Opportunities, Ideas & Inspiration

Blue Buttons Promote Dialogue

NCDD member Paul Wahrhaftig sent us a copy of a fascinating article entitled "Artist's blue buttons ask Americans to talk about Iraq," suggesting that we build on the artist's idea. Nancy Hwang, a 31-year-old Manhattan artist, has been distributing plain blue metal buttons. The buttons have no words on them; "they're a symbol of dialogue. They mean 'let's talk - about Iraq.'" The buttons are blank to make a point: that people need to talk to each other about the Iraqi crisis rather than just display their views on a button. The buttons are available for free in some New York galleries, at the Andy Warhol museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (www.warhol.org), whose mission is to be a vital forum of discussion about art and society.

Articles Needed on Dialogue

NCDD member Paul Wahrhaftig () let us know that articles are needed on the role of dialogue in post-war healing for the next issue of Conflict Resolution Notes. The issue will focus on what we can do now to promote or lay the base for post conflict healing and reconciliation. Submissions should be submitted to Paul ASAP. Recommended length is 6 double-spaced pages.

The issue will look not only at healing relations between the USA and the rest of the world, but also the internal divisions in the USA as we fight the current war. Where does dialogue fit in both now and after the conflict? Go to www.ConflictRes.org to get a feel for the style of the publication.

ACR Calls for Dialogue

The Board of Directors for the Association for Conflict Resolution (www.acresolution.org) adopted a statement in February 2003 declaring the importance of non-violent conflict resolution skills and processes - emphasizing the importance of widespread dialogue regarding public policies. "We are not calling for any pre-determined outcome other than decisions informed by dialogue. ACR believes that such profoundly significant and far-reaching decisions as these deserve a more engaged, public and authentic dialogue."

Egyptian Intellectual Encourages Dialogue

In an April 7 New York Times article, Susan Sachs writes of her fascinating interview with Ahmed Kamal Aboulmagd, one of Egypt's best-known intellectuals. Mr. Aboulmagd, who has spent over 20 years working on projects aimed at promoting dialogue between the Western, non-Muslim civilization and the Arab-Muslim world, talked about the Arab world's distress and distrust of American policies and actions. But he also emphasized the importance of dialogue during this difficult time. "I believe dialogue is needed now, so we should not give in to desperation, to loss of hope, to pessimism," he said. "Rather we should act actively and continue the path of dialogue and the path of understanding, simply because we cannot afford the other consequence." Read the entire article below, or search for it at www.nytimes.com.

Egyptian Intellectual Speaks Of the Arab World's Despair

By Susan Sachs, New York Times, April 7

CAIRO, April 6 - Early in the morning, while most of Cairo is asleep, Ahmed Kamal Aboulmagd watches the war on television and despairs over the path taken by the United States. Even in the gloom of 4 a.m., this is not a normal emotion for Mr. Aboulmagd, a sprightly man of 72 who has lived through more than his share of revolutions, wars and international crises, yet has maintained a marvelously sunny outlook.

"We should never lose hope," he remarked the other day from his 18th-floor law office overlooking the Nile, a room crammed with books and brightened with paintings of sailboats on calm waters. "Frustration is not an option." But in truth, Mr. Aboulmagd admitted, he is just whistling in the dark. Never have America's Arab friends, he said, felt so estranged from the United States.

"People in Egypt and many parts of the Arab world used to love America, and now they have a sense of being betrayed, misunderstood, taken lightly," he said. "And when it comes to the central problem of the Middle East - the Arab-Israeli conflict - we feel that even a minimum of American even-handedness is missing."

Mr. Aboulmagd is one of Egypt's best-known intellectuals, a senior aide to former President Anwar el Sadat, consultant to the United Nations and ever-curious polymath whose interests range across the fields of Islamic jurisprudence, comparative religions, literature, history and commercial law.

Like many educated Egyptians of his generation, he is a man whose views on democracy and political values were shaped by reading the United States Constitution, the Federalist papers and the writings of Thomas Jefferson and Woodrow Wilson.

For him the United States was a "dream," a paragon of liberal values to be emulated by Arabs and Muslims seeking to have a voice in the modern world. One of his daughters lived in the United States. Mr. Aboulmagd studied there, earning a master's degree in comparative law at the University of Michigan in 1959. He served as president of the administrative tribunal of the World Bank in Washington. And he has spent more than 20 years of his life working on projects aimed at promoting dialogue between the Western, non-Muslim civilization and the Arab-Muslim world.

Yet these days, in his opinion, something has gone terribly wrong. "Under the present situation, I cannot think of defending the United States," said Mr. Aboulmagd, a small man with thinning white hair who juggles a constant stream of phone calls and invitations to speak about modernizing the Arab world.

"I would not be listened to," he added. "To most people in this area, the United States is the source of evil on planet earth. And whether we like it or not, it is the Bush administration that is to blame."

When speaking of President Bush and his administration, Mr. Aboulmagd uses words like narrow-minded, pathological, obstinate and simplistic. The war on Iraq, he said bluntly, is the act of a "weak person who wants to show toughness" and, quite frankly, seems "deranged."

Such language from a man of Mr. Aboulmagd's stature is a warning sign of the deep distress that has seized the Arab elite, those who preach moderation in the face of rising Islamic radicalism and embrace liberalism over the tired slogans of Arab nationalism.

Similar opinions can also be heard these days from wealthy Arab businessmen, university professors, senior government officials and Western-leaning political analysts - the people whose support could help advance the Bush administration's professed mission: to bring democracy to the Arab world.

Mr. Aboulmagd has a hand in just about every institution or board that counts in Egypt, including al Azhar, the authoritative institution of Sunni Muslim learning. He is consulted on inter-cultural dialogue by the United Nations, the Arab League and the European Union. He has taught law in universities in Egypt, Sudan and Kuwait.

He is the epitome of the Arab establishment. Sprinkled throughout his conversation are anecdotes about President Sadat and recollections of discussions with luminaries like the United Nations general secretary, Kofi Annan. He receives phone calls from Arab presidents and kings. His office is filled with mementos from trips around the world as a lecturer and consultant. An oversize Koran in a green leather case rests on a coffee table along with a rendition of the scales of justice in brass and alabaster.

He has devoted decades of his life and his writings to the cause of modernizing Islamic life and promoting understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims. Now those efforts, Mr. Aboulmagd said, have been set back by President Bush's "exaggerated" response to the terror attacks of Sept. 11, a response he believes only encouraged mutual enmity and suspicion by painting Muslims and Arabs as potential enemies to be reformed or destroyed.

"I find what is happening to be a serious setback in the endeavors of noble people who have realized the commonalities among different civilizations and nations," he said.

The problem, he said, is that the war on Iraq is widely seen in the Arab world as an attack on all Arabs, meant to serve the interests of Israel with no compensating outreach to aggrieved Arabs.

While the 1991 Persian Gulf war, under Mr. Bush's father, was waged with the understanding that the United States would engage itself in the search for peace, he said, this war was launched without a parallel American effort to compel Israel to forge a genuine peace with the Palestinians.

"The United States has played a destructive role by giving direct or indirect green lights to the Israeli government to do what it pleases," Mr. Aboulmagd said. "This is ruining Israel's future in the area. And whatever, even if all the Arabs sign up, this is a truce, this is a ceasefire, this is not peace. It is not peace. If you want peace you must have genuine desire for peace."

If the Iraq war comes to be seen as an American war against Islam, he added, President Bush may be partly to blame. "He believes he was chosen by the Almighty to fulfill a Christian mission," Mr. Aboulmagd said. "Or at least he was made to believe that by the people around him."

Still, at the end of three hours of discussion, he returned to an optimistic viewpoint - a position that clearly fits his nature.

"Many people are talking about planet earth being no more a safe place for anyone, but I am optimistic," he said. "I believe dialogue is needed now, so we should not give in to desperation, to loss of hope, to pessimism. Rather we should act actively and continue the path of dialogue and the path of understanding, simply because we cannot afford the other consequence."


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