The dialogue continues
“It is sad that no matter what positive message was being brought out, some seem to always focus on the negative. Remember: This was an iftar dinner, and for Muslims breaking the fast and sharing meals with acquaintances or strangers is considered a blessing, particularly at this time. For one night do you think one can put aside his or her political obsessions? As an advocate of peace and understanding, the focus was on the purpose of the dinner and to hope that we can win hearts, even amongst our worst enemies.”
First, thank you so much for commenting! Some times I get the idea that only three or four people read this blog, so it is nice to suspect that perhaps my readership has climbed into the double digits. Second, thank you for disagreeing with me. Cultural dialogue without dissent is not worthy of the name.
Your words certainly occasion much thought, and I should clarify: I do understand the need to put aside politics and dine with those with whom we disagree. Had the Turkish Cultural Center invited Ahmadinejad I would not complain, though I disagree with him on many issues. But Mugabe is in a class by himself. To call him a politician or to say that “political obsessions” are a reason for disliking him does a disservice to politicians (not the most honorable class of citizenry to begin with). Mugabe ordered the killing of tens of thousands of his own people, and commanded that the relatives of the murdered dance on the graves of their recently deceased family members.
Governments frequently negotiate with leaders of other government whom they do not like, and they maintain alliances with countries that do not share their values. This kind of dialogue is well and good, since diplomacy conducted by high-ranking leaders remains one of the most effective ways to ensure the eventual triumph of peace with justice. If Bush invited Mugabe to the White House, I would applaud both of them for agreeing to the meeting.
Similarly, I applaud citizen exchanges between countries that do not enjoy good relations. Indeed, Cultures in Harmony has assiduously sought to set up projects that would facilitate such exchanges. We have been to Zimbabwe twice, and will hopefully go to Iraq soon. The Turkish Cultural Center has done an outstanding job bringing together Muslims and non-Muslim Americans to facilitate greater understanding during a fraught period in the history of relations between these groups.
However, there is no diplomatic or political need served when a non-governmental organization hosts a despicable dictator. Civil exchanges with such despots do not help or enlighten those who meet them, and as for Mugabe, I doubt the evening did anything to convince him to repent for his sins. Most likely, he simply received some assurance that not everyone minds his crimes so much.
However, I understand and appreciate the Turkish Cultural Center’s position, and I appreciate the opportunity to learn more about what an iftar dinner can accomplish. Again, I thank Yusuf for responding. I hope I have clarified my own views. I encourage him or anyone reading this to contact me directly at email@example.com.
On another topic, I like to spotlight people and organizations who have done great work in the field of cultural dialogue, even if a mention on this blog is unlikely to bring them to the attention of more than the seven (eleven?) people now reading these words. I’ve been writing about the Turkish Cultural Center, whose excellent activities I still heartily recommend to all in the New York area.
I was moved to read about Christina Shunnarah’s work in a classroom dominated by many different ethnicities. Also, here’s an interesting article about Karim Wasfi, the music director of the Iraqi National Symphony. Cultures in Harmony is honored to be working with him to plan a project in Iraq for 2009.