"War is the greatest threat to public health." - Gino Strada, Italian war surgeon and founder of the UN-recognized Italian NGO Emergency

Thursday, October 2, 2008

You Can't Shake Hands With a Clenched Fist

President Dwight Eisenhower once said, "I like to believe that people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than our governments. Indeed, I think that the people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it." It would seem that the United States government has recently done little (if anything of substance) to promote real, lasting peace in the world. It seems that the people we elect (and the people they appoint) just don't understand what real peace is (let alone how to get there).

Fortunately there are people outside our government who do understand the word PEACE and the difficult but necessary path we must walk to get there. They understand that one cannot make peace at the point of a gun or clenched fist. As the poet Carl Sandburg put it:

The single clenched fist lifted and ready,
Or the open hand held out and waiting.
For we meet by one or the other.

Two days before the presidential debate (in which the candidates argued whether and under what circumstances they might meet with Iran's leadership) the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) facilitated a two-day meeting of U.S. peace and religious leaders with Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Based on the initial feedback from participants and constituents, Leila Zand (who directs FOR’s Iran program) said, "While I am still disappointed about his [Ahmadinejad's] comments on several topics, I believe there has been progress and that this shows the importance of increased communication between our countries.”

The delegation at last week's meeting presented President Ahmadinejad with a gift, a framed work of calligraphy with a verse from the Koran written in classical Kufi script. The FOR Website said that, A paraphrase of the Sura might be understood to remind us that “it is good to begin each day with a reflection on how we will personally advance the cause of peace and justice in our lives and work." Perhaps President Ahmadinejad will look at his gift on occasion and reflect on that verse.

The meeting with Iran's president was not a breakthrough event, but a step along the way of building bridges rather than burning them. Genuine peace will be (to quote President John F. Kennedy) "the sum of many acts", and this was one such act. The only dissapointment for me is that it was not our government (that should represent the people) initiating the dialogue. But then, perhaps Eisenhower's statement was prophetic; the people need to rise to the challenge of peace.

FOR, an organization that began with a pledge "to find a way of working for peace even though their countries were at war" (quote from FOR Website), has (for nearly a century) been a constant voice for peace in a world constantly at war. It is even more important to listen to such voices at times such as these, and therein lies the rub; we need to really listen or the voices of peace are drowned out by the all the noise.

GET INVOLVED: If you are not already an FOR member, consider it. Check out their Website at forusa.org; you will be amazed at all they do and have done. And when you get up each day, don't forget to (and I paraphrase) reflect on how you will personally advance the cause of peace and justice in your life and work.



Author's Note: The photo of the presentation of the gift to President Ahmadinejad is from the Fellowship of Reconciliation Website.

No comments: