COLORADO SPRINGS — Biology textbooks used in American high schools do not go near the sensitive question of whether genetics can explain why African-Americans are overrepresented as football players and why a disproportionate number of American scientists are white or Asian.
But in a study starting this month, a group of biology teachers from across the country will address it head-on. They are testing the idea that the science classroom may be the best place to provide a buffer against the unfounded genetic rationales for human difference that often become the basis for racial intolerance.
At a recent training in Colorado, the dozen teachers who had volunteered to participate in the experiment acknowledged the challenges of inserting the combustible topic of race and ancestry into straightforward lessons on the 19th-century pea-breeding experiments of Gregor Mendel and the basic function of the strands of DNA coiled in every cell.
The new approach represents a major deviation from the usual school genetics fare, which devotes little time to the extent of genetic differences across human populations, or how traits in every species are shaped by a complex mix of genes and environment.
It also challenges a prevailing belief among science educators that questions about race are best left to their counterparts in social studies.
The history of today’s racial categories arose long before the field of genetics and have been used to justify all manner of discriminatory policies. Race, a social concept bound up in culture and family, is not a topic of study in modern human population genetics, which typically uses concepts like “ancestry” or “population” to describe geographic genetic groupings.
But that has not stopped many Americans from believing that genes cause racial groups to have distinct skills, traits and abilities. And among some biology teachers, there has been a growing sense that avoiding any direct mention of race in their genetics curriculum may be backfiring.
Pluralism in action: Global Pluralism Award winners tell their story
The Global Centre for Pluralism (GCP) hosted the second biennial Global Pluralism Award ceremony in November 2019. At the ceremony, presided over by Mawlana Hazar Imam and attended by many members of the GCP’s Board, including Princess Zahra, the Centre recognised three winners who will each receive a $50,000 grant to help them continue their work.
“A more inclusive, understanding approach to diversity is needed more than ever today,” Hazar Imam said during his address. “The Award offers examples to inspire how we take on that challenge.”
Over its two-year selection process, a seven-member international jury, chaired by former Canadian Prime Minister the Right Honourable Joe Clark, selected a group of 10 finalists for the award.
As Modi Pushes Hindu Agenda, a Secular India Fights Back
Protesters are speaking out against what they say is a government bent on attacking diversity, the foundation on which India was built.
NEW DELHI — Wearing Muslim skullcaps, colorful turbans of Indian Sikhs or hip beanies of secular university students, thousands protested at the largest mosque in India’s capital on Friday, a turbulent scene that played out in multiple cities across the country. They defied government curfews, internet shutdowns and the divisive politics that have kept them apart for years.
The unrest, now in its second week and increasingly violent, started over a contentious citizenship law that favors every other South Asian faith over Islam. It has since evolved into a broader fight over what demonstrators say is an increasingly authoritarian government bent on dismantling India’s foundation: a secular nation that draws strength from its diversity.
Interview with Meredith Preston McGhie, Secretary General of the Global Centre for Pluralism
The Global Centre for Pluralism was created to advance positive responses to the challenge of living peacefully and productively together in diverse societies.
Meredith Preston McGhie was appointed as the Global Centre for Pluralism’s Secretary General in October 2019, and presided over the recent Global Pluralism Awards, alongside Mawlana Hazar Imam. Here she explains the meaning of pluralism, and how the Centre is addressing today’s urgent global challenges.
What exactly is pluralism?
Defined simply, pluralism is an ethic of respect for diversity. Whereas diversity in society is a fact, how societies respond to diversity is a choice. Pluralism results from the daily decisions taken by state institutions, civil society associations and individuals to recognise and value human differences.
Pluralist societies are not accidents of history. They require continuous investment across many different sectors — economic, political and social. Although every society must define its own path, comparative experiences can be studied to better understand different possible outcomes.
Meredith Preston McGhie, Secretary General of the Global Centre for Pluralism, alongside Mawlana Hazar Imam at the Global Pluralism Awards in Ottawa in 2019.
Meredith Preston McGhie, Secretary General of the Global Centre for Pluralism, alongside Mawlana Hazar Imam at the Global Pluralism Awards in Ottawa in 2019.
PHOTO: MO GOVINDJI
Can you tell us a bit about the Global Centre for Pluralism?
The Centre’s vision is a world where human differences are valued and diverse societies thrive. Founded in Ottawa by His Highness the Aga Khan in partnership with the Government of Canada, the Global Centre for Pluralism is an independent, charitable organisation. Inspired by Canada’s experience as a diverse and inclusive country, the Centre was created to advance positive responses to the challenge of living peacefully and productively together in diverse societies.
Although still a work in progress, respect for diversity is a defining characteristic of Canada and a core element of the country’s identity. In his 2010 LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture, His Highness said, “My interest in launching the Global Centre for Pluralism reflected my sense that there was yet no institution dedicated to the question of diversity in our world, and that Canada’s national experience made it a natural home for this venture.”
How is the Global Centre for Pluralism responding to some of the pressing challenges that the world faces today?
There are some big issues that I feel are important for us to keep in view and that define the space which the Centre can, and must, occupy.
The notion of pluralism is under greater threat than it has been in recent history. As such, a more proactive approach to our communications and engagement in the public sphere, in Canada and abroad, is planned for 2020. We must increase our visibility in the public space, making the case for pluralism and demonstrating its practical benefit for all citizens.
Countries recovering from conflict face some of the hardest roads in managing diversity and reconciling their painful histories. With the Centre’s Global Pluralism Index and Education programs in 2020, we are developing unique tools that can help with prevention and recovery from conflict at a more profound social level.
How can we encourage each other to embrace difference and be more empathetic to others in our daily lives?
Pluralism is most keenly felt in the various spaces where people connect – and come into conflict – on a daily basis. We must support those who are advancing pluralism ‘on the ground.’ Targeted engagement with the recipients of the Global Pluralism Award is pivotal in this regard. This engagement may be in physical spaces – cities, schools and universities, in refugee camps, or through peace processes – but also in the virtual, online world we all increasingly inhabit.
When we speak of pluralism being under attack, I would argue that the basic tenets of dialogue and discourse are equally threatened. As an organisation that convenes dialogue, we must consciously offer space for differing views to be respectfully heard.
What are your aspirations for the Global Centre for Pluralism in the coming months?
The opportunity to lead an organisation whose raison d’être is the most fundamental social issue of our time is very exciting. It is also an enormous responsibility.
I join the Global Centre for Pluralism inheriting an organisation with a very strong foundation laid by my predecessor, John McNee, and his team. With high quality, rigorous analysis, and a deep understanding of pluralism, the Centre is well-placed to move ahead with its mandate.
The Centre has a great deal to do and room to grow. In 2020, securing funding and partners to support the growth and impact of core programs will be vital.
His Highness the Aga Khan said at the Annual Pluralism Lecture in Lisbon this year that, “As a beacon of research, education and dialogue, the Centre is drawing lessons from the political, social and cultural dynamics in diverse and divided societies around the world…By learning from others’ successes, we may help our own societies to ‘inoculate’ themselves against the temptation to set various people against one another – including the temptation to exclude marginalised populations.”
The Centre heads into 2020 with this critical mandate in mind.
The idea of ‘cultural differences’ has been used as a justification for some of humanity’s worst crimes.
The casino clerk had cloaked his ethnic prejudice as a question of culture: Immigrants (whom we Germans are “saving”) should be learning European civilization. This made me reflect on where else “cultural difference” has been a euphemism under which bias, slavery and genocide have all had their ways. Hitler’s Germany? Apartheid? Bosnia? The American South? Too often! But indeed these are cultural matters. Is Nazi thinking merely a tumor that can be cut from the body politic and discarded? I doubt it. For good or ill, cultures last for years.
In today’s world, authoritarian politics and predatory commerce cooperate to exploit “cultural differences.” Nowhere is this point clearer than in the symbiosis in recent decades between Western corporations and the Communist elite in China. The West offers capital and much-needed technology, while China’s rulers supply a vast, captive, hard-working, low-paid and unprotected labor force. Western politicians, as if trying to justify the unholy collusion, for years argued that rising living standards in China would produce a middle class who would demand freedom and democracy. It is clear by now that that has not happened. The Chinese elite, now far wealthier than before and as in control as ever, can laugh up its sleeve at the Westerners and their visions of inevitable democracy. Instead the West’s own hard-won democracy has become vulnerable.
But does the West know it? Look at Hong Kong. Courageous protesters have persisted for more than six months in confronting the world’s mightiest dictatorship, a regime with a record of ironclad rejection of both reason and compromise when it deals with protesters or rivals. Hong Kong’s young democrats have looked for support from the world’s democracies. They stand at today’s edge of what may well be the greatest confrontation of the 21st century. Can the Western world see that helping them is not charity but self-defense?
When protesters in Hong Kong look to the vast northwest area in China called Xinjiang, they can see what happens when Beijing-engineered change reaches full throttle. In recent years (at first barely noted in the West), an annihilation of the language, religion and culture of Muslim Uighurs has proceeded systematically. About a million people have been sent to “re-education camps,” where they have been forced to denounce their religion and to swear fealty to the Communist Party of China.
Indian General Talks of ‘Deradicalization Camps’ for Kashmiris
It’s unclear what Gen. Bipin Rawat, chief of India’s defense staff, meant. But rights activists fear that something like what China has introduced for Uighurs could be coming.
NEW DELHI — India’s top military commander has created shock waves by suggesting that Kashmiris could be shipped off to “deradicalization camps,” which rights activists consider an alarming echo of what China has done to many of its Muslim citizens.
It was far from clear what the military commander, Gen. Bipin Rawat, chief of India’s defense staff, meant when he made the public comments on Thursday or whether a plan was afoot to set up large-scale re-education camps in the part of the disputed Kashmir region that India controls.
But rights activists and Kashmiri intellectuals were deeply unsettled, saying that the general’s words revealed how the highest levels of the Indian military viewed Kashmiri people and that his comments could presage another disturbing turn of events.
“It’s shocking he would even suggest this,’’ said Siddiq Wahid, a Kashmiri historian who earned his Ph.D. from Harvard. “It reminds me of the Uighur camps in China. I don’t think the general realizes the insanity of what he is talking about.”
The opportunity to lead an organization whose raison d’être is the most fundamental social issue of our time is very exciting. It is also an enormous responsibility.
I joined the Global Centre for Pluralism at the beginning of October, taking on an organization with a very strong foundation laid by my predecessor, John McNee, and his team. With high quality, rigorous analysis, and a deep understanding of pluralism, the Centre is well-placed to move ahead with its mandate.
I would like to reflect briefly on some of the big issues that I feel are important for us to keep in view and that define the space which the Centre can, and must, occupy.
The notion of pluralism is under greater threat than it has been in recent history. As such, a more proactive approach to our communications and engagement in the public sphere, in Canada and abroad, is planned for 2020. We must increase our visibility in the public space, making the case for pluralism and demonstrating its practical benefit to all citizens.
Countries recovering from conflict face some of the hardest roads in managing diversity and reconciling their painful histories. With the Centre’s Global Pluralism Index and Education programs in 2020, we are developing unique tools that can help with prevention and recovery from conflict at a more profound social level.
Pluralism is most keenly felt in the various spaces where people connect – and come into conflict – on a daily basis. We must support those who are advancing pluralism ‘on the ground’. Targeted engagement with the recipients of the Global Pluralism Award is pivotal in this regard. This engagement may be in physical spaces – cities, schools and universities, in refugee camps, or through peace processes – but also in the virtual, online world we all increasingly inhabit.
When we speak of pluralism being under attack, I would argue that the basic tenets of dialogue and discourse are equally threatened. As an organization that convenes dialogue, we must consciously offer space for differing views to be respectfully heard.
The Centre has a great deal to do and room to grow. In 2020, securing funding and partners to support the growth and impact of core programs will be vital.
His Highness the Aga Khan said at the Annual Pluralism Lecture in Lisbon that,
As a beacon of research, education and dialogue, the Centre is drawing lessons from the political, social and cultural dynamics in diverse and divided societies around the world…By learning from others’ successes, we may help our own societies to ‘inoculate’ themselves against the temptation to set various people against one another – including the temptation to exclude marginalized populations.”"
The Centre heads into 2020 with this critical mandate in mind.
An excerpt from an interview with Aga Khan Museum Director and CEO Henry Kim in Toronto.
Henry Kim was educated at Harvard and Oxford Universities. Henry is an ancient historian and classical archaeologist by training. Henry joined the Aga Khan Museum in 2012 from the University of Oxford where he taught, curated collections, managed capital projects at the Ashmolean Museum, and led the development of the University Engagement Programme.
In conversation with Meredith Preston McGhie, Secretary General for the Global Centre for Pluralism, Henry reflects on how arts and culture institutions like museums should respond to systemic racism.
China cracks down on ethnic minorities again – this time, in Mongolia and Tibet
Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based journalist.
Even with the world focused on the plight of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, Beijing has continued its efforts to quietly tighten its control over ethnic minorities in two other strategic areas.
At a two-day symposium, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for efforts to build a “modern socialist Tibet” where Buddhism would be “guided in adapting to the socialist context and developed in the Chinese context.”
In Inner Mongolia, meanwhile, Beijing launched a phased program on Sept. 1 to replace Mongolian as the language of instruction in schools with Chinese, triggering protests and class boycotts, including at least one reported suicide.
This is a radical shift from Beijing’s decades-old official policy – and it’s a reminder of what can be lost in Chinese nationalism.
Fifty-five ethnic minorities in China make up less than 10 per cent of China’s total population of 1.4 billion, but these ethnicities account for more than 100 million people who are spread over 60 per cent of the country’s territory, including sensitive border areas. The other 90-plus per cent of China’s population belong to the Han ethnicity. To the world at large, to be Chinese is to be Han.
Thanks to historical ties forged while fighting their ultimately successful civil war against the Nationalist government, the Communist Party of China has largely worked to preserve and develop minority languages and cultures. The Mongols, in particular, were helpful to Mao Zedong’s efforts, and as a reward, an Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region was set up by the Communists in northern China in 1947, two years before the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Other “autonomous” regions, prefectures and counties for minority peoples were established in later years. In doing so, the state offered such regions privileged treatment, including not being bound by the one-child policy, so their numbers could increase.
But in recent years, the policy has been reversed.
Despite their proud history – ruling China in the 13th and 14th centuries as part of the Mongol empire, which at one time stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the Caspian Sea – their homeland is now divided between the independent country of Mongolia and Inner Mongolia, a Chinese province.
Tibet, which had been independent before Communist troops took over in 1950, is a special problem. Buddhism exercises a strong hold over its people, even 70 years later. Indeed, after Mr. Xi called for Buddhism to be “guided” by socialism, the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharamsala, India, responded: “For Tibetans, Buddhism is more important than communism. To force them to treat communism as more important than their faith is not only a violation of international religious freedom but is also deeply misguided.”
And so Beijing has begun forcing ethnic minorities to adopt the Chinese language, history and culture as their own, not to mention traditional Han religious beliefs.
Up until the 1980s, five minority languages were used for teaching in “autonomous” areas: Mongolian, Uyghur, Tibetan, Kazakh and Korean. But after China adopted the market economy in the 1980s, employers began preferring native Chinese speakers, prompting many minority parents to enroll their children in mainstream Chinese schools, rather than ethnic schools, so as to widen their career prospects. Now, ethnic schools are being systematically closed. In Xinjiang, this happened in 2017; in Tibet, they were shuttered in 2018. It appears to be the Mongols’ turn, next.
The Chinese language is now described as the national language, not just the language of the majority Han Chinese population. “The national common spoken and written language is a symbol of national sovereignty,” Hua Chunying, a foreign ministry spokesman, said when asked about the situation in Inner Mongolia. “It is every citizen’s right and duty to learn and use the national common spoken and written language.”
It doesn’t just end with the adoption of the Chinese language, history and culture as their own by the ethnic minorities, either; they must now also give up their traditional religious beliefs. That’s why Mr. Xi called for ethnic Tibetans to “recognize,” or identify with, Chinese culture, the Communist Party and the policy known as “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
A common language and identity – namely, Chineseness for all – is now the most important thing for Beijing. Non-ethnic Chinese must, in effect, become Chinese, through a Sinicizing process of reducing and, if possible, eliminating differences between minorities and the Han norms.
The goal is that, ultimately, everyone in China – the 100 million Mongols, Tibetans, Uyghurs and more – will act and think like Han Chinese. In that world, Chineseness will become their only identity.
‘Kill All You See’: In a First, Myanmar Soldiers Tell of Rohingya Slaughter
Video testimony from two soldiers supports widespread accusations that Myanmar’s military tried to eradicate the ethnic minority in a genocidal campaign.
The two soldiers confess their crimes in a monotone, a few blinks of the eye their only betrayal of emotion: executions, mass burials, village obliterations and rape.
The August 2017 order from his commanding officer was clear, Pvt. Myo Win Tun said in video testimony. “Shoot all you see and all you hear.”
He said he obeyed, taking part in the massacre of 30 Rohingya Muslims and burying them in a mass grave near a cell tower and a military base
Around the same time, in a neighboring township, Pvt. Zaw Naing Tun said he and his comrades in another battalion followed a nearly identical directive from his superior: “Kill all you see, whether children or adults.”
“We wiped out about 20 villages,” Private Zaw Naing Tun said, adding that he, too, dumped bodies in a mass grave.
The two soldiers’ video testimony, recorded by a rebel militia, is the first time that members of the Tatmadaw, as Myanmar’s military is known, have openly confessed to taking part in what United Nations officials say was a genocidal campaign against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority.
