 have resulted in stringent travel restrictions and have made such face-to-face visits more difficult.

The Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), a religion-based non-profit development organisation, first became involved in Iran following the 1990 earthquake. A friendship formed between Ed Martin, the then-director of MCC's Asia desk and the Director General of International Affairs in Iran, Sadreddin Sadr. Working together in disaster relief, they shared a vision to build relationships that would un-demonise Iranians for North Americans and vice versa. A student exchange program was proposed and Toronto, Canada, where a sizeable Mennonite graduate student community could be found, became the venue. The Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute (IKERI) volunteered to host Christian Mennonite students in Qom.

In addition to the student exchange program, which began in 1998, the MCC developed "learning tours" that brought groups to Iran on itinerated programs. Two tours of 10 days each allowed Mennonites and Muslims to meet and learn about each other first hand.

An example of the power of first hand meetings is captured in the remark of an Iranian Muslim, attending a Canadian school: "meeting face-to-face works as a source of miraculous mutual understanding. I can say that people who are afraid of you, as a Muslim or as an Iranian, after 10 to 30 minutes of conversation begin to recognise you as a human being."

As I write this, I am aware that I had been planning on attending a conference, "One God of Abraham, Different Traditions", at Eastern Mennonite University in September 2007. The participants were Mennonite scholars and a guest delegation from the Islamic Republic of Iran led by Ayatollah Araqi, head of the Organization of Culture and Islamic Relations. The delegation included Iranian religious leaders and scholars, Morris Motamed, a Jewish member of Iran's Parliament and Archbishop Sarkissian of the Armenian Church in Iran.

One week before the guests were due to arrive, 4 out of 15 visas were refused for "security reasons", though the US State Department did not send this message in writing. Since Ayatollah Araqi was among those refused entry, the visit was unfortunately called off.

This is not only a US-specific problem. In May 2007, 15 North American Mennonites were denied entry into Iran for a fully itinerated learning tour. During this same time, the Western media accused the institute of having a direct line to President Ahmadinejad's government, and critics accused the MCC of therefore supporting Ahmadinejad's government by association with IKERI.

The notion that dialogue between people of different faiths poses a security risk to their home countries continues to be the underlying theme of this ongoing problem of blocked encounters. N. Gerald Shenk, a professor at Eastern Mennonite University, wonders "whether the freedom protected by 'security' overrides the freedom to build better understanding across these dangerous divides."

Face-to-face encounters, according to contact theories, will break down stereotypes and build the understanding and trust that is greatly needed between the West and Iran. Yet as Martin remarked when the visas were refused, "It is back to 'square one' to figure out how to develop relationships of understanding, trust and friendship between Iranians and Americans that will prevent war between our countries."

While people can criticise the MCC for engaging with IKERI as Muslim dialogue partners, the fact remains that a constructive relationship has developed between the two communities, and if allowed to grow it could influence the stories of those individuals who are touched by it.

###

* Susan Kennel Harrison is a PhD candidate at the Toronto School of Theology and has been coordinating the Toronto side of the MCC student exchange with Iran since 1998. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 25 September 2007, www.commongroundnews.org Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.


**********

Talk "Lebanon" first
Michael Young

Beirut - For many Lebanese, Syrian involvement in regional peace negotiations is only desirable if its practical outcome is increased respect for Lebanese sovereignty and independence.

However, the Lebanese are not that optimistic. They fear that once negotiations begin between Syria and Israel, the international community will have little mind to support the international court prosecuting those involved in the February 2005 assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafiq Hariri. Syria remains a prime suspect in that crime and has systematically sought to derail efforts to establish the tribunal in Lebanon. And though the UN Security Council approved the tribunal under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, Syria's peace talks with Israel could earn Damascus a reprieve.

Advocates of Syrian-Israeli talks have underlined the importance of a breakthrough, arguing that Syria and Israel are much closer to a settlement than the Palestinians and Israelis, thanks largely to negotiations throughout the 1990's and unofficial agreements reached in recent years. However, these advocates routinely fail to address the possibility that Syria may not be able to afford peace. President Assad's regime may benefit from a negotiating process, but not necessarily from a peace agreement. After all, peace with Israel would oblige the regime to largely dismantle the military and security apparatus used to prop up its authority. Could Assad, who heads a minority regime, accept a peace that would undermine his Arab nationalist credentials domestically and regionally, and also threaten his burgeoning strategic alliance with Iran?

While many maintain that Syria's interest in negotiations with Israel is to reclaim the Golan Heights, its leadership has shown in recent years that its true aim is to preserve control over Lebanon. As the late Yitzhak Rabin once put it, "Better Syrian troops in Lebanon than on the Golan." It was his indirect way of admitting that though Syria was negotiating a return of the Golan, the late Hafez Assad was also keen to ensure that Syria maintained its hold over Lebanon. And in fact, that was exactly what happened. Lebanon's negotiating track with Israel was fully absorbed into the Syrian track, a move approved by the Clinton administration and all of the main Arab and European states.

Lastly, the promoters of a Syrian-Israeli negotiating track have failed to provide options to protect Lebanon from persistent efforts by Damascus to re-impose its hegemony over its smaller neighbour. The Hariri tribunal remains a major obstacle, so that international conflict resolution institutions have offered convoluted solutions that respect the tribunal but also ensure the protection of Syria's leadership. Their casuistry has failed to take into consideration that a thorough and legitimate trial process might very well point the finger at the same Syrian leaders whom the promoters of negotiations want to spare.

Lebanon should not pay the price for a Syrian-Israeli dialogue, nor should Syria be denied an opportunity to talk to Israel in goodwill. That is why the international community should impose certain conditions on regional peace talks, which can test Syrian intentions while also guaranteeing Syria's respect for Lebanese sovereignty and independence.

The first condition for international backing for Syrian-Israeli talks has to be Syria's formal acceptance of all UN resolutions relating to Lebanon, particularly Resolutions 1559 and 1701, which Damascus has repeatedly violated. Syria must specifically agree to end its interference in Lebanon and its arming of Lebanese parties. It must also agree to open an embassy in Beirut, something it has never done on the grounds that Lebanese and Syrians are "one people in two countries", and it must agree on final borders with Lebanon.

Syria must also make a clear statement that it will collaborate with the Hariri tribunal and send any Syrian suspects to Holland, where the court is to be set up, not try them in Syrian courts, as Syrian officials have repeatedly insisted. These conditions are now part of international legislation, since Chapter VII authority obliges all parties to obey the tribunal's requests.

