Every day the media brings us bad news about the Middle East and North Africa. The Arab Spring is turning into a Disastrous Summer. Thousands of people have been killed or injured.
Egypt has made tremendous progress toward democratization, but stability seems unlikely for a long time. There appears to be no end in Libya as NATO bombs rain on Tripoli; Syria and Yemen are close to a civil war as al Qaeda seems to be digging in; Bahrain, Lebanon and even Morocco face uncertain futures; and the international press reported that hundreds of Palestinians clashed with Israeli forces causing more deaths. Syrians are streaming into Turkey.
The governments of Britain, the U.S., France, Germany, Russia, China and other world leaders argue as to how they feel the Middle East situation should be handled.
Governments have proven over and over they cannot alone bring people together, even within their own countries. The military, terrorists and other extremists are not the answer. How many more millions of lives do we have to lose before we come to the conclusion that fighting and bloodshed will never solve differences? Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan and Iraq are examples of governments being responsible for useless, horrific wars over the past 100 years.
So, who is going to solve the ongoing crisis?
Fortunately there is some good news. Progress can be made when people across a variety of sectors from throughout the world begin to work together. In the late 1980s, after four decades of Cold War and nuclear threats, thousands of people from the USSR and U.S. came together in people-to-people exchanges. Once people, especially young people, got to know each other the ice began to melt.
Two weeks ago I attended a summit organized by Partners for a New Beginning (PNB) at the Aspen Institute in Washington, D.C. PNB is an alliance to foster public-private partnership committed to broadening and deepening engagement between the U.S. and Muslim majority countries. I was there as a representative of One World 2011, an organization focused on bringing young people from the Muslim world and the U.S. closer through the exchange of people, cultures and ideas.
Thank God, this was neither a summit of Americans nor a government summit -- although Secretary of State Clinton, along with the Aspen Institute, helped to create the partnership. It was a group of about 100 people from Morocco, Palestine, Israel, Turkey, the U.A.E., U.S., Indonesia, Egypt, Tunisia, Afghanistan, Algeria and Jordan, among other countries. This is a group that is best equipped to ease, over a long-term basis, the pressures that have led to the crisis the world faces today. Still, more factions need to be added to the partnership in order to have wider representation.
I have been to hundreds of conferences all around the world over the past 30 years. 90 percent are a waste of time. This was just the opposite. Key issues discussed included science and technology, education, youth exchanges, business and entrepreneurialism, conflict resolution and cultural understanding. Of course, much of the success will have to do with the sustainability of the organization and to what degree members of the partnership support one another.
This is a group of non-military, peaceful, concerned people who have joined PNB for the right reasons. The members -- possessing the financial power of corporations and foundations, the brainpower of educational institutions and the empathy and experience of international NGOs, are the right groups and individuals to help solve the misunderstandings caused by centuries of cultural and religious differences. It will be a long, difficult process -- but with an organization like PNB focused on this mission, at least we have a chance.
Let's hope this is only the beginning!
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