On Monday, the two men, who fled Myanmar last month, were transported to The Hague, where the International Criminal Court has opened a case examining whether Tatmadaw leaders committed large-scale crimes against the Rohingya.
It failed to coax cultural assimilation with economic incentives. Now it’s going for coerced labor and micromanaging people’s very lifestyles.
Before Xinjiang, there was Tibet. Repressive policies tested there between 2012 and 2016 were then applied to the Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in northwestern China: entire cities covered in surveillance cameras, ubiquitous neighborhood police stations, residents made to report on another other.
Now that process also works the other way around. Xinjiang’s coercive labor program — which includes mandatory training for farmers and herders in centralized vocational facilities and their reassignment to state-assigned jobs, some far away — is being applied to Tibet. (Not the internment camps, though.)
Call this a feedback loop of forcible assimilation. It certainly is evidence of the scale of Beijing’s ruthless campaign to suppress cultural and ethnic differences — and not just in Tibet and Xinjiang.
I analyzed more than 100 policy papers and documents from the Tibetan authorities and state-media reports for a study published with the Jamestown Foundation this week. Photos show Tibetans training, wearing fatigues. Official documents outline how Beijing is rolling out for them a militarized labor program much like the one in place in Xinjiang: Tibetan nomads and farmers are being rounded up for military-style classes and taught work discipline, “gratitude” for the Chinese Communist Party and Chinese-language skills.
More than half a million workers have been trained under this policy during the first seven months of the year, according to official documents.
Reuters has confirmed these findings, uncovering more relevant documents. (The Chinese government has denied the charges, including that it is enlisting forced labor in Tibet.)
Tibet has long posed a particular challenge for the Chinese authorities. The region is very far from Beijing and strategically important because of its long border with India. Its people’s culture is distinct, and the devotion of many Tibetans to the Dalai Lama, who simultaneously embodies religious and political power — with a government in exile in India — is a double threat in the eyes of the Chinese Communist Party.
The people of what the Chinese government refers to as the Tibet Autonomous Region — about 3.5 million, mostly nomads and farmers scattered throughout the vast Himalayan plateau — have resisted its encroachment for decades. Notably, riots broke out in the capital, Lhasa, in 2008, just weeks before the Olympic Games in Beijing, following years of tightening restrictions on cultural and religious freedoms.
We face a choice between a true renewal and a warped fantasy of the past.
Less than 20 days. It has been a long, hard road to this election. I see fearful faces, those of tormented migrants at the Mexican border, and hate-filled faces, those of the white nationalists in Charlottesville chanting, “Jews will not replace us.”
Donald Trump has been all about the fear of replacement, or as it’s sometimes called, “the great replacement.” His has been the stand — I am tempted to say the last stand — of whites against nonwhites.
Of America-first nationalists against migrants; of straight people against L.G.B.T.Q. people; of the gunned-up against the unarmed. Of Trump against all those he believes would replace the likes of him.
All means have been used — lies, brutality, incitement. But fear has been Trump’s main weapon. Fear, which depends on pitting one group against another, is the currency of the Trump presidency. It is therefore no surprise that the America that is about to vote is probably more fractured than at any time since the Vietnam War.
“The great replacement” is a phrase generally attributed to a French writer, Renaud Camus, who said: “The great replacement is very simple. You have one people, and in the space of a generation, you have a different people.”
That, of course, is a good definition of America.
Of its vitality, its churn, its reinvention, its essential openness. The America that Trump would deny. He wants to freeze a white America. Some strange blend of Norman Rockwell and “Mad Men,” in an imaginary United States strutting across a world pliant to its will. Behind “America first” lurks a very un-American credo.
Change can be frightening, which is what the great replacement conspiracy theory hinges on. Camus warns grotesquely of a “genocide by substitution,” the replacement of a white French and European order by Muslim hordes in a plot orchestrated by cosmopolitan elites. In Trump’s case, read a white American order replaced by brown Mexican rapists and Black pillagers.
France is worried about Muslims from North Africa. Germans were once so worried about Jews replacing them that they killed six million of them. In a world of mass migration, fear rages: Some idea of the nation will be diluted or lost!
America is particularly susceptible to fear today because the world has changed in unsettling ways. Power has migrated eastward to Asia. America’s recent wars have been unwon. By midcentury, non-Hispanic whites will constitute less than 50 percent of the population.
Crossing the Partisan Divide: How to Transform Polarized Conversations into Evolutionary Opportunities
When engaging with friends and relatives with strongly conservative views about politics, spirituality, and religion, I find it quite difficult to maintain the conversation because there seems to be no common ground upon which to build consensus. I find it hard to maintain an open mind with any kind of integrity because their beliefs often seem so far from reality. A part of me thinks it’s better to keep things more superficial, but that seems like a cop-out. What would your advice be on how to engage the very conservative people I encounter from the perspective of the evolutionary impulse?
This is a great question, and one that I think a lot of us can relate to right now. I know I can.
There are several really interesting dimensions to the question that are connected to letting go of the position of “already knowing,” which is one of the most important orientations of cultivating a more enlightened relationship to life and to the mind.
First off, it sounds like the approach you’re taking is probably a good way to go. When you encounter fundamentalist thinking, it’s generally a good idea to listen and then gently challenge ideas that don’t seem in alignment with reality. But that’s about as far as you can take it if the other person is unwilling to budge at all from their view point. You can’t really have a conversation without some common ground upon which to build a shared understanding.
But I want to push this a little deeper, and explore the nature of fundamentalist thinking. It sounds as though you are a progressive, liberal person and those you’re having trouble speaking with are more conservative. Those of us on the liberal side of the spectrum tend to view fundamentalism as a uniquely conservative issue. And there’s some validity to that. When we think of the most extreme and dangerous forms of fundamentalism in our world, we tend to think of those with deeply held traditional conservative religious views.
But fundamentalist thinking isn’t unique to conservatives. It’s a rigid orientation that anyone can take to their perspectives and opinions and beliefs, regardless of their political orientation. It’s just more obvious in those we don’t agree with. There are plenty of examples of people who adhere to their “progressive” or “liberal” worldview in a way that’s also rigid and fundamentalist.
What makes these kinds of partisan political conversations so difficult isn’t that we’re encountering a different set of beliefs. These conversations become difficult when one or both parties have a rigid, unquestioned adherence to their beliefs. It’s an unwillingness to question one’s fundamental assumptions. It’s a dogmatic acceptance of everything that comes along with your worldview, regardless of any information that might poke holes in it or suggest valid criticisms or gaps. It’s a position of “this is the truth, it’s the only truth; everybody else is wrong.”
Again, none of us are exempt from that orientation. We can all be fundamentalist in our own worldview, no matter how progressive it is. Just take a look at your own political beliefs and you’ll find at least some pockets of fundamentalism. I’m sure there are issues where you simply “take the party line.” We can’t all be perfectly informed on every issue, so sometimes it’s just easier to take the general view that your political party does.
So this, I think, is the first step in being able to navigate these kinds of conversations. You need to understand the nature of fundamentalist thinking, and realize that when you feel like you can’t get anywhere with people, it’s not necessarily because they hold a different point of view. It’s more the result of how strongly they’re holding their view.
And in making this distinction, you want to be aware of any fundamentalist shades in your own view. Are there any ways in which you are unwilling to question your own conclusions? Are you open and willing to take on their opposing viewpoint in order to find some common ground?
You want to come into any situation like this focused primarily on wanting to know the truth. You don’t want to rigidly hold onto your ideas because any rigidity in your belief structure will get in the way of you knowing the truth. You can have your opinions and stand for what you’ve discovered in your life, but we need to always be interested in learning more.
But what happens if we take this open position and are still met with rigid fundamentalism? What if, in spite of our genuine willingness to entertain the views of others, they’re still unable to do the same for us?
At this point, there’s not much more you can do honestly. When you’ve done your best to make it clear that you’re willing to listen to them and they still just keep spouting the same talking points, you’re not really going to get anywhere with them. There’s just no shared basis for a deepened inquiry. They don’t really want to engage with you. They only want to convince you of their point of view.
So, at that point, you might consider changing the subject to something less polarizing. That’s probably what I would do if I wanted to continue to have a positive, friendly relationship with this person..
But, there are a couple of other things you can try. First off, you can play the long game. Let’s say, for example, that you have this fundamentalist relative and you talk every so often at family gatherings or holidays, and your conversations generally follow a similar, frustrating pattern. You can think of each of these little encounters as like chipping away at a rock wall. Each time you talk, you test the waters just to see if they’ve opened up at all. You can see if they’ve moved at all from their rigid position. They’re human after all, and all of us are in a kind of developmental process, however slowly we might be moving at any particular time.
So you can just poke them gently each time you see them and just see if there’s any new flexibility. If you hit that same rigid wall, no problem. Just move on. There’s no point in wasting your precious life energy. You can check in with them again in a year or two and see if anything’s moved.