Once these conditions are met, a Syrian-Israeli peace track would be eminently desirable. But there is no reason for Lebanon to be Syria's ticket to a settlement. Until this issue is resolved, Syria and Israel are likely to tiptoe around without going very far.

###

* Michael Young is opinion editor of the Daily Star newspaper in Lebanon. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 25 September 2007, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.


**********

~Youth Views~ Humanity doesn't change with geography
Pensee Afifi and Jane Slusark

Cairo/Iowa City, Iowa - The Arab world and the West represent two sides of the same coin. Though we are from different parts of the globe, we are two parts that make up a whole: we live in the same world. In that respect, though we all have our distinct cultures, it is worth remembering — and strengthening — our universal culture.

The most basic roots of global culture are derived from the fact that we, as humans, experience the same basic feelings — pain, love, anger, fear, etc. We all aspire to avoid pain and maximise pleasure. It is the existence of fear that holds us back from forming relationships or trusting another person, especially one we perceive as different from us. Our mutual understanding of how death, life, war and tragedy affect a person should be a platform upon which we can foster respect and friendship. No one wants to lose a son, a mother or a grandfather, so we should all be able to see the insanity of needless violence.

We also understand the personal connection a person has with his or her home or village — it would pain us to see it destroyed. But the shared culture of the world can become clouded through dehumanisation. War is only possible when we perceive the enemy as being less than human. The rhetoric of politics and overzealous leaders allows the mass populous to forget that they have the same heart as the person they "hate" across the border. If you strip away the external factors, what you have left is the same basic individual with the same basic needs.

There are also values, morals and traditions that are respected and appreciated around the globe, such as the role of the family. The form may differ, but the relationship between family members is important in all communities and cultures. In the Arab world, the family represents the past, present and future. It is believed in the Arab world that individuals are not only educated in schools, but also in the home. With that belief, families exert tremendous effort in shaping their children's personalities. Kinship ties also often bring considerable responsibilities; an Arab individual would be considered less of a person without his or her family's ongoing support and guidance.

In the Western world, the independence of individuals plays a larger role in the development of family ties. In that regard, Western families provide education, guidance and support but also teach independence and responsibility to allow individuals to form their own lives outside the family boundaries.

In both cases, the importance of the family is apparent. Although Arab and American students sometimes argue over the level of responsibility and independence expected by the family in their respective cultures, it is easy to realise that though we differ, we still agree that the family plays an important role in education and support.

Countries define their culture by their history. But one may ask, "The history of what?" Most of what is found in schools' textbooks is the history of politics, the history of conflict. Yet, every country has a period they look back on as a darkened era, in which grave mistakes were made, or as "the good old days" when everything was simple and people were happy. Each has had its share of triumphs and trials. It is important to remember the histories, but it is also important not to read too much into them. The grudges of the past should not prevent two nations from respecting each other in the present, or from working together toward a common goal. By focusing on events, we forget the collective feelings, the human aspects that led to the eventual settlement of the conflict.

To achieve true respect and understanding on a global scale, we must interact and focus on our common human characteristics. We are all human beings, and share the same feelings, needs and values. What we forget most of the time is that even though we disagree, we can't separate ourselves from the other side of the coin; we all have something in common. At the very least, we can share in our thirst to understand one another.

###

* Pensee Afifi is a student at the American University in Cairo and Jane Slusark studies at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. They co-wrote this article as part of the Soliya Connect Program's West-Muslim World intercultural dialogue program. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 25 September 2007, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.


end

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Israel denies Christian Arab clergy entrance to West Bank

Israel Denies Re-entry Visas to Holy Land Arab Christian Clergy

23-Sep-07
The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF)
Toll free at +1-866-871-HCEF (4233)

The Israeli Government has rescinded its policy of granting re-entry visas to Arab Christian ministers, priests, nuns and other religious workers who wish to travel in and out of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, according to information provided to the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF) by Christian clergy in Jerusalem.

Until now, re-entry visas were normally granted in Israel by the Israeli Government to Arab Christian religious workers in the Holy Land, and clergy traveled relatively freely to and from points overseas, including the United States.

However, HCEF has been informed that Arab Christian church workers will henceforth have to apply for re-entry visas at Israeli consulates abroad each time they travel outside the areas of Israeli control.

Since visa applications submitted to Israeli missions abroad are normally not acted upon for months after they are filed, his new Israeli policy means that religious personnel will no longer be able to move freely between their parishes in the occupied territories and any points out side of those areas.

Christian church workers normally travel frequently between their parishes and their churches’ offices in Jerusalem. Some also must travel often to countries outside the region, including the United States.

Many of the clergy and other church workers in the occupied Palestinian territories are from nearby Jordan; the new Israeli policy will prevent them from visiting their families there.

Indeed, that has already happened. Rev. Fares Khleifat, a pastor and the only Greek Melkite priest in Ramallah, traveled to Jordan for several days in mid-September; when he tried to return to his parish on September 14, he was stopped at the Israeli border, and his valid, multiple-entry visa was canceled.

Forced to remain in Jordan, he has been effectively deported from the Holy Land by the Israeli government, and his parish now has no priest.

The new Israeli policy makes it unlikely that any Arab Christian priests, ministers or other religious workers from the Holy Land will be able to attend HCEF’s Ninth International Conference, scheduled for October 26-27 in Washington.

Christian personnel based in the Holy Land have participated in all eight previous conferences of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation.

http://www.hcef.org/index.cfm/mod/news/ID/16/SubMod/NewsView/NewsID/1849.cfm

Sunday, September 23, 2007

New Political Cartoons launched in Syndication

The Arab American Writers Group Syndicate (ArabWritersGroup.com) announced a new Political Cartoon series in syndication. The cartoons are posted twice each week and feature satire and commentary on current news events, particularly those on Middle East issues.

You can view the cartoons at http://www.arabwritersgroup.com/ or at http://arabwritersgroup.wordpress.com/ or at www.hanania.com/cartoons/cartoons.htm

The cartoons are available for a small syndication fee or by arrangement.

# # #

Monday, September 17, 2007

Creative Writing Class at Arab Museum in Dearborn

FREE CREATIVE WRITING WORKSHOP AT AANM

Dearborn, MI (September 17, 2007) – The Arab American National Museum invites all budding authors to attend a free interactive creative writing workshop from 1-2:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 6.

The workshop is presented by Haley Elizabeth Garwood, author of the Warrior Queen series of novels based on actual historical figures and published by Writers Block. Garwood’s 2005 title Zenobia chronicles the adventures of a Syrian queen of the Third Century A.D. When Zenobia’s king-husband is assassinated by the Romans, a supposed ally, she rallies her own troops to avenge his death and protect her home city of Palmyra.

