Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Wider Loyalty

I just finished reading Jared Cohen's "Children of Jihad, A Young American's Travels Among the Youth of the Middle East". Jared traveled through Iran, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq speaking to and interacting with young people throughout the war torn Middle East. In many ways, he experienced a society deeply divided along historical, cultural, ethnic, and religious lines with long histories of contention and violence. Yet, in all of these conversations, he found common concerns. Young people want access to better education, they want technological advancements, they want a voice in their future, they want to be globally connected, and they want opportunities for a better, meaningful, purposeful life. Jared's message remains hopeful for the future because despite the deep divisions he has witnessed, he has also seen the growth of a common ground.

I also read Sam Harris's highly controversial "The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason". Sam Harris also notes the deep division amongst people of various religions and the violence that it can lead to. He sees the need for a "civil society" with some agreed upon measure of human rights, but he sees religion as an obstacle to this unity, and states "it is at present unthinkable that human beings will ever identify themselves merely as human beings, disavowing all lesser affiliations".

However, I believe it is possible that human beings can maintain the beauty of their religious beliefs and cultural heritage and, in addition, feel a wider loyalty to humanity as a whole. I am hopeful that we can abandon our hostilities and prejudices and find a common ground in our mutual humanity and desire for a peaceful, stable, just society for ourselves and our children. I recently re-read parts of The Promise of World Peace, a statement to the people of the world in 1985 from the administrative body of the Baha'i Faith, the Universal House of Justice, which for me gives me hope for the future. In this document, they call for the abandonment of all prejudice and the development of an "unshakeable consciousness of the oneness of mankind" which is "essential to any successful attempt to establish world peace". They also give examples where international cooperation is beginning to happen.

So although the immediate future looks very grim indeed, as seen in both books, perhaps there is a glimmering hope for a more unified planet as we increasingly realize our interdependence. Reading Jared Cohen's book helped me to see that the world's youth are gradually developing this consciousness. To see another young person's view, I also encourage you to pop on over to Nikhil's posting A Common Vision on his blog.

The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 286)


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