There’s a second approach you can use to find a way to connect with people who hold this fundamental kind of worldview. And this is a good option for the people in your life that you want to make sure you maintain strong relationships with, even if you can’t see eye-to-eye politically. You can find some area of life where you do share common ground and focus on that. Then you can use this shared interest to open up trust between you.
We’re all human after all, and it’s usually possible to find some dimension of our life experience where we are aligned. If it’s someone from your family, maybe you can talk about your shared family history. You can talk about your genealogy or ancestry and how important that is to both of you.
Try to find something that is important to both of you. Keep it simple and friendly and see how that grows. You might find that your connection with that person begins to grow. You both start to see each other not as members of opposing political or cultural factions, and more as fellow human beings. There’s a kind of simple humanity beneath all the rigid ideas that you can connect on.
Believe it or not, you might even find that sometimes you can establish a spiritual connection with them. Perhaps they hold very strong spiritual values, even if they’re resting on a very rigid traditional belief structure, and you can find common ground with them on that front. There’s a way to talk about your spiritual convictions without getting into the belief structure itself. For example, you might both value things like having a moral compass or the importance of self-sacrifice for a greater good. If you’re able to be patient and curious, you can find your way down into the healthy values that they hold behind the rigid worldview.
If you can do this, they might begin to trust you more. Maybe they’ll stop thinking of you as a left-wing nutjob and see that you’re actually a very ethical and sincere person. And you might discover the same about them. As this trust grows, their defensiveness about political views might start to soften a little bit. You will be an example to them of a good person who holds views that they usually demonize; and vice versa. They’ll see that you’re a moral person who really cares about truth and doing the right thing. And even though they don’t agree with your politics, at least they’ll start to respect you and your intentions.
A friend of mine, Michael Dowd, has a very powerful story about how this happened to him. Michael is a fundamentalist preacher turned “evolutionary evangelist” who wrote a great book called Thank God for Evolution. Early in his life, he was a hardcore Christian fundamentalist who saw the world in very black-and-white, heaven-and-hell terms. But at some point along the way he was introduced to a Buddhist person who was so impressive that it began to crack open his rigid worldview. This person was such a great example of all the positive qualities that he strived to embody in his own life that he began to see them as a more authentic expression of Christ’s teachings than any of the Christian fundamentalist role models in his life. This caused him to question his own assumptions about his way being the only way that had been such a big part of his fundamentalist upbringing.
This is something all of us can be for the people in our lives. If we’re shining examples of the good and the true and the beautiful, then we might show others who share some of those essential values but don’t agree politically that there might be more to the picture. Through our example, we can help to undermine assumptions and loosen up rigid worldviews.
Of course, this won’t happen at every contentious Thanksgiving dinner with every fundamentalist cousin, but it’s a much more wholesome approach than just getting into a political argument.
The World Lost Emile Bruneau When We Needed Him Most
His research spread light and empathy around the globe.
I had a hard time believing Emile Bruneau was for real.
In 2014, I followed him from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he worked as a cognitive neuroscientist, to Hungary, where he was studying the biological underpinnings of racial prejudice. He wanted to pinpoint the causes of bias against Roma people and create programs that would help eradicate it.
I wanted to write about those efforts, but I was skeptical — and so were the activists, government officials and fellow researchers we met on our trip. The Hungarian Roma were facing a grim roster of privations just then: not only entrenched racial animus, but rampant unemployment, de facto segregation and a nationalist government that was increasingly hostile to their needs. The Roma settlements we had visited had neither plumbing nor electricity. How could psychology and neuroscience possibly fix all of that?
Emile was undeterred by such questions. He talked openly about “bottling up” the altruism and good will he found among the peace activists he worked with and giving it like medicine to recalcitrant extremists everywhere. He was actively looking for ways to do that, he said, and he was prepared for the challenges, and snickers, he would face.
“Of course it’s going to be messy and difficult,” he would tell us. “But isn’t humanity worth that kind of effort?”
Emile died this fall, at the age of 47, from an aggressive form of brain cancer. He left behind a wife, two young children and a body of work as expansive and hopeful as it is unfinished. The loss of such a beautiful mind to a disease of the brain feels especially awful — especially now. But Emile was well acquainted with awfulness, and even in death, he did not grant it much currency.
He was fated to become a neuroscientist, he said. His mother suffered from debilitating schizophrenia, and he spent his childhood trying to understand how her brain worked, and how she lived inside her own fractured mind.
He studied biology and psychology at Stanford, then volunteered in several conflict zones, including South Africa at the end of apartheid and Ireland during the Troubles. He drew two conclusions from this work.
First, the human brain’s failings were on full and similar display in each place he visited. “The culture and politics were different in each place,” he told me. “But the common denominator was always the same.” Human-on-human violence was attended everywhere by hatred and its sibling, dehumanization.
Second, there was a huge disconnect between the people who studied the biology of human conflict and the people who tried to resolve it on the ground.
Those realizations led him first to the University of Michigan, where he obtained a Ph.D. in molecular neuroscience, and then to M.I.T., where he talked his way into a cognitive neuroscience lab on the quality of his idea — he wanted to connect the neuroscience being done in laboratories to conflict resolution programs around the world — and the sheer force of his enthusiasm.
His philosophy was deceptively simple. He believed that science should help people improve the world around them and that scientists should embrace the challenges that come with leaving the lab for what he called the “messy” real world. “Our goal should be more than doing good research,” he told a group of colleagues shortly before his death. “We have the ability to walk through darkness and spread light.”
He envisioned an entire discipline of evidence-based conflict resolution, with policymakers using a battery of simple tests to determine the key psychological factors driving any given conflict and then choosing from a menu of programs intended to mitigate those factors.
And he didn’t just talk about that system; he spent more than a decade trying to build it. He traveled to conflict zones around the world, mapping the neurological correlates of human discord — the hatred too many of us feel toward specific groups, how we dehumanize our enemies — and searching for ways to dampen those signals.
He had Palestinians and Israelis watch videos of one another talking about their hardships. He designed elaborate experiments involving actors to measure racial prejudice among Hungarian schoolteachers. He scanned the brains of Democrats and Republicans for clues about how conflict mutes empathy.
Emile learned a great deal from this work: Groups often overestimate the extent to which other groups hate them. Even people who commit horrible violence can be deeply empathetic. And most minds really can be changed, intentionally, for the better.
He never quite figured out how to bottle up the best in us and use it to treat or cure the worst in us. But he also never stop believing that such deliverance was possible.
Emile was just back from Colombia, where he was trying to build good will between former guerrillas and average citizens, when the headaches started and his vision began to fail.
When tests quickly revealed a deadly tumor, he set about preparing his loved ones for a future without him. He continued to exude light. At one point, he expressed admiration for his tumor, describing it as just one more part of the natural world that he had fallen in love with as a scientist.
When friends urged him to adopt a more combative posture against this deadly foe, he admonished them. “I want my battle to be measured not by a favorable position on a survival curve, but by how much light I give,” he said. Even at the very end, his goal was not merely to live — it was to leave the world better than he found it.
I still find it hard to fathom that anyone could be so earnest. But I remember the moment I knew that Emile was sincere. We were hiking up a hill over the Danube — night had fallen, and Budapest was lit below us — and we were commiserating over the shared experience of growing up with a mentally ill parent. (My father suffers from bipolar disorder.)
“What a gift we’ve been given,” he said. “How lucky we are to see such different minds, and to be so compelled to exercise our empathy so early on.” I had never considered my father’s illness anything but a burden, and I had never heard anyone who experienced something similar describe it as gift.
The world has grown darker in the weeks since Emile died. Democracy itself feels as if it’s hanging by a thread, the coronavirus pandemic shows no signs of abating, intolerance and anxiety are everywhere. The whole country seems to be poised on a knife-edge between the same warring impulses that Emile spent his life studying.
But at some point soon, the future will arrive and we’ll have to figure out how to live in it, together. We’ll need some earnestness then, and we’ll need the lessons Emile tried so hard to learn and to teach.
Some people who have historically been oppressed will stand with their oppressors.
It is obscene that the presidential race is too close to call at the time this column is published: Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
After all that Donald Trump has done, all the misery he has caused, all the racism he has aroused, all the immigrant families he has destroyed, all the people who have left this life because of his mismanagement of a pandemic, still roughly half of the country voted to extend this horror show.
Let me be specific and explicit here: White people — both men and women — were the only group in which a majority voted for Trump, according to exit polls. To be exact, nearly three out of every five white voters in America are Trump voters.
It is so unsettling to consider that many of our fellow countrymen and women are either racists or accommodate racists or acquiesce to racists.
But, that’s only part of what was shocking to me about the exit polls.
First, the stipulations: As The New York Times makes clear, these data “are preliminary estimates from exit polls conducted by Edison Research for the National Election Pool,” and will be “updated as more data becomes available, and they will eventually be adjusted to match the actual vote count.”