Garwood will also do a brief reading from Zenobia at the conclusion of the workshop. Read more about the author at http://www.haleyelizabethgarwood.com/.

Those wishing to attend the free creative writing workshop must RSVP by calling 313.624.0200 or emailing fsaad@accesscommunity.org.

The Arab American National Museum documents, preserves, celebrates, and educates the public on the history, life, culture, and contributions of Arab Americans. We serve as a resource to enhance knowledge and understanding about Arab Americans and their presence in this country. The Arab American National Museum is a project of ACCESS, a Dearborn, Michigan-based nonprofit human services and cultural organization. Learn more at http://www.arabamericanmuseum.org/ and http://www.accesscommunity.org/.

The Museum is located at 13624 Michigan Avenue, Dearborn, MI, 48126. Museum hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday; noon- 5 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday, Tuesday; Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Admission is $6 for adults; $3 for students, seniors and children 6-12; ages 5 and under, free. Call 313-582-2266 for further information.

###


Kim Silarski
Communications
313-624-0206

Arab American National Museum
13624 Michigan Avenue
Dearborn, MI 48126
http://www.arabamericanmuseum.org/

Friday, September 14, 2007

Arguments filed in Guantanamo detainess case on religious abuse

Baptist Joint Committee200 Maryland Avenue NEWashington, D.C. 20002For Immediate Release Contacts: Jeff HuettSeptember 14, 2007 Phallan Davis 202-544-4226

Oral arguments today in case filed by Guantanamo detainees concerning religious abuse claims

WASHINGTON —Oral arguments are being heard today before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in a government appeal for a lower court decision holding that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act applies to the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) provides broad protection for the free exercise rights of military personnel and detainees at Guantanamo, according to an amicus brief submitted by the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and other religious organizations. The brief was filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in the case of Rasul, et al. v. Rumsfeld, et al.The case centers on four British citizens who were detained by American forces in Afghanistan, transported to Guantanamo Bay and subsequently released without charge after two years. While there, the men alleged repeated and systematic acts of harassment based on their Muslim faith, including forced shaving of their beards, interruption or prohibition of their efforts to pray, the denial of prayer mats and copies of the Koran, mistreatment of the Koran in their presence by guards who kicked it and threw it in a toilet bucket, and being forced to pray with exposed genital areas. The plaintiffs brought a suit seeking damages against U.S. government officials, claiming violations of the Alien Tort Statute, the Fifth and Eighth amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the Geneva Convention and RFRA. The district court dismissed the plaintiff’s international law and constitutional claims, but ruled that RFRA applies, even to claims arising from those held at Guantanamo Bay. The defendants appealed that decision to the D.C. Circuit. RFRA provides that “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability,” unless it can demonstrate that doing so is “in furtherance of a compelling government interest,” and “is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling government interest.” RFRA reflects the commitment of the diverse coalition that supported its passage in 1993. By design, RFRA’s protections apply to the federal government, without exception for particular branches, and to all religions.BJC General Counsel K. Hollyn Hollman said individuals and faith communities from across the religious spectrum recognize that our country’s commitment to religious freedom is one of its greatest attributes.“RFRA is a limitation on governmental interference with religious practice,” Hollman said. “Its protections are intentionally broad and reflect the widely shared belief that religious freedom is paramount. “RFRA, like the First Amendment itself, reflects our nation’s high regard for religion and for religious liberty” Hollman said. “We should be alarmed any time the government seeks to narrow those protections.” In its friend-of-the-court brief, the BJC acknowledged grave concerns about terrorism and the agency’s intent not to encumber the government’s efforts to bring culpable parties to justice, while arguing RFRA’s high standard for the federal government in accommodating religious practice and respecting religious diversity be preserved.Those joining the brief include American Jewish Committee, National Association of Evangelicals, National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. All have participated in various ways in the efforts of the Coalition for the Free Exercise of Religion, the coalition of dozens of religious organizations that supported the passage of RFRA.The Baptist Joint Committee is a 70-year-old, Washington, D.C.-based religious liberty organization that works to defend and extend God-given religious liberty for all, bringing a uniquely Baptist witness to the principle that religion must be freely exercised, neither advanced nor inhibited by government.—30—

Jeff Huett, communications director Baptist Joint Committee 200 Maryland Avenue, N.E. Washington, D.C. 20002

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Common Ground News Service features, 9/13/07

Title: Measures of confidence
Author: Mark L. Cohen
Source: The Common Ground News Service, 13 September 2007
Word Count: 709

Title: My first Jewish wedding
Author: Rami Assali
Source: The Common Ground News Service, 13 September 2007
Word Count: 735

Title: Soccer unites children
Author: Deborah Clifford
Source: The Common Ground News Service, 13 September 2007
Word Count: 657

Each article is available in Arabic, English and Hebrew; I’d be happy to send
you any translation. Please feel free to republish the article(s) and let me know
by sending an email to: akessinger@sfcg.org.
Common Ground News Service

