After a quick read of the morning’s headlines, it can seem as if the world is coming apart. This is especially true if you live in the Middle East, where it sometimes feels like everything is coming apart around you.
But the collapse of world or regional order is not our collective fate. In the UAE, reasonable people and enlightened leaders are trying to bend history. Guided by values of tolerance, compromise, and moderation, we are charting a different course of steady and positive change.
In the UAE, we are defying the narrative of despair. We reject extremism and strive for moderation. We are building institutions, not tearing them down. We welcome everyone and embrace diversity as a strength. We know that faith and tradition can coexist with reason and science. We believe that art and culture make us unique but that beauty and inspiration are universal.
Earlier this year, Pope Francis visited the UAE and celebrated mass for 180,000 people. The Pope paid tribute to the nearly one million Catholics living in the UAE and shared a message of peace. It was the first visit by a Pope to the Arabian Peninsula – the birthplace of Islam. To ensure that the inclusive spirit of the Pope’s visit endures, the UAE will establish an Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi to celebrate peaceful coexistence among Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.
This month, Abu Dhabi hosted athletes from more than 190 countries for the Special Olympics World Games: the first time this global event to promote inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities has taken place in the Middle East. The Games, both exciting and inspiring, will leave a long-lasting legacy in the UAE as the country introduces new policies to accelerate the inclusion of ‘people of determination’ in education and healthcare, and raise awareness of disabilities.
In 2017, the Louvre opened its first international outpost in Abu Dhabi. A clear expression of the UAE’s ideals, it is a universal museum which invites the world to “See humanity in a new light.” One exhibit presents how different cultures through time used art to express the relationship between mother and child. Masterpieces by da Vinci, Monet, and Warhol are displayed along with 18th Century Japanese prints, Polynesian sculptures, and African bronzes. In another gallery, the sacred texts of the Torah, Bible, Quran, and Buddhist Sutra are presented side-by-side.
These major milestones and cross-cultural exchanges reflect the UAE’s approach of collaborating with likeminded actors to forge a moderate, hopeful path forward. These are the kinds of positive steps that will push the region in the right direction towards the future.
But we have our work cut out for us. The current lack of moderation in the Middle East is a major challenge. Whether tacitly or overtly, too many state actors are enabling and supporting extremism. TV channels give voice to radicals. Extremist preachers purvey their hateful messages in mosques. Government-sponsored entities, like Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, equip and train terrorist cells.
If governments enable the extremists who disrupt international security, how can they possibly find a common way with peaceful nations? How can they create the conditions within their own countries for people to succeed and prosper?
They can’t. Extremism precludes progress.
Moderation and inclusion may not capture headlines, draw big audiences, or attract followers. But it is the most effective path for creating consensus and governing effectively in the face of widely divergent viewpoints.
The only lasting way to eradicate extremism is not on the battlefield. It runs much deeper, and requires empowering people not through hatred, but through openness, creativity, and opportunity.
The UAE is not alone in embracing this positive view.
Take, for example, UNESCO’s Global Citizen Education program. UNESCO works with educators around the world to formulate educational programs that foster empathy and open-mindedness among students. Numerous case studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of these programs in reducing social tensions and encouraging peaceful responses to conflict.
This is the kind of initiative that confirms my hope for a more tolerant, collaborative, and moderate future. Under the banner of these universal ideals, we can preserve and advance a peaceful, sustainable world order.