Second, some people — including me — wondered whether the exit polls would include voters who voted early or by mail. This particular exit poll was conducted by interviewing “voters outside of polling places or early voting sites, or by phone.”
Finally, exit polls are just that, polls. They can differ slightly from the validated voter data, as they did in 2016.
All that said, I am still stunned.
A larger percentage of every racial minority voted for Trump this year than in 2016. Among Blacks and Hispanics, this percentage grew among both men and women, although men were more likely to vote for Trump than women.
Among Hispanics, the movements by sex were marginal and have held remarkably steady over the last four presidential elections.
The fascinating story and movement are in the Black vote. Black people vote overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates. Black women vote more reliably Democratic than Black men — only 3 or 4 percent of Black women voted for the Republican candidate in 2008, 2012 and 2016. However, Donald Trump doubled that number this year, winning 8 percent of Black women’s votes.
Black men on the other hand have been inching away from the Democrats in recent elections, and continued that drift in this election. In 2008, 5 percent of Black men voted for John McCain; in 2012, 11 percent voted for Mitt Romney; in 2016, 13 percent voted for Trump; and, this year 18 percent voted for Trump.
These men were specifically targeted by the Trump campaign, and that targeting may well have worked. Democrats are going to have to pour some energy into specifics listening to and understanding these Black men. They are still the least likely group of men to vote Republican, but this trend away from Democrats is undeniable at this point.
Not only did a majority of white men vote for Trump, so did a majority of white women. In 2016, exit polls also showed that a majority of white women had done so, but later an analysis of validated voters by the Pew Research Center found that a plurality of white women voted for Trump, not a majority.
In any case, white women vote for Trump at higher rates than all other women, despite the fact that Trump has spent his first term, indeed his whole life, denigrating women.
The L.G.B.T. Community
This one pushed me back on my heels: the percentage of L.G.B.T. people voting for Trump doubled from 2016, moving from 14 percent to 28 percent. In Georgia the number was 33 percent.
This for a president who has attacked trans people in every way imaginable. As the Human Rights Campaign president, Alphonso David, pointed out in June, “The Trump-Pence administration is the most virulently anti-LGBTQ administration in decades.”
This strong move toward Trump may be driven by men.
In September, the gay social network Hornet published the result of a survey of 10,000 of its users that found that 45 percent of the gay men on it planned to vote for Trump.
As the company wrote on its blog:
“The idea that gay men — a demographic that typically skews left — would vote for Donald Trump at a higher percentage than U.S. citizens overall would no doubt be very surprising were it to happen. And another surprise: 10 percent of the American gay men who took Hornet’s survey say they ‘do not support [Donald Trump] at all’ but will vote for him nonetheless.”
All of this to me points to the power of the white patriarchy and the coattail it has of those who depend on it or aspire to it. It reaches across gender and sexual orientation and even race. Trump’s brash, privileged chest trumping and alpha-male dismissiveness and in-your-face rudeness are aspirational to some men and appealing to some women. Some people who have historically been oppressed will stand with the oppressors, and will aspire to power by proximity.
There Was a Loser Last Night. It Was America.
Trump’s ugly speech told us exactly where we’re going — and it’s nowhere good.
“Whatever the final vote, it is already clear that the number of Americans saying, ‘Enough is enough’ was not enough,” said Dov Seidman, an expert on leadership and author of the book “How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything.”
“There was no blue political wave,” he noted. “But, more importantly, there was no moral wave. There was no widespread rejection of the kind of leadership that divides us, especially in a pandemic.”
We are a country with multiple compound fractures, and so we simply cannot do anything ambitious anymore — like put a man on the moon — because ambitious things have to be done together. We can’t even come together to all wear masks in a pandemic, when health experts tell us it would absolutely save lives. It would be so simple, so easy and so patriotic to say, “I protect you and you protect me.” And yet, we can’t do it.
This election, if anything, highlighted the fault lines. The president, using many different dog whistles during the campaign, presented himself as the leader of America’s shrinking white majority. It is impossible to explain his continued support, despite his unprecedented poisonous behavior in office, without reference to two numbers:
The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by the middle of this year, nonwhites will constitute a majority of the nation’s 74 million children. And it is estimated that by sometime in the 2040s, whites will make up 49 percent of the U.S. population, and Latinos, Blacks, Asians and multiracial populations 51 percent.
Among many whites, particularly white working-class males without college degrees, there is clearly a discomfort with the fact, and even a resistance to it, that our nation is in a steady process of becoming “minority white.” They see Trump as a bulwark against the social, cultural and economic implications of that change.
What many Democrats see as a good trend — a country reckoning with structural racism and learning to embrace and celebrate increasing diversity — many white people see as a fundamental cultural threat.
Padma Lakshmi: Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris Moved Me to Tears
Imagine how wide the ripples of impact can be when a woman of color is vice president.
I was on a hike in Garrison, N.Y., when I heard the news of Kamala Harris and Joe Biden’s victory. I felt elated. Then suddenly I felt this heat welling up from my chest into my throat and it burst out of me in tears I could not control. At first I didn’t even know why I was sobbing.
Finally, I was thinking. Finally a woman, and a woman of color, takes this office.
I felt like a marathon runner who breaks down into tears at the end of a race. And that marathon was a lifetime of fighting to be seen and to advance, as an immigrant and woman of color with few guides.
I cried again as I watched Ms. Harris address the nation last weekend as the vice president-elect. The world finally saw a Black woman, whose parents came from Jamaica and India, near the pinnacle of American power. That vision, in an instant, seemed to evaporate some of the unnecessary hurdles I had faced, making a different path for a child like me growing up today.
Now, days later, everyone is talking about President Trump again. His refusal to concede shouldn’t steal Vice President-elect Harris’s moment — his time is up and her time, and ours, is just beginning.
When I first came to this country at age 4 from India, walking around New York City, I was excited to see all kinds of people — with different colors of skin, styles of dress and ways of moving through the world. But slowly I became aware of a different world, through magazines and TV, where almost everyone was white.
I watched a lot of television: “The Brady Bunch,” “The Partridge Family,” “One Day at a Time,” “Three’s Company,” “Happy Days,” “Fantasy Island.” As a latchkey kid in the ’80s, these shows raised me and taught me about American life.
Children know when they are being sorted. I could see that the idealized America on the TV screen and the magazine pages did not value Black and brown people like me and many I knew.
I figured out how to navigate the time a boy called me the N-word when I was 11; and navigate the times I auditioned for acting roles in my 20s, only to be told they weren’t “going ethnic”; and navigate the times in my 30s when I didn’t know to negotiate full credit for my work.
Things might have been different if I had seen more women like me in positions of power — role models to show me a path.
Often now, strangers — girls and women of color — approach me to say that seeing my face on television expanded their aspirations. I’m just a cable food show host. Imagine how wide the ripples of impact can be when a woman of color is vice president.
Ms. Harris understands this. “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last,” she assured us. “Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.”
Over the summer, I learned that Ms. Harris’s mother’s family comes from the same city in India as my family. Her grandparents lived right around the corner from mine in the Besant Nagar area of the city of Chennai. Our grandfathers might have strolled together in the same walking group of retirees on Elliot’s Beach. We both spent summers visiting there, and might have been sent on errands to the same All-in-One corner store that sold half-rupee candies and lentils by the kilo. In the United States, we were raised by single mothers who both worked in health care — mine as a nurse and hers as a biomedical scientist.
When she accepted the Democratic nomination for the vice presidency, she thanked her “chitthis,” the word for aunties in Tamil, a language of South India — not in Hindi, the official language of the country. Never in my life did I imagine a Tamil-speaking vice president of the United States.
Our striking commonalities made Ms. Harris’s victory particularly poignant for me — but I think she offers many Black and brown girls and women a sense of belonging.
President Trump’s attacks on women, on people of color and on immigrants, feel personal to us. As he allows a pandemic to run rampant in our country and even threatens our democracy, it feels like a betrayal that so many Americans persist in supporting him.
His vitriol encourages those who hate us. In comments under my Instagram and Twitter posts, people frequently tell me, “Go back to your country.”
I say: This is my country. I have contributed to it with my taxes, my writing and television shows and my activism. I am working to improve this nation, which you do not do for a place you do not love.
I would also like to say: So many women in my family and our communities have been invisible, even as we have helped build this country with our own hands. We have cleaned your toilets, we have waited on you in restaurants, we have done your taxes, we have ministered to your children in the pediatrician’s office, we have programmed your computers, we have cared for your elderly, we have even led your companies. But you have sidestepped us and made us feel less important than you.
Ms. Harris is part of a new generation of elected women of color, taking office at this absurdly divided time when people of color are both ascendant and under attack. And these women are not just in power; they have excelled, often precisely because of their life experiences. Senator Harris pinioned Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez brilliantly rebuked a fellow congressman, Ted Yoho, when he used a sexist insult against her. Representative Pramila Jayapal grilled Attorney General William Barr about the decision to take an “aggressive approach” against Black Lives Matter protesters — but not against gun-toting protesters who crowded a state capitol.