**********
Measures of confidence
Mark L. Cohen
PARIS - Success in bringing about real Middle East peace will depend on more
than marginalizing Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank and a political
settlement with the Palestinian Authority alone. Crucially, other Arab nations
in the region must also accept the future Palestine as a full-fledged
neighbouring state, as well as Palestinian nationals themselves as entitled
members of the Middle East community. Concrete steps in this direction-with
Palestinians no longer treated by Arab neighbour states as outcasts or frontline
soldiers in the war against Israel-will in turn provide Israelis and their
government the confidence needed to make concessions in the peace process.
Both Palestinians and Israelis need to be convinced that the political process
can lead to constructive change in their respective conditions. Progress on the
outstanding issues-such as the relocation of West Bank settlers, Jerusalem,
the right of return, and the PLO’s obligation to crack down on terrorists and
their organizations-is obviously vital. But none of this will produce real change
unless the nations in the region (Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and countries
in the Persian Gulf) acknowledge that Palestinians, inside and outside a future
Palestinian state, must have the right to travel, work, and attend universities
throughout the area-rights which have been denied by Israel and Arab nations
alike.
Only if an end is put to the isolation of Palestinians from their Arab neighbours
will viable economic, social as well as political solutions emerge. And only if the
two-state solution is formulated in that context will the parties make the
necessary political concessions for a viable, long-term peace to take hold. Why?
Because despite its economic strengths, Israel alone cannot produce
meaningful change in the lives of the 3.5 million Palestinians living inside the
new state, nor in the lives of the 2.4 million refugees in Jordan, Syria and
Lebanon.
Yet despite this, there is at least an implicit expectation among Arabs and also
Europeans that it somehow falls mostly on Israel to create the conditions
needed to satisfy the aspirations and rectify the suffering of the Palestinian
people. While both unfair and unrealistic, this expectation goes far back in
history. Indeed, having more or less openly decided at the time of the 1948 war
to isolate Palestinian refugees in camps and to prevent their integration in the
Arab world, Arab states have continued ever since to claim that Israel was and
is the sole party responsible for the Palestinian condition. To this day,
neighbouring states have been at best ambiguous about allowing Palestinians
to travel or work in their territories, and for more than 20 years, following the
partition of Palestine in 1947, opposed the establishment of a Palestinian state
on the West Bank. This refusal to recognize a Palestinian identity is further
reflected in UN Resolutions designating Palestinians not as such but as Arab
refugees.
Be that as it may, this expectation has had two counterproductive
consequences. On the Israeli side, it has led to the lingering suspicion that
Arab countries are disingenuous in their avowed passionate defence of
Palestinian rights. On the Palestinian side, it has led to the assumption of a
front line combatant mission to retrieve the lost honour of the Arab world. This
has blinded many Palestinians to the prospect of any future outlook to the
East, North or South, and has produced a perhaps excessive fixation on the
right of return and other political rights, at the expense of focusing on the right
to better lives.
Despite the outstanding issues between the two principal parties, it is now
obvious that what is good for the Palestinians is good for Israel. The
interdependence of both parties was addressed by Marwan Muasher, a
Jordanian Foreign Minister, when he said that progress for the Palestinian
people can only be achieved by allowing the Israelis to have "a real sense of
security." This position is also being highlighted by the present Palestinian
prime minister, Salam Fayyad, who said that peace efforts can only be
successful if we address the issues of job creation, training, improved internal
security and a strong way forward toward building a viable economy. In clear
terms, Israelis will only make concessions to the Palestinians when they are
convinced that a two-state solution is something sustainable-not just a short-
term interruption in the conflict.
###
* Mark Cohen is an international lawyer and counsel for the law firm White &
Case in Paris. He also teaches courses on the history of the US legal system.
This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and
can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.
Source: Common Ground News Service, 13 September 2007,
www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for republication.

**********
My first Jewish wedding
Rami Assali
JERUSALEM - A week ago I was invited to a Jewish wedding. As a Palestinian
from East Jerusalem, this would have been my first, and I was ambivalent
about attending the ceremony. So many questions flooded my mind: how would
they react if they knew that I was a Muslim? Would I be the black sheep?
Would they wonder what the hell I was doing there? My feelings were mixed to
the very last moment. It was not until the day of the wedding that I finally
decided to go. What was the worst that could happen? If I was not welcome
then I would go home.
At the entrance to the wedding, another bombardment of questions attacked
my mind: what should I do? How different are they from us? What do Jews do
at their weddings?
I overcame my hesitation and entered. The ushers gave me my table number
and I was directed to the small reception preceding the ceremony. The bride
and groom’s families were very friendly; one could feel the joy and happiness in
the air.
After thirty minutes, the Rabbi asked that people be seated so the ceremony
could begin. Escorted by their parents, the bride and groom entered the
garden-soft music playing in the background. The couple walked with their
parents to the Chuppah, joining the Rabbi, and signaling the start of the
ceremony. The Rabbi then read the ketubah-a legal marriage document signed
by the bride, groom and their parents before the wedding. (It is the same
document that Muslims sign before their weddings and we call it Katb el Ktab).
When the Rabbi finished reading, he and the family members offered blessings
to the newlyweds.
The ceremony differed from Muslim weddings only in the symbolic breaking of
the glass, an act that reminds the groom, even in the happiest of moments, not
to forget the destruction of the Jewish Temple. And the sounds of music
remind us that the time has come for dancing, celebration and dinner.
I thought Muslims and Jews were different, but witnessing this ceremony
taught me what we share. Just as we all take the same steps in our weddings,
so we take the same steps in our lives. We bond our histories with marriage,
with faith, and with our shared values. The "holy wars" of the Middle East often
cause us to forget that the three religions of Abraham are almost the same.
These faiths teach us deep commitment to peace and brotherhood. It’s our
ignorance that makes us different; we need to know the other side before
passing judgment. We all believe in the same God, though we write it
differently. Even the messages we teach are almost the same. It is like having
the same coat but in different colors. What difference does the color make? The
most important thing is that a coat provides comfort, and keeps us warm in the
winter.
Religion is God’s gift, and it should not pave our way to destruction and
misery, but to happiness and joy. All sacred texts of the Abrahamic faiths call
for peace and brotherhood:
From The Quran
8:61 But if the enemy incline towards peace, do thou (also) incline towards
peace. In Allah: for He is the One that heareth and knoweth (all things).
8:62 Should they intend to deceive thee, verily Allah sufficeth thee: He it is that
hath strengthened thee with his aid and with (company of) The Believers.
8:63 And (moreover) He hath put affection between their hearts: Not if thou
hadst spent all that is in the earth, couldst thou have produced that affection,
but Allah hath done it: for He is mighty, wise.
From The Old Testament
Isaiah 2:4 ... and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears
into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall
they learn war any more.
Psalms 34:14 Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.
From The New Testament
Matthew 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children
of God.
Hebrews 12:14 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man
shall see the Lord.
James 3:18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make
peace.
We need to start listening to the other side. When we learn more about each
other, we’ll discover that we are not that different from each other. We all share
the same values and beliefs.
###
* Rami Assali works for Search for Common Ground in the Middle East. This
article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can
be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.
Source: Common Ground News Service, 13 September 2007,
www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for republication.

