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Cheryl Saban Ph.D. Headshot

If I Had a Hammer

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Art and Culture can build bridges. Recently my husband and I were guests at a celebration given by a Christian-Arab family originally from Nazareth. An annual affair to honor the memory of the patriarch of the family, we were brought together by our gracious hosts to enjoy an evening of Arabic music, delectable middle-eastern food, and extraordinary Arabic dancing.

The party was an instant success -- not because of extravagance, which can easily be the case in our city, but rather, for the congenial atmosphere; the warmth of friendship and family mixed with vibrant Arabic music, and awesome food. The beauty of this night was that under one restaurant's roof, several cultures and religious affiliations were comfortably intertwined, and all of us enjoyed one another without the noxious stereotypes and labels we've sadly become used to during these turbulent times.

Traditional foods and Arabic music can be savored by all -- and the well-known hospitality and generosity of Middle Eastern people made sure that smiles appeared on every face, and sweet honey treats stuck to every finger. The mood was contagious, and I wish you all could have been there.

Art and Culture can cut through ideological lines.
Music, movies, books; all art forms can build bridges across great divides where stubbornness and ignorance have taken root. It sounds naïve, and perhaps it is, but let's face it; almost everything else is failing. A simple appreciation for creativity of all types; music, cinema, books, foods -- essentially a willingness to experience the vibrance of a culture -- a different way of doing things, without a built-in bias about skin color, language, and country of origin could be the beginning of something good.

Just having witnessed this concept at work first hand, I was happy to be part of an event last night that the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution hosted for a new Arts and Culture Initiative at The Brookings Project on US Relations with the Islamic World; Focusing the Lens: Engaging the Muslim World through the Arts. The assembled group listened to brief talks by three prominent Muslim individuals; Dalia Mogahed, a Senior Analyst and Executive Director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, Salman Ahmad - an amazing guitarist and composer of the musical group Junoon, and Omar Amanat, who was named of the Wall Street's "Top Ten Most Influential Technologists." Moderated by Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Peter W. Singer, this panel presented enlightening personal perspectives, and creative initiatives that could help move our cultures closer together.

This Initiative could make a world of difference in the way we perceive and relate to one another. There are several components currently planned, including The Arts and Cultural Leaders Seminar, which meets annually at the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar; a strategy paper analyzing cultural connections between the U.S. and the Islamic world; and regional meetings of arts and cultural leaders.

Though we're so often stuck in our own personal positions, I found it refreshing to be among individuals willing to think outside of our individual, culturally-bond boxes.

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