Now Ms. Harris will have new authority and reach as vice president. The Trump era she is ending empowered people to show their racism nakedly, in slights and jeers and acts of violence. For many people of color and immigrants, the message was clear: You do not belong here, and you are not wanted.
It will be a difficult and long path to undo that damage. But for me and other girls and women of color, Ms. Harris embodies an opposite message: You do belong here, her life says, and you obviously can achieve absolutely anything.
Mawlana Hazar Imam spoke as part of the Samuel L. and Elizabeth Jodidi Lecture Series, which provides for “the delivery of lectures by eminent and well-qualified persons for the promotion of tolerance, understanding and good will among nations, and the peace of the world."
Towards a Cosmopolitan Ethic
Let us reflect upon how we can coexist peacefully in a globalized world through the cosmopolitan ethic.
In his work of prose entitled Gulistan (Rose Garden), the 13th Century Persian poet Sa‘di captures the sacredness and connectedness of human beings in the poem entitled, “Bani Adam” (Children of Adam):
The children of Adam are parts of one whole
For they were formed of a single essence.
When one member is hurt by fate, the other members cannot remain at ease.
If you are unconcerned with the troubles of others
You are not fit to be called a human being.1
In these verses Sa‘di speaks to the common core of humanity and the unity of creation that binds every being. If we think about the world in its current state, it would seem that we have not learned from the wise words of Sa‘di. We have yet to overcome our fear of others in order to acknowledge different perspectives and embrace one another.
At present, the most pressing concern for humanity is finding a solution to how we can coexist peacefully and productively, especially under these challenging times of the pandemic. The contemporary world brings with it the benefits of transnational connections and accessible mobility, while also putting forward challenging questions of how we interact with others, and how to embrace differences. We still do not understand differences, and we fear what we do not understand.
Mawlana Hazar Imam has devoted time and energy to address the challenges of living in the present world through his public speeches and the institutions of the Ismaili Imamat. He provides a context-rich approach that brings together religious commitments and ethical considerations, which is based on the inseparability of din (faith) and dunya (world).2
Implicit in the Imam’s guidance is a mixture of prescriptive and applied ethics that carry an overall sensitivity towards the dignity of human beings. An important feature of the Imam’s message is embracing a cosmopolitan ethic. This worldview is premised on the concept of cosmopolitanism (literally “citizen of the world”), which is concerned with people’s multiple belongings and their affiliation to a particular nation, religion, community in relation to shared commitments. The model articulated by the Imam consists of an ethical component that emerges from and is grounded in religious discourse, which affects almost all socio-cultural and political spaces.3 It is an orientation that enables dialogue and partnerships among different peoples in order to advance the quality of life of every person.
The ethical component in the Imam’s message is crucial because ethics relate to everything one does: one’s attitudes, decisions, and actions are based on one’s values and beliefs. The cosmopolitan ethic, described by the Imam, aims to balance faith-based values (particularities of traditions) with a set of diverse ethical norms that bind humanity, which also emerge from faith.
At the core of the Imam’s cosmopolitan worldview is a deep regard for the spiritual; it is informed by key religious precepts. First and foremost, it stems from the belief that humankind is created from a single soul. The Imam has consistently referred to surah An-Nisa, ayah 1, in which Allah says: “O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord, Who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate and from the two spread a multitude of men and women.”4 He has outlined this ayah as a pivotal source of his cosmopolitan spirit that places emphasis on the unity of humankind and underlying human diversity.
Secondly, the Imam’s cosmopolitan ethic is inspired by other Qur’anic verses such as surah al-Hujurat, ayah 13, which states: “O mankind! Truly We created you from a male and female, and We made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another.”5 Taken together, these Qur’anic injunctions should be understood as divinely ordained directives of morality and ethics that encourage Muslims to embrace a common humanity while acknowledging and respecting its diversity. It is about putting faith into action; it’s about engagement and service to humankind. In fact, this verse actively encourages individuals to know one another so that we may extend our love and kindness towards the other. It further inspires us to reflect and give thanks to God for the distinct gifts he has bestowed upon each individual, which can only be appreciated when we genuinely get to know one another.6 The implication is that knowing the other is a fulfillment of the divine will and therefore of being Muslim and indeed of being human.
The Imam’s guidance offers a balanced approach to cosmopolitanism that aims to weave together the universal and the particular, as well as the spiritual and the material.7 The Imam has previously explained:
A cosmopolitan ethic accepts our ultimate moral responsibility to the whole of humanity, rather than absolutizing a presumably exceptional part … [it] will honor both our common humanity and our distinctive identities — each reinforcing the other as part of the same high moral calling.8
There is an inherent recognition of peoples rooted in their own particular identities, coupled with an understanding that a universal cosmopolitan spirit is shared through encounter and engagement with our fellow human beings, and indeed the rest of creation, the custodianship of which has been entrusted to human beings. What emerges from the Imam’s messaging is an appreciation of diversity and a moral compass that beseeches us to find the sacred in one another as well in the rest of creation, for both, as the Qur’an teaches, are the ayāt of Allah. Although the Imam’s perspective is rooted within Islamic discourse, its relevance extends to all contexts that necessitate moral sensibility and human responsibility.
It is evident that the cosmopolitan ethic is inspired by a vision of Divine love that is ethically empowering and all pervasive. It constitutes an internal commitment for ongoing spiritual reflection, which may deepen and refine one’s own ethical sensibilities.
The cosmopolitan ethic as articulated by our Imam is not a passive reality, but a continuous project by which to figure out how to exist amongst others and ourselves without forsaking the particulars that define diverse communities, but are always in flux. As Hazar Imam said, “as we strive for this ideal, we will recognize that ‘the other’ is both ‘present’ and ‘different.’ And we will be able to appreciate this presence – and this difference – as gifts that can enrich our lives.”9
Indeed, this ethical cosmopolitanism requires a vision – a sort of transcendent truth to aspire to – and the Imam offers just that. Taking his vision to heart will allow each one of us to truly engage in knowing one another, seek knowledge of that which we do not understand, and thereby help to re-instill dignity to human kind – one being at a time.
1 This verse is inscribed at the entrance of the United Nations building in New York. The above is a modified translation of Sa‘di’s ‘Bani Adam’ from Eric Ormsby, “Literature” in Amyn B. Sajoo (Ed.), A Companion to Muslim Ethics (London: I.B.Tauris, 2010), pp. 53-78, quote at 69. For original translation refer to Shaykh Mushrifuddin Sa‘di of Shiraz, The Gulistan (Rose Garden) of Sa‘di, trans. Wheeler M. Thackston (Bethesda, MD: Ibex Publishers, 2017 ), p. 22. More recently, the poem was featured as one of Coldplay's songs (also called ‘Bani Adam’) on their album Everyday Life released in November 2019.
2 Karim H. Karim, “Speaking to Post-secular Society: The Aga Khan’s Public Discourse” in Nurjehan Aziz (Ed.), The Relevance of Islamic Identity in Canada: Culture, Politics, and Self. (Toronto: Mawenzi House, 2015), pp. 97-107.
3 Sahir Dewji, “Beyond Muslim Xenophobia and Contemporary Parochialism: Aga Khan IV, the Isma‘ilis, and the Making of a Cosmopolitan Ethic,” Ph.D. Dissertation, Wilfrid Laurier University (2018), pp. 235-293.
4 Syed Hossein Nasr, et al, eds., The Study Qur’an: A New Translation and Commentary (New York: HarperOne, 2015), Q 4:1, p. 189. This verse and many others affirm the divine origins of human diversity and unity; see for example Q 5:48, 11:118, 30:22 and 49:12.
5 Syed Hossein Nasr, et al, eds., The Study Qur’an: A New Translation and Commentary (New York: HarperOne, 2015), Q 49:13, p. 1262.
6 Asma Afsaruddin, “Finding common ground: ‘Mutual knowing,’ Moderation, and the Fostering of Religious Pluralism” in James L. Heft, S.M., Reuven Firestone, and Omid Safi (Eds.), Learned Ignorance: Intellectual Humility among Jews, Christians, and Muslims (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).
7 Sahir Dewji, “Shattering Stereotypes With Aga Khan IV and the Ismaili Community”, Fair Observer Click here
8 Aga Khan IV, “The Cosmopolitan Ethic in a Fragmented World,” Samuel L. and Elizabeth Jodidi Lecture Series (Cambridge, Massachusetts, November 12, 2015). Weatherhead Center for International Affairs Harvard University website Click here
9 Aga Khan IV, “10th Annual LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture” (Toronto, Ontario, October 15, 2010), Aga Khan Development Network website Click Here
International experts warn on impending danger of ‘genocide’ of Indian Muslims
Washington DC: At a panel discussion, international experts on genocidal violence warned on Tuesday the impending danger of ‘genocide’ of India’s 200 Million Muslims under the watch of present Indian regime. They alerted the international community to wake up to this lurking danger as unfolding situation in India is grim.