**********
Soccer unites children
Deborah Clifford
WADI ARA - On the first day of Camp Coexistence, kids tended to stick with the
friends whom they already knew (Jews with Jews and Arabs with Arabs). But
new friendships were already forming by day two, and the kids began to
interact in mixed groups.
Soccer for Peace (SFP) recently completed its most successful camp to date, the
third annual soccer camp for Arab and Jewish children in Israel: Camp
Coexistence 2007. The camp was a joint undertaking with the Maccabim
Association and the Kibbutz Barka’i Center for Soccer, Peace and Coexistence.
Since 2005, Soccer for Peace has brought Arab and Jewish children together in
Israel through overnight soccer camps. Our innovative program model of
coexistence education offers children the rare opportunity to meet on a regular
basis, on equal footing, to find a common language through activities they all
enjoy. Dialogue, social and educational activities challenge participants to learn
about, understand and respect the differences that exist among the peoples of
Israel. By planting seeds of respect, tolerance and peace within our children,
SFP is able to nurture and sow these seeds throughout a lifetime.
Our model begins with a five-day overnight soccer camp, where 10 and 11-
year-old Arab and Jewish children train together on integrated soccer teams. In
the fall, these teams join a league, and travel through the Wadi Ara region of
Israel. They are one of the only mixed teams. Each summer, participants
return to camp and again participate in the after-school program. Children
may stay in the program for up to seven years, enough time for them to shape
life-long attitudes of mutual acceptance. We plan to expand the program, year
by year, so that SFP participants will be part of each other’s daily lives until the
age of 17.
In addition to soccer, the kids take part in many social and educational
activities, learning about themselves and one another. The educational
activities are run by Kaleidoscope, an Israeli non-profit seeking to foster the
development of social and emotional competencies, reduce aggressive
behaviour and promote acceptance of others. These activities had quite an
impact on the kids. When asked, "What did you learn about yourself?" many
hands shot up in the air. "I learned that I like to learn in this classroom!"
exclaimed one boy. "We are all family," said another excited participant.
Social activities, such as daily swimming, allowed the kids to simply hang out,
and gave their minds a rest from soccer and the Arab Jewish conflict. This is
when friendships truly flourished. We took a day trip to a mosque in Sakhnin,
and a synagogue in Kfar-Piness, which gave participants an opportunity to
learn about each other’s religious and cultural histories. The kids also visited
an authentic Australian zoo, and went rafting in the Jordan River. The lessons
they had learned both on the field and in the classroom provided a platform for
them to enjoy this time as true friends.
When camp ended, the kids were both excited to be going home and sad that it
was over:
"I don’t want camp to end!"
"We really learned a lot about how similar we all are."
"I am glad I got to meet the kids from the other team."
"I got to meet new friends that I normally would never have met."
When asked if they wanted to come back next year, all hands shot up into the
air. Though they were sad to say goodbye, they left camp knowing that they
would again become a team in September when SFP’s after-school program
begins.
There is no limit to SFP’s potential. Though conflict exists in every corner of the
world, so too does soccer; the most watched and played sport on earth. United
in their love of the game, SFP participants form organic relationships, implicit
in which are the trust and respect necessary for constructive dialogue. With
this as our guiding principle, SFP believes that sport can serve as both a
metaphor and vehicle for peace in our time.
###
* Soccer for Peace is a 501©(3) non-profit organization whose mission is to
unite children of war-torn nations in their shared love of soccer. Based in New
York City, Soccer for Peace has no political, religious or racial affiliation. For
more information, please visit www.soccerforpeace.com. This article is
distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be
accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.
Source: Common Ground News Service, 13 September 2007,
www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.

**********

Monday, September 10, 2007

Palestinian Negotiation Support Unit seeking to fill staff positions

PLO Mission
September 10, 2007

Subject: negotiations Support Unite - Recruitment
From: PLO Mission - Washington, DC

We are once again looking to fill a series of vacancies here at the NSU and would greatly appreciate it if you would be so kind as to include the following message in your next distribution to your readers/members:

NEGOTIATIONS SUPPORT UNIT - RECRUITMENT

An international development consultancy wishes to recruit several highly skilled, energetic and dedicated professionals to its donor-funded project, the Negotiations Support Unit, in Ramallah. The NSU's mandate is to provide expert legal, policy and communications advice to the Negotiations Affairs Department and related Palestinian institutions on a range of issues related to permanent status negotiations and the development of a Palestinian state.

The project wishes to recruit:
- A Capacity Building Adviser with extensive related experience. A background in conflict resolution and related training would be an asset.
- Lawyers with a minimum of four years of professional experience and ideally a background in public international law.
- Policy Analysts experienced in researching negotiation issues related to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
- Communications Advisers with experience in public relations or media.
- A Field Officer with a strong understanding of the current situation on the ground in the West Bank including Jerusalem.
- A Translator with complete mastery of English and Arabic. A legal background would be an asset.
- A Website/New Media Developer with extensive experience. Knowledge of Hebrew would be an asset.

A complete list of open positions and brief job descriptions can be found on the NAD website (
http://rs6.net/tn.jsp?t=dymgnecab.0.idsgnecab.5aedgecab.4303&ts=S0274&p=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nad-plo.org%2F).

All candidates must be fluent in English and Arabic (knowledge of other languages is an asset), have excellent academic qualifications, a detailed understanding of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and a proven track record of working in teams, liaising with government organisations and delivering work to tight deadlines.

Contracts are for one year in expectation of renewal being agreed by both parties. All positions are in Ramallah.

If you are interested in applying for one of these positions, please send an updated resume and cover letter setting out clearly how you meet the required qualifications to recruitment@nsu-pal.org indicating in the subject line which position you are applying for. We will then be contacting all of the suitable candidates for interviews. All applications should be received by the 2nd of June, 2007.

_______________________________________________________________________


Contact Information
phone: (202) 974-6360
Fax: (202) 974-6278
Email: plomission1@aol.com
Website: http://rs6.net/tn.jsp?t=dymgnecab.0.7hysjecab.5aedgecab.4303&ts=S0274&p=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.plomission.us%2F

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

New Arab Writers Syndicate launched

Chicago -- Five Arab American journalists and writers have teamed up to launch the first Arab American Writers syndication which will feature daily commentaries and op-eds targeting mainstream American newspapers and publications.

The Arab Writers Group Syndication web site is http://www.arabwritersgroup.com/ and features columns by five distinguished writers including:

Ray Hanania, named Best Ethnic Columnist in America by New America Media in November 2006, and the recipient of three Society of Professional Journalism Lisagor Column writing awards, including two since 2002. Hanania is publisher of the National Arab American Times Newspaper (http://www.aatimesnews.com/) and a co-founder of the National Arab American Journalists Association (http://www.naaja-us.com/). Originally syndicated by Creators Syndicate in 2002, Hanania left in 2005 to self-syndicate to newspapers that include the Jerusalem Post, YnetNews.com, Saudi Arab News, Orlando Sentinal, New York Daily News and Newsday among other national newspapers. Hanania also blogs with the MidEast Youth news blog (http://www.mideastyouth.com/) and the DailyKos.com, and is senior political columnist for the Southwest News-Herald covering Chicago's Southwest Side and suburbs.

