Beliefnet
Adapted from the commencement address delivered May 11, 2003, at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. Reprinted with permission ofthe College of William and Mary.

Since I married into an existing family, which I then added to, I have been mothering teenagers for 25 years. Motherhood is one long process of letting go; but that simple truth can't capture the complex mingling of joy and pain it entails.

The term "mother" itself has lately fallen into misuse, I think--we hear reference to "the mother of all battles" and "the mother of all bombs." Now, mothers are powerful, as we all know, but no mother I know is interested in destruction. I would like to call for a cessation of hostilities towards such a precious word.

But what I'd really like to address today is another word that has been much in the news lately... coalitions--particularly the importance of building coalitions between nations for international security and stability. ...Since the tragedy of September 11th, unfortunately, many governments have emphasized a defensive, rather than a comprehensive concept of security.

This is one of the themes of my recently published book, "Leap of Faith" which among others tries to provide a more accurate and personal picture of/perspective on King Hussein's lifelong search for peace. He said, "Peace resides ultimately not in the hands of government, but in the hands of the people."

It certainly is a critically important moment for building coalitions, but on very different terms - not an axis of self-interest between states for political ends, but true partnerships between people based on respect for our shared values, needs and fundamental human rights, and also on respect for our differences. And these coalitions would apply not only to the Middle East, important as it is right now, but from Afghanistan to the Balkans, the Middle East to East Timor, Northern Ireland to Rwanda even here in the United States-- anywhere anyone is struggling to overcome conflict and inequity.

Who needs to join forces in these coalitions? Not simply like-minded nations, but all the diverse people whose welfare is central to global security.

First are those whose economic peril is a source of instability. I know that many of you, about to enter the job market, are concerned about the state of the economy here in the US. But it might provide some perspective to hear some figures about elsewhere in the world. In the last 20 years, per capita economic growth in the Middle East has been lower than anywhere except impoverished sub-Saharan Africa. 75% of residents are poor and getting poorer. Worse, political and social inequity create huge gaps between rich and poor, and traditional notions of security have resulted in the highest per capita expenditure on arms of any region in the world - money that, if it could be spent fighting poverty instead, would go a long way towards creating a more secure and stable world.

But it is not only poverty of funds that causes friction, but poverty of dignity. Coalitions for peace must embrace those who feel their individuality and culture are under threat. The Arab world has a long and illustrious history, of which its people are justly proud. Civilization itself was born between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers several millennia ago, and many of the greatest human inventions developed there - agriculture, cities, law, literature, writing, counting and even banking and accounting. (Islam, too, has been a bright beacon of civilization.) Centuries ago, Islam spread enlightenment, justice and equity, intellectual creativity and the concept of a humane society, and through education and the preservation of knowledge helped bring about the end of a dark period in European history. Islamic society protected the rights of individuals, women equally, valued pluralism and discouraged prejudice.

But despite this proud heritage, how do Arab peoples see themselves reflected in Western eyes? The images the US media and Hollywood have created at home and exported abroad over the years certainly don't promote mutual respect. A very diverse population has been pigeonholed into a few stereotypes--oil-rich sheiks in a region where many live in poverty; bloodthirsty aggressors instead of the refugees whose homes and lands have been taken from them; ignorant fanatics--in fact a tiny minority in a land of many cultured, educated professionals; cloistered, oppressed women instead of the doctors, lawyers, government ministers and businesswomen I know and work with; and now, the poor and downtrodden who need to be rescued from their own culture, rather than proud and patriotic people entitled to freedom and self-determination. We must overcome such misconceptions if we are to build alliances on the common ground of our universal human values and aspirations to resolve the challenges we face.

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