I believe our vision for the rest of the 21st Century should be a vision of social justice as a pathway to Peace, and I believe Arab and Arab-American women and men must become major actors to help facilitate the realization of this vision.
It takes imagination to believe in such a vision.
However, I believe in the power of imagination.
Social Justice happens by:
• embracing the principles of equal rights;
• valuing the importance of diversity;
• adopting an attitude that accepts, even embraces, minorities; and
• addressing the issues of gender equality.
Once we collaborate in unpacking the principles of social justice and we commit to working on all its components, we collectively put ourselves on the path of Peace.
Social justice and Peace are fought for with insistence and persistence.
We must adopt a paradigm that includes a commitment to non-violent approaches, a behavior of non-discrimination, and a mindset that holds every religion, every race, and every individual with respect—regardless if they are male or female, or if they belong to the majority or minority.
As we work towards this vision of social justice, we will be fighting extremism in a direct and smart way.
The pathway to reach social justice and then peace includes several important actions, among them:
• A relentless effort to minimizing poverty and hopefully eliminating it in the long run;
• A deep commitment to educating girls and boys till they complete secondary;
• A proactive approach to legislate against child marriage, and an absolute refusal to marry girls at an unacceptable age such 9, 10, or 11;
• A creative realistic approach to ensuring that opportunities for jobs or income generation activities are available for young women and young men;
• A strong commitment to resolving conflicts through non violence;
• A recognition that dialogue is a pathway towards valuing others and acknowledging their rights;
• A rejection of simplistic conspiracy theories that justify our problems and our malaise;
• An examination of our assumptions that often state that most regional problems are the result of the careful planning of other powers;
• A respect of our mind and our capability of generating home grown solutions;
• A stand regarding theological courage, the courage to find the positive constructive interpretations of religions, to discover the common ground among these religions, and to respect their differences;
• A recognition that a dialogue of Civilizations may be a more constructive and persuasive substitute to the theory of a Clash of Civilizations.
I call this approach the smart approach to fighting extremism because it addresses the root causes of extremism: poverty, illiteracy or little education, lack of job opportunities, archaic gender norms, dependency on global players, and violence as an approach to dominate.
A commitment to finding and implementing a long term solution to extremism is what is needed in the world and specifically in our Arab world.
• I believe that through the right education that teaches the new Arab generations modern skills, we can vaccinate populations against violence.
What I mean by “modern” skills are curricula that teach girls and boys independent thinking, critical analysis, problem solving, rational behavior, questioning and inquiry, discovery approaches, non-violence approaches, respect for diversity, appreciation of social justice, and knowledge that enables individuals to continuously acquire relevant information and skills that they can use in their personal lives to earn a living.
• I believe we can build a store house of knowledge about why violence engenders nothing but more violence and continuous destruction; and why resolving conflicts through non-violence is the only path to continue moving forward.
• I believe we absolutely have to tip the scale in our Arab World for Peace and against ruthless violence.
• I believe we have to awaken the majority and empower it so it becomes the powerful voice against violence.
• I believe we need to elect leaders who have a Moral Compass and who believe in Social Justice and work hard towards nonviolent resolutions of social and economic problems.
• I believe the leaders we elect need to be the guardians of the people and the protectors of justice and basic human rights. We need to elect leaders who allow and encourage their people to express their ideas freely without risking their well-being and security; leaders who fight corruption and adopt a transparent model of governance.
• I believe we need to elect leaders, women and men, who respect gender equity, the rights of minorities, and the enriching power of diversity.
• I believe we need to elect leaders who understand and practice the skill of Active listening, and that through active listening, these leaders women and men, will be able to understand the needs of their people, empathize with their poverty, and recognize that human rights need to be granted to every woman and every man.
Let us become the new visionaries and the new architects of a new narrative.
Through dialogue let us try to weave the patterns of connections:
Through dialogue let us acknowledge that sometimes shifting our assumptions is not a weakness but a strength.
We Arab Americans, women and men, need to become the voice that disseminates the concept of social justice as a path towards Peace.
We need to be the bridge of understanding between East and West. It is our responsibility to make the governments and civil societies of the West, and in particular of the US, to understand the rich complex legacy of Arab history, as well as the present aspirations of the different populations of the Arab world, and the importance of diversity in our different countries of origin.
We need to make our voices against violence heard; we need to ensure that our voices address the fact that the extremist do not represent Islam and are misinterpreting and misusing Islam, and that the extremists represents a small percentage of the total population that is trying to intimidate and silence the majority of Arabs and Muslims.
Finally and most importantly:
We Arab American women and men need to make a difference.
Only then, we might put ourselves on the Path of Peace.