Ali Alarabi is a co-founder of NAAJA and a veteran journalist and columnist whose writings appear in newspapers around the country. Alarabi is a specialist in the Arabian language and proper translation as well as a political analyst for major network and cable TV systems. Alarabi si the managing editor of The Arab Desk (http://www.thearabdesk.com/) and a 1999 recipient of a NAAJA Excellence in Journalism Award.

Anisa Mehdi is an Emmy Award-winning journalist specializing in religion, the arts, and people. For over 20 years she has reported, written, directed and produced television news and documentary programs for major American media outlets, including National Geographic, PBS, ABC News, and CBS. Her commentaries have been heard on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” She has written perspective pieces for newspapers, magazines and Internet sites. Anisa Mehdi is founder and president of Whetstone Productions (http://www.anisamehdi.com/), a New Jersey-based production and consulting company. She is adjunct Professor of Communications at Seton Hall University. Medhi is the daughter of the late pioneer Arab American journalist Dr. M. T. Medhi, whose "Action" Newspaper help define professional Arab American journalism in the 1960s and 1970s.

Sherif Hedayat is an Egyptian American stand up comedian. He started his career in 1996 while attaining a B.A. in Mass Communications and Public Speaking from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. His humor covers a wide range of topics including family, education, religion, careers, dating, television, stereotypes, racism and growing up in the Middle East. Through his experiences living in America and the Middle East, he bridges the cultural gap in a way that everyone can understand. After almost four years away from stand up comedy, he returned in late 2006 with a new found energy and motivation. So far in 2007 he has opened for Comedy Central's Axis Of Evil Comedy Tour, the first all Middle Eastern comedy tour to air on national television. In July, he was one of 72 comedians selected to compete in Comedy Central's Open Mic Fight. Sherif currently tours clubs and colleges around the country. His web site is http://www.funnysherif.com/.

Saffiya Shillo is a creative writer, public speaker and Arab American activist who served as president of the Chicago Chapter of the Palestinian American Congress. She worked as an editor at the former Arab American View Newspaper and is a writer for the National Arab American Times Newspaper. A former communications director in Illinois government, Shillo has long advocated for improved communications and understanding as a solution to the Middle East conflict.

The Arab Writers Group will also feature more columnists and writers from allw alks of life. The target audience is mainstream American newspapers where, according to Hanania, "there is an unacceptable lack of balance in the presentation and discussion of Middle East issues. At a time when the Middle East and Arab World are front-and-center in the minds and lives of Americans, you would think that the 4,500 mainstream American newspapers would be interested in publishing more views by Arab Americans. Doing so might help Americans better understand and address the challenges this country faces."

Guest columnists will be featured each week.

For more information, contact Ray Hanania, 312 ... 933 ... 9855 or 708 ... 403 ... 1203. You can email Hanania at rayhanania@comcast.net.

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Common Ground News Service Feature stories

Title: The caliphate: a threat to democracy?
Author: Fachrizal Halim
Source: The Common Ground News Service, 04 September 2007
Word Count: 763

Title: Democracy can make democrats
Author: Sri Murniati
Source: The Common Ground News Service, 04 September 2007
Word Count: 873

Title: No world security without "neighbourliness"
Author: Ghassan Michel Rubeiz
Source: The Common Ground News Service, 04 September 2007
Word Count: 901

Title: Music is a messenger for peace
Author: Cesar Chelala
Source: The Common Ground News Service, 04 September 2007
Word Count: 646

Each article is available in Arabic, French, English and Indonesian

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The caliphate: a threat to democracy?
Fachrizal Halim
Montreal, Quebec - The Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) hosted the International Khilafah Conference last month. Since this event, Indonesian mass media has been discussing the pros and cons of implementing a caliphate system in Indonesia which involves the formal application of shari'a (Islamic law) as the legal code for the ummah (Muslim community), under a head of state, or a caliph, who traditionally had both political and spiritual authority.Those who are for the implementation of such a system, especially the HTI itself, cite that the obligation to enforce a caliphate system is based on the religious order to establish God's law for the believers. This political transcendence seems to have a special appeal, one that drove thousands of Muslims to crowd in Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta in support of HTI's vision. Given the huge number of people attending the event, one begins to wonder if the idea of establishing caliphate system would become a threat to the current democratic political system in Indonesia.However, others view the idea of enforcing a caliphate system more as historical romanticism or idealisation than a mature political proposal. The desire to build a single Muslim polity under a caliph is considered a utopian dream. Moreover, those against the idea emphasised that the political reality of a nation-state, with a modern democratic political system as its foundation is not compatible with the caliphate system as suggested by HTI. The most significant issue about the debate is the implication of HTI's campaign of the establishment of a caliphate system for the future of democratic rule in Indonesia. HTI's concept of a caliphate system is often categorised as a very radical resistance toward the existing global system. Like most Islamic political movements, however, it should be understood as a desperate attempt by Muslims to deal with the turmoil that resulted from the abrupt modernisation that occurred very quickly in most Muslim-majority states. In this case, HTI argues that a caliphate system is only an alternative to the current system. It proposes that equal rights, justice, accountability, and good governance can exist outside of a Western constructed definition of democracy and has the potential to be upheld in other political systems.Following this argument, Islam, with a particular reading of the Qur'an and hadith, has a mechanism that reinforces the social frameworks that are currently adopted by modern communities, such as democratic practice of politics, civil society, multiculturalism, and rational bureaucratic structures. In the Qur'an, the righteous are described as those people who, among other things, manage their affairs through "mutual consultation" or shura. In addition, the constitution of Medina during the time of the Prophet Muhammad established the importance of consent and cooperation for governance. According to this compact, Muslims and non-Muslims were equal citizens of the Islamic state, with identical rights and duties.On the other hand, the extensive interpretation of Islamic norms will immediately show that a caliphate system proposed by HTI is not an absolute Islamic political system. A political system of the past, the caliphate system is no more than one possible political structure. It means this system has the potential to be partly accepted or completely refused by Muslims. As a concept, the caliphate system as proposed by the HTI should be appreciated as an alternative political system and not as a threat toward democracy. One must remember that in the beginning of the 20th century, the world had witnessed the emergence of fascism and communism as neutral alternatives to democracy. Fascism and communism became threats to democracy only after Hitler and Lenin marshalled their troops to conquer Europe. It is when different political systems are portrayed as a polarised dichotomy, with room for either one or the other in our international system, that one system becomes a threat. As long as it is campaigned in a peaceful way and is as compatible or at least complementary to democracy, the same analogy should be applied to the caliphate system proposed by HTI. Ultimately, history will determine which system, or systems, will survive. Our common future is hopefully one in which all religious communities will live side by side in peace. The different political aspirations of religious communities should not be defined as a clash. On the contrary, it should be understood as an opportunity given by God to appreciate differences in the various faiths and to love others. At the end, this will give all sides an opportunity to show a collective commitment to the value of equality and justice. Only in this way, we hope that Indonesia will become a natural home where democracy can prosper. ###* Fachrizal Halim is a PhD candidate in the history of Islamic law at McGill University, Montreal, Canada. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at http://www.commongroundnews.org/.Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 4 September 2007, http://www.commongroundnews.org/Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.

