Home > Uncategorized > An Afternoon of Finding Common Ground

An Afternoon of Finding Common Ground

Today I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with a group of visiting international scholars on religion brought together by Professor Wade Clark Roof of UCSB’s Walter H. Capps Center for the Study of Ethics, Religion, and Public Life.

The scholars were from Morocco, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Taiwan, Estonia, India, Argentina, Mauritius, Gaza, Uruguay, Paraguay, Czech Republic, and Egypt.

The conversation was lively, energetic, informed, and respectful. Topics ranged from the Danish cartoons to the troop surge in Afghanistan to the murder of 1000 Muslims in Gujurat in 2002 to the relationship between China and Taiwan.

It is always an interesting intellectual exchange with international scholars. I admit that I am formed as a Westerner, and my worldview may be predicated on Western values. But some values and standards – like freedom of religion and belief – are not cultural, they are universal. And rooted in the very dignity of the human person.

Just because something is culturally acceptable does not mean that it is universally acceptable, such as female genital mutilation.

Universal standards of human rights are universal because they are inherent to the very nature and dignity of the human person. And while the term “human rights” is now more than ever being applied to issues which are civil rights and not human rights, we must be vigilant against the undermining or encroachment of human rights.

The issues discussed today were not easy or comfortable. My Muslim colleagues in the room may not have been any more comfortable hearing me state that the reaction to the Danish cartoons did not to dispel the stereotypes of Islam than my European colleagues were hearing me complain about their ethnic and religious discrimination against all minority faiths.

But we must speak both respectfully and honestly on such issues. We cannot hide behind platitudes or political correctness in the face of extremism, whether Islamic, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, or whatever form it takes.

Today was another reminder of the need for engagement and dialogue. As I told the group today, engagement does not mean endorsement. Sometimes we have to speak with those with whom we disagree the most to find common ground.

But even conversations like the ones we had today make a significant difference in building relationships, advancing fundamental rights, and recognizing common interests.

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Categories: Uncategorized

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