The panel discussion on “Ten Stages of Genocide and India’s Muslims,” expressed an urgent need to not only’ indict and sanction’ the Indian government, but to also expose it in the international community to prevent crimes against humanity. The discussion was organized by the Indian American Muslim Council.
In his opening remarks, Dr. Gregory Stanton said, “Preparation for genocide is definitely under way in India.” He explained, “The persecution of Muslims in Assam and Kashmir is the stage just before genocide. The next stage is extermination—that’s what we call genocide.”
Dr Stanton is the founder-president of Genocide Watch, an organization that works to predict, prevent and stop genocide and other forms of mass murder in the world. He also served in the U.S. State Department in the 1990s when he drafted the UN Security Council resolutions that created the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
He stated that the “systematic crimes against humanity is already underway” in India. He mentioned the demolition of Babri mosque and building of a temple as “important in the development of cultural underpinnings for genocide.”
Reacting to the fact that Delhi Police arrested hundreds of Muslims in Delhi riot cases and accused them of violence against themselves, Dr. Stanton termed it “denial,” the last stage in genocide. “Denial is the tenth stage of every genocide. It starts actually at the beginning and goes all the way through to the end and afterwards…That’s what is going on when they are charging Muslims with, would you believe it!, killing themselves? I don’t believe it! And I don’t think anybody should believe it,” Dr. Stanton said.
Teesta Setalvad, a well-known human rights defender in India mentioned that violence against Muslims worsens their socio-economic conditions and enables genocidal targeting. “Lack of social and economic opportunities, constant fear and insecurity among the Indian Muslims which is generated through this abrasive exclusionary tactic of hate speech and othering, is something that could possibly fit in to the possible build-up of the genocidal situation,” said Ms. Setalvad who did years of pioneering work in exposing and bringing to justice the perpetrators of anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat.
"I spend a lot of time learning about my faith and trying to be an exemplary ambassador of Islam in the world,” said Aziz Nathoo, who has immersed himself in teaching, dialogue, peacemaking, tolerance, and promoting pluralism for the past 20 years.
Aziz’s awaking moment occurred in the early 1990s during the genocide in the former Yugoslavia, when he helped to arrange housing for Bosnian Muslims who had sought refuge in the United States.
“It was important for me to apply our ethics by acting,” he said. During this experience, he was surprised at how much difference an individual can make in peoples’ lives.
Aziz Nathoo speaking at a national meeting of Amnesty International on human rights and legal rights for refugees who often do not have adequate legal documents.
PHOTO: THE ISMAILI USA
The second call to action for him was during the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy. Since then, he has taken the initiative to reach out to other organizations and become more involved in dialogue and encouraging pluralism in society.
Aziz Nathoo speaking at a national meeting of Amnesty International on human rights and legal rights for refugees who often do not have adequate legal documents.
Originally from Tanzania, Aziz Nathoo came to the United States in 1986 to pursue his undergraduate studies, obtaining a degree in Islamic Studies and Business, and later an MBA at Boston College. Growing up in a family steeped in Jamati service and the pursuit of knowledge, he was taught that "true faith rests on the twin pillars of Ishq (love) and Ilm (knowledge).”
Aziz works with refugees in different capacities, assisting them with housing, employment, and other needs, sometimes accommodating them in his own home.
He also founded Narenj Tree Foundation, which collects, ships, and distributes donations and supplies such as clothing, shoes, medicine, hygiene, and weather-related supplies, to resettling refugees, and ships the rest to Syria and Turkey. He also joined Amnesty International to advocate for authorities to lend assistance, press for human rights, and resist those who cause suffering.
Aziz works with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and mosques, churches, and temples which provide immediate assistance to vulnerable families. He has also spoken at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, which led to multiple invitations at various houses of worship, where he spoke about his faith and the misrepresentation of Islam in the US.
“I have never shied away from sharing,” said Aziz, who attends Philadelphia Jamatkhana in Pennsylvania. He has spoken at conferences and fondly recalls his talk on civil society at the United Nations, where he was part of a committee that requested the government and international bodies to extend their funding for refugees.
Aziz said that his involvement with others is to "converse, not convert.” He makes it clear that he is "simply sharing his limited knowledge where ignorance reigns.” He often uses humor to puncture hostility, saying "it breaks down resistance and opens lanes of dialogue.”
Aziz was recently appointed to the Mayor of Philadelphia’s Commission on Faith-based and Interfaith Affairs, where he will put his experience to good use for the community.
Ethiopia’s Leader Escalates Assault on Tigray Region, Putting Civilians at Risk
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said that a deadline for the region’s dissident leaders to surrender had lapsed. The conflict threatens to destabilize the entire Horn of Africa.
NAIROBI, Kenya — Just over three weeks ago, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia unleashed his military forces in an attempt to subdue the country’s northern region of Tigray, whose rebellious governing party was until recently the dominant force in Ethiopia’s central government.
On Thursday, Mr. Ahmed ratcheted up the conflict, ordering what he called a “final” military assault on Tigray’s capital and announcing that the deadline had passed for leaders of the governing party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, to surrender.
“The last peaceful gate which had remained for the T.P.L.F. clique to walk through have now been firmly closed,” he said in a statement on Twitter.
Humanitarian organizations are warning of large civilian casualties and waves of refugees in a conflict that threatens to destabilize not just Ethiopia, but the entire Horn of Africa region.
Hundreds of people have been reported dead in the fighting, and 40,000 refugees have crossed into neighboring Sudan, according to the United Nations. But with communications shut off and access to the region blocked, there have been few reliable reports about the impact of the fighting.
The U.N. has warned of fuel and food shortages in Tigray, affecting not just locals, but also tens of thousands of refugees from Eritrea who live in the region. And the fighting has drawn concern from all across the world, even eliciting warnings of potential ethnic cleansing and genocide from the United Nations.
How can we begin to turn noble ideals into action and solutions to the challenges we face today?
The year 2020 has rapidly become one of the most disruptive in living memory. Just as one life-altering crisis becomes embedded in the collective consciousness, other developments gain attention, raising additional questions to address. Many of us are asking, what is our responsibility? What can we do, and how can we help?
The ongoing public health emergency has highlighted the fact that individuals, communities, and societies are affected unevenly by the coronavirus pandemic, often due to differences in ethnicity, creed, and economic status.
“Those most vulnerable to contracting and succumbing to the coronavirus are the same groups that have historically faced systemic exclusion. Additionally, these groups will likely be most affected long-term by the social and economic impacts of the pandemic.” said Meredith Preston McGhie, Secretary General of the Global Centre for Pluralism (GCP).
Although we may all be navigating the same storm, we are not necessarily all in the same boat.
While differences between people and fault lines in society have long existed, the spread of Covid-19 has brought them to light and into public consciousness. As we look towards 2021, it is important to address these issues with a sense of urgency, and ask how we might imagine a fairer society — one inspired by our values.
It is stated in the Qur’an that Allah created all humans from a single soul (4:1), and that difference adds to the beauty of the world: “Among His wonders is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the diversity of your languages and colours. In these are signs for humankind,” (30:22).
As part of the ethics of Islam, Muslims are encouraged to build an inclusive society where individuals conduct themselves with dignity and justice. The aim is to give of oneself for a greater good, and to leave behind a better world for the next generation.
These values are shared with other religious and secular groups, and universally acknowledged as part of modern civilisations. But how can we begin to turn these noble ideals into action and solutions to the challenges we face today?
In an increasingly globalised world, where each of us encounter different races, cultures, and ethnicities more and more, learning only about local history is not enough. Mawlana Hazar Imam has often spoken of the urgent need to adopt a pluralistic outlook, an ethic of respect which values the beauty and strength of diversity.
“A secure pluralistic society requires communities that are educated and confident both in the identity and depth of their own traditions and in those of their neighbours,” he said in a speech made in Gatineau, Canada, in 2004. “Intellectual honesty and greater knowledge are essential if current explosive situations are to be understood…”
In this context, acquiring knowledge involves seeing through the eyes of history. To look back, through a global lens, at the various developments that led to this moment. This requires the effort to educate ourselves about different peoples and their relations with each other, and to learn that these relations have not always been harmonious.
Across Asia, Africa, the Middle East, the Americas, and Europe, ignorance and discord have often led to destructive conflict and the persecution of minorities. Examples and stories where pluralism has unfortunately been rejected can be found on every continent. In fact, a number of centuries of human history are centred around the colonisation of various countries in the developing world by imperial powers.
Fortunately, there are also stories that offer hope. The story of Bilal ibn Rabah, a freed slave and distinguished companion of the Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him and his family). The stories of Harriet Tubman, who not only escaped slavery in the United States, but also rescued many others; of Nelson Mandela, who served 27 years in prison, but went on to become the President of South Africa; and of Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani human rights activist and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Learning from this history can help us to better understand that events don’t exist in a vacuum, and that the legacies of empire and colonialism still have repercussions in our world today. Acquiring knowledge, hearing stories, and embracing diversity can also help to develop a sense of compassion.