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Democracy can make democrats
Sri Murniati
Athens - The main question that lies in the debate about Islamic parties and democracy in Indonesia is whether Islamic parties, with their seemingly minimal commitment to democracy, can contribute to the ongoing process of democratisation. The written commitment of some Islamic parties to implement shari'a might appear to support the idea that Islamic parties will not be able to contribute to the democratic process. However, to rely only on the ideological convictions of the party to evaluate its ability to contribute to democracy might prove inadequate. Some studies of religious parties, such as the one conducted in 2003 by Stathis N. Kalyvas of the University of Chicago show that religion-inspired political actors are not only bound and restricted by their ideological convictions, but also by the cost-benefit calculation of securing or obtaining power. In order to gain popular support while still maintaining their distinguished character as religious parties, they begin to moderate their political stances. And once a religious party becomes moderate, it has the possibility of contributing to democracy. One example of this is the experience of Christian Democrat parties in Europe. To use their cases for comparison might at first glance seem preposterous. Today's European Christian democratic parties, like the Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands – ChristlichSoziale Union in Germany (which won the chancellor seat in 2005) or the Christen-Democratisch en Vlaams in Belgium (which won the greatest number of votes in 2007) are not so different from their socialist or liberal counterparts. They seem to be an integral part of the liberal democratic system in their respective countries. However, if we trace the roots of these parties, it is clear that they emerged from Catholic movements with the intention to make Catholicism more visible in public life. They are part of the Church's reaction to the wave of liberalism that coloured the process of democratic consolidation in Europe. These parties still explicitly maintain their commitment toward Christian values in their principle documents, and their stances on issues like abortion are still somehow considered to represent Church opinion. Despite this, European Christian democrats are not perceived as a threat to democracy; indeed, they are even considered important contributors to democratisation in their respective countries. The question that needs to be answered, therefore, is how these religious parties can be incorporated into their countries' democratic systems. Kalyvas shows that the answer lies in the willingness and ability of these parties to become more moderate. Such willingness is demonstrated, for example, in their eagerness to build coalitions with secular parties, which requires that they redefine their political identity and moderate their religious agendas. In Indonesia, the participation of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) in elections has raised concerns and apprehension. It is true that the PKS seeks to implement shari'a in Indonesian society. However, during the period of its participation in Indonesian politics, it has shown a willingness to comply with democratic procedures and to moderate its religious aspirations. For example, the PKS, which was the Justice Party (PK) at the time, did not campaign for the reinstatement of the seven words of the Jakarta Charter – "with the obligation to observe shari'a by its followers" – during the process of the 1945 Constitutional amendment in 2000. These words were removed on the second day of Indonesian independence, yet many other Islamic groups in Indonesia continue to struggle for the reinstatement these words. Additionally, the PK also chose Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur), former President of Indonesia, as their presidential candidate in the 1998 election, although they did not share the same point of view on the relationship between the state and Islam. And as Jusuf Wanandi, Senior Fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, points out, the PKS did not immediately implement shari'a upon winning the local election in Depok and Bekasi, two cities in West Java. The delay should be seen as a positive sign that the PKS does not aim to implement an established narrow understanding of shari'a, but sees shari'a as a system that is open for continuous interpretation. However, Kalyvas notes that the religious party's willingness to moderate is not adequate to ensure their incorporation into a democratic system; there must also be an "ability" for them to do so. Interestingly, "the ability to moderate" lies in the willingness of their competitors to allow them to be part of the system. Kalyvas believes that one factor that has led to the failure of the Front Islamique du Salut (FIS) to contribute to democratisation in Algeria has been the absence of cooperative attitudes from its secular counterparts, which control the military. It is very unlikely that Indonesian secular groups will resort to exclusionary means. And, as the example of the FIS shows, the hospitability of secular groups – including their willingness to trust that the process of democratisation – can gradually lead Islamic parties to become increasingly moderate, making the contribution of Islamic parties to democracy possible. As a result, our chief concern should not be to question the democratic commitment of those involved in the political process, but rather to develop and protect democratic institutions and systems that can foster moderation even on the part of "undemocratic" actors. Democracy is not always consolidated by the presence of democrats; however, democracy itself can make democrats.###* Sri Murniati is a student of political science at Ohio University, Athens. She can be reached at chat_unie@yahoo.com. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at http://www.commongroundnews.org/.Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 4 September 2007, http://www.commongroundnews.org/ Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.

