Peaceful (Im)Possibilities

Photo Credit Bill Aquino

Our dystopian world is anything but peaceful today. Tensions have increased in scope and intensity, and have been further exacerbated by external interventions. Notwithstanding all the advances we have made in this century, progress on the peace front is still lofty and lacking. A closer evaluation of our most recent string of conflicts; Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Qatar, can help us obtain a deeper understanding of the causes, perhaps misunderstandings, and where opportunities for peace may exist. As it stands, a divided, inflamed Middle East is only adding more global challenges that go well beyond further taxing humanitarian aid efforts and fighting climate change.

The real question here is can peace be achieved by escalating global governance? Groups like The Elders, the Peace Research Institute of Oslo, and the UN have already invested considerable time, energy, and effort in mediating peaceful solutions in zones of conflict. During the past 30 years Norway has become a front runner in peace brokering. Indeed, Norway’s peacemaking efforts facilitated ending years of deadlocked armed conflicts in places like Guatemala, Africa, and most recently the truce between FARC and the Colombian government. One could argue that yes, progress has been achieved on a certain level but perhaps a shift in focus, and a global governance reconstruct may be required to quell the list of crises which continue to massively grow and divide daily.

At a glance and in retrospect, the source of tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran fundamentally boils down to the two rival branches of Islam. This 1400-year-old debate is about who is the rightful successor of Muhammad. The Sunni’s (Saudi Arabia, Egypt) believe the Prophet’s trusted friend and advisor Abu Bakr was the rightful leader of Muslims. While the Shia’s (Iran, Iraq) believe that Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law Ali was chosen by Allah to hold the title of caliph.

Coincidentally, albeit ironically, Catholicism splintered for similar reasons. One of the apostles, Peter, was appointed leader by Jesus and later became recognized as the first Pope. In 1054 the Catholic Church split in two factions. Those who followed the Pope became known as the Roman Catholic Church, and the churches that did not think that the Pope should lead all Christians became known as the Orthodox Church.
Catholicism continued to splinter off with the creation of the Protestant, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist churches. Similarly, Islam splintered off into thousands of competing sects.

If Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (all descendants of Abraham) were here today, what would they think of the status quo of their multi fractionalized religious representatives, churches and mosques? What would they think of the Syrian war or what is happening to the Muslim Rohingya? Would they be proud of the diverse versions of their scripture or abhorred at how far skewed the platform they crafted to foster moral fortitude had fallen?

Could the solution to today’s conflict management be as simple as giving the opponent a seat at the table like the Colombian, President Juan Manuel Santos did with the FARC?

Conversely, could the Middle East solution be the Saudi-brokered Arab Peace Initiative, which was endorsed by the Arab League’s 22 members during the March 2002 Beirut summit, and then endorsed again in 2007 and 2017? The Saudi’s plan outlined steps to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Their proposal? A two state solution with the caveat that Israel return Arab lands captured since 1967. Even Ban Ki-Moon, the former UN Secretary-General, said: “The Arab peace initiative is one of the pillars of the peace process … it sends a signal that the Arabs are serious about achieving peace”.

Having respected mediators facilitate dialogue amongst under represented warring factions at the Arab League of Nations and the United Nations is essential. Establishing regional mediation platforms akin to a “Middle Eastern Elders” could also play an important role in lessening the strife in the Middle East.

Regarding the recent rift with Qatar, Turkey and Pakistan are already stepping up their mediation efforts, and are calling upon restraint, and dialogue for resolving differences.

At this stage of the game the highly respected Aga Khan, Imam for the Shia would be a shoe-in for a Middle Eastern Elder candidate. Aga Khan is a proponent of peace and pluralism so who better to represent the Shia’s? On the Sunni side, perhaps Dubai’s Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid would be a thoughtful consideration. H.H. Mohammed is a forward thinker and spearheaded important projects like the happiness initiative in Dubai. The Emir of Kuwait Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, the Secretary-General of the Arab League Ahmed Abo El-Gheit, Qatar’s Chairman of National Human Rights Committee Ali bin Samikh al-Marri are additional key candidate considerations.

For parties taking sides in the Qatar matter or remaining neutral, hindsight is 20/20. If the different factions of the Catholic Church can peacefully coexist, then why not Islam’s Sunni and Shia sects?

During Ramadan, a time of deep reflection and prayer, it is my sincerest hope that a new Middle East Mediation group can be formed so the Sunni and Shia voices can be jointly heard.

Like Jo Cox so poignantly stated, “We have more in common than that which divides us”. The same holds true for the Sunni’s, Shia’s and all of the religions and philosophies across the globe.

Peace is possible when we realize we all want the same things, and that religions diverge and cross connect back to one another.

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