Compassion involves seeing through the eyes of others, viewing them as we view ourselves. Its meaning is ‘to suffer together,’ to feel moved when confronted with suffering and to feel the motivation to alleviate it.
As an attribute, “Compassion requires that you look into your own heart, discover what gives you pain, and then refuse, under any circumstance whatsoever, to inflict that pain on anybody else,” says author and commentator Karen Armstrong, who delivered the 2018 GCP Annual Pluralism Lecture at the Aga Khan Centre.
This brings to mind the famous Children of Adam poem. Written eight centuries ago by the Persian poet Saadi Shirazi, it is now inscribed on a large hand-made carpet on the wall of a meeting room in the United Nations building in New York City. It reads: “The children of Adam, created of the self-same clay, are members of one body. When one member suffers, all members suffer, likewise. You, who are indifferent to the suffering of the fellow, you are unworthy to be called human.”
To develop compassion within ourselves, the first step is to bear witness. To stop, recognise, and acknowledge the pain caused by injustice and inequality in society. To recognise the humanity in ourselves, and in one another. To not turn a blind eye, nor be immune to the struggle of others. Once more of us begin to bear witness, to reflect deeply, and to identify injustice, only then can we begin to question, critique, and make space for solutions to emerge.
Finding the humility to recognise our own privilege and subconscious biases is also a good start. Of course, there is much more to be done, but this is a vital first step on the long road to a fairer world. Going beyond token Diversity & Inclusion departments in large corporations, what is urgently required is for differing parties, communities, and individuals to engage in constructive change through dialogue.
Once we have seen through the eyes of history, of those who have come before, and then through the eyes of our neighbours today; the next step is to see through the eyes of humanity. Of those who will inherit the earth; the youth, and those yet to be born. How can we leave behind a more equal, more peaceful world for them?
“Mutual respect and tolerance have to be fostered and taught. We have to promote dialogue to combat fear, intolerance, and extremism. We have to learn from each other, making our different traditions and cultures a source of harmony and strength, not discord and weakness,” said former secretary general of the United Nations Kofi Annan at the GCP’s Annual Pluralism Lecture in 2013.
Dialogue requires addressing the difficult questions of our time, having conversations with ourselves, and with others, so as to repair the fault lines in our societies. It means being open and willing to reach out across divides, and to seek out solutions in a patient and peaceful manner. As tempting as it seems, one cannot fight anger with anger, extinguish rage with rage, or erase horror with more horror.
The space in which such dialogue takes place, and such solutions arise, is often found in the realm of civil society. According to the World Bank, civil society “refers to a wide array of organisations: community groups, non-governmental organisations, labour unions, indigenous groups, charitable organisations, faith-based organisations, professional associations, and foundations.”
A healthy civil society provides the space for public participation, good governance and democratic processes to thrive. Through civil discourse and dialogue we can continue — or in some cases, begin — the challenging work, the uncomfortable conversations around systemic and individual discrimination, and strive to turn the notion of pluralism into less of a lofty ideal, and more of a work in progress.
In a speech made at Evora, Portugal in 2006, Mawlana Hazar Imam said, “The search for justice and security, the struggle for equality of opportunity, the quest for tolerance and harmony, the pursuit of human dignity — these are moral imperatives which we must work and think about on a daily basis.”
Our work is cut out for us. The choice remains, as ever, to stand together or risk falling apart. As we begin to emerge from this storm, let us take stock, and work to prepare for potential rough seas in the future. Start by inviting others onto your boat, or helping someone to repair theirs.
This year will go down in history as one of disruption and unprecedented change. Yet at this moment, we can make an intention to adjust the narrative. With some effort, perhaps 2021 will become the year in which we make real progress to replace ignorance with knowledge, contempt with compassion, and division with dialogue.
Global Affairs Canada: Feminist Foreign Policy Dialogue - Global Centre for Pluralism Submission
The Government of Canada is developing a White Paper to articulate its feminist foreign policy. Global Affairs Canada asked civil society: What does a feminist approach to foreign policy mean to you? What actions can Canada take in the next two years to implement its feminist foreign policy?​
Here is the response from Meredith Preston McGhie, Secretary General of the Global Centre for Pluralism.
HARRISBURG, Pa. — Donald Trump will soon be gone from the White House. But in the millions of homes where Latino immigrants live, the questions that have dominated the past four years will not soon go away: Will I ever see my mother again? Will there be a time where I won’t live with the fear of disappearing on my way to work, never to be seen again by my neighbors? Will I be able to go to college? Will my parents ever escape the nightmare of immigration bureaucracy?
There are 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country, and millions who are the children, siblings and spouses of the undocumented; they live in the uneasy cultural and legal limbo of the “mixed status” family. And even if you’re a U.S. citizen who’s never met or worked alongside an undocumented immigrant, the fate of the democracy you cherish is tied to theirs.
Fostering Pluralism - Chief Scouts Day Virtual Celebration
“A pluralist, cosmopolitan society is a society which not only accepts difference, but actively seeks to understand it and to learn from it. In this perspective, diversity is not a burden to be endured, but an opportunity to be welcomed.” - HH The Aga Khan at Harvard University, Cambridge, USA, 12th November 2015.
Besides the global pandemic, this year has witnessed a myriad of trials and tribulations that have defied pluralism within our global society, including social injustices, racial discrimination, gender disparities in minority groups, and oppression of low-income communities. These events have corresponded to furthering differences between cultures and have created barriers between global societies, bringing back notions that we thought were buried in the past. Yet, amongst the fragmenting, our Jamati institutions and volunteers have harnessed the true ethos behind Mawlana Hazar Imam’s definition of pluralism, balancing a cosmopolitan ethos and accepting the diversity to tolerate, educate and make a meaningful difference.
In light of Chief Scouts Day, commemorated on 12 September 2020, the Aga Khan Scouts and Guides, UAE, collaborated with the community’s scouting groups from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan to virtually celebrate the notion of service through the unity we render in diversity. The observance served as a symbol of what we can achieve by accepting the ethnic impediments between us, bringing together varying ideologies and ways of celebration, and learning from each other, by finding common ground.
Addressing the 350 or so attendees from all the Jamats involved, the online celebration commenced by highlighting the work of the Scouts and Guides in the various countries, demonstrating different societal needs and methods of service, while conveying the same moral values. Our bonding as one community and as a united front, regardless of our ethnic distinction, was validated by all the flag hoisting ceremonies which streamed simultaneously in different time zones. Marking the unity of the Scouts and Guides worldwide, the central focus of the event was the cake baking picture montage. It was compiled using videos that were sent in by the Scouts and Guides from the northern parts of Pakistan, central India, UAE and remote areas of Bangladesh. Many even opted to showcase their pledges toward a more sustainable and integrated future which truly reinforced the power of each individual when pluralism is mobilised. This provided time to reflect, share and inculcate a sense of togetherness, showing this world can be a better place. Learning from the diverse experiences and wisdom of long-standing scouting leaders in Pakistan, the virtual festivities ended with a panel-led discussion and quiz on scouting. During this time, the panel shared their experiences of attending international conferences where representatives from around the world gathered to cooperate in working toward the betterment of our lives, tackling social issues and ethnic intolerance.
The success of this Chief Scouts Day confirmed that the current global division did not alter the progressive mindset of our volunteers, as they employed virtual technology to unite with neighbouring countries and collaborated to create a lasting impact together. This is a phenomenon that should not only be reinforced within our volunteers when working for the benefit of the Jamat but should also be the driving force of our lives in all our endeavours with people from diverse backgrounds in worldly matters. We, as a Jamat, should actively immerse ourselves in the “cosmopolitan society” that His Highness the Aga Khan strives to achieve. We should always find ways to foster pluralism, opposing the social atrocities the world is perceiving at present. So, let us co-exist and channel the unity in diversity to serve the needs of our evolving world and ever challenging times.
In September 2020, Vanessa Erogbogbo, Chief of the Sustainable and Inclusive Values Chains section at the International Trade Centre, spoke with Meredith Preston McGhie, Secretary General of the Global Centre for Pluralism. She explored the effects of the pandemic in emerging economies, particularly on micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, which are predominantly run by self-employed women. These types of business have been hard-hit by the pandemic, which has exacerbated gender inequalities in the economy. She discussed how governments and the private sector have a role to play to provide women entrepreneurs with access to the digital economy, to family-friendly policies like childcare and flexible work and to the “green jobs” of the future.
In her closing remarks, Vanessa described the help and care that she has seen people extending to one another during the pandemic, and how this inspires her:
“We think of the economy as this big thing [with] systemic obstacles… but really, it’s us as individuals who make it turn and who can make the difference. Many of us doing many little things are what can make the big difference in the end.”
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