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No world security without "neighbourliness"
Ghassan Michel Rubeiz
New York, New York - There are 1.3 billion followers of the Prophet Muhammad; every fifth person prays facing Mecca; every fifth country celebrates Ramadan. In the near future Muslim populations will only continue to increase, as will the importance of Muslim-Western relations and economic exchanges.Rapid population growth among the poorer classes in some Muslim-majority countries and among blue-collar immigrants to the Western world makes it difficult for these Muslims to prosper economically. In the past, it was possible for the rich to overlook poverty. Not anymore. The internet, media and new modes of transportation have converted the world to a "village". As such, there is no more world security without "neighbourliness".Poverty today is even harsher than in the past. It does not only mean a lack of resources; it is also an experience of relative scarcity. Many Muslims live in communities of harsh economic and political survival, often in the shadow of elites that squander wealth. According to the latest report from the Human Development Foundation, the majority of the Islamic world falls in the middle and low ranks of human development: Only five Islamic countries had good scores in a combined index that measures life expectancy, literacy, education and income; 27 Islamic countries had medium scores and 25 had low scores. When deprivation is felt as hunger, sickness and miserable shelter that is one type of experience – a physical one. But when want is felt as a condition of sharp contrast with one's neighbours, in one's home country or across borders, it turns into a malignant political condition. If the poor organise openly they may improve their conditions. But too often the destitute are unable to organise politically in open society in countries where political organisation is often punished severely. Muslims often live in states of autocratic injustice. For example, in the Freedom in the World 2007 report, 11 of the 18 Middle Eastern countries are ranked "Not Free" and 6 are ranked "Partly Free"; it is in these countries that underground politics emerge and thrive. Under autocratic regimes, covert religious politics operate with immunity: the ruler is too insecure to punish the pious, and therefore these groups of society's disenfranchised adopt Islam as a cover for other grievances. Although sometimes these other grievances are legit, fundamentalism also thrives underground. Their funding and human resources are generated in the informal milieu, without any government or social restrictions. Members of these groups often live sequestered. And the rest of society goes about its business, unable or unwilling to counter those underground groups that lean towards extremism and violence, as they struggle with their own very real concerns. The general public is not able to exercise social pressure to reduce the existence and influence of these groups. Therefore, the best way to limit radical underground Islam is by working with Muslim countries to create freedom and the space needed for the evolution of a traditional political system, the lack of which has forced vigilantes and other activists underground, to evolve. Muslims need not be taught democracy; they already have the necessary political values to build a democracy that suits their relative social contexts. Muslim communities, however, would benefit from industrial empowerment, cultural cooperation, and a climate of regional coordination. For example, some countries in the Middle East sell oil and buy consumer products and endless weapons for the defence of immensely insecure regimes. In those countries, this economy currently serves as the background for violence; yet with some adjustments in international investment, it would open the door to political improvements.This region in particular lacks industrial infrastructure to produce its basic commodities. Why doesn't the Middle East organise a common market the European way or strengthen its already existing regional trade blocs such as GAFTA or the GCC? Of course, relevant education and training are prerequisites for such advanced regional planning. Education and training in the region are not geared towards the jobs required to conduct this planning and to produce appropriate infrastructure. It is here where the West can help the Middle East restructure massive human investment. Only an economy that balances investments in agriculture and other basic commodities with investment in industry and services can generate good employment, social security and political stability. Consider what the American University of Beirut (AUB) has done to generate a wealth of good will between the Arabs and the West. I am a graduate of this institution of cultural exchange. It is on this campus where I learned to appreciate my Christianity, love Islam and defend America. AUB has trained several hundred thousand leaders for the Arab and Muslim world since its inception in 1866. The cost of supporting AUB over the past 140 years is equivalent to what the US spends in Iraq in two to three months. Diaspora Muslims are natural agents of intercultural exchange with the West. The open political environment is likely to give the overseas Muslim community opportunities to contribute political innovations to their home countries. Since industrialised nations will continue to need the labour and talent of overseas immigrants, Islamic communities in Europe and the US will expand. The diaspora can accelerate dialogue with host societies if they are properly approached. Immigrants will moderate if embraced with friendly public policies. Islam in the West is an "experiment", and with support from Muslim societies abroad, we can help diffuse the negative energy of radical Islam at home and in the West.###* Dr. Ghassan Rubeiz is a Lebanese-American Middle East analyst. He was previously the Secretary of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches for the Middle East. His blog is aldikkani.blogspot.com.This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at http://www.commongroundnews.org/.Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 4 September 2007, http://www.commongroundnews.org/Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.

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Music is a messenger for peace
Cesar Chelala
New York - Political and religious leaders are finding help for their peacemaking efforts from an unlikely source: contemporary musicians. An inter-religious orchestra of Jewish, Muslim and Catholic musicians was recently formed in Argentina, the first of its kind in the country. It materialised as the result of the joint efforts of a Catholic priest, Fernando Giannetti, Rabbi Sergio Bergman and the president of the Argentine Islamic Center, Sumir Noufouri. Their main idea is to work together while respecting the diversity of their opinions.The conductor of the inter-religious Argentine orchestra is Luis Gorelik, an Argentine musician with a distinguished international career. Through their work, both director and musicians want to show that collaboration can work among people of different religious persuasions. The orchestra is called Armonías (Harmonies), and is made up of 34 musicians from several Argentine provinces. In the future, Gorelik intends to incorporate musicians from other Latin American countries.The Armonías orchestra follows the path of two other musicians working for peace in the Middle East: Daniel Barenboim and Miguel Angel Estrella. Together with the former Palestinian scholar Edward Said, Barenboim created the West-Eastern Divan (named after an anthology of poems by Goethe), an orchestra made up of young Israeli and Palestinian musicians. The orchestra has performed throughout the world and Barenboim has given piano recitals and music classes in Palestine.Miguel Angel Estrella, an Argentine pianist and present Argentine Ambassador to UNESCO, is the founder of Musique Esperance, a group that promotes peace and justice through music. Estrella has formed Orchestra for Peace, made of young Israeli and Arab musicians from Israel, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria and Palestine. He states, "If we are able to create a new humanism, we will be more credible to our children and the youth of today."I asked Estrella, a friend since my youth, what prompted him to create such an orchestra. He told me that it followed a visit to a refugee camp in Gaza where, he said, "I saw the saddest things in my life." He also visited a village where Druze, Muslims and Christians lived together in perfect harmony. He asked a villager how this was possible, and the villager told him, "Of course it is possible; after all, we are all children of Abraham."When he came back to Paris, where he lives, Estrella had already formed the idea to create an orchestra with people from different religious backgrounds. However, when he mentioned his idea to Jewish Rabbis, Catholics or Muslims they all tried to discourage him, telling him that it was an impossible dream. France's president at the time, Francois Mitterrand, went as far as telling Estrella that he thought that his life could be in danger if he pursued this idea."The more they told me that it wasn't possible to do it," Estrella told me, "the more determined I became to do it." Finally, he was able to create the orchestra with the help of people from different backgrounds and beliefs. "Now we play whenever we are able to gather money to pay for the expenses since it costs us a lot to bring together people from different countries," said Estrella, "but I do my best to help them, since they are very eager to play together."Can a musical group be a model for cooperation among people of different religions? I believe it can. While politicians' actions often seem to increase the divide among different religious groups, the work of these musicians is contributing to close that gap. Their work effectively joins peoples' longing for peace with the audiences' love of music.Perhaps through civilian efforts, particularly music, we can reach a level of understanding and cooperation that can eventually lead to a less violent world. By multiplying peace-promoting orchestras, by galvanising into action people's thirst for peace, common citizens can show the merchants of war that music and cooperation can triumph over destruction and death.###* César Chelala, a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award, writes extensively on foreign affairs and human rights issues. He is the foreign correspondent for Middle East Times International (Australia.) This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at http://www.commongroundnews.org/.Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 4 September 2007, http://www.commongroundnews.org/Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.