Letter From New York October 30, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

The last week has been more than a bit business mad; Odyssey Networks has been doing a whole series of productions. I fell into the role of point person for them. We sent a man to Nigeria to shoot footage of the Imam and the Pastor, a Christian pastor and a Muslim Imam who have emerged from the religious warfare in that country as spokesmen for peace and interfaith hope. Pastor Wuye lost his hand in the violence, chopped off by a Muslim. It became the moment he moved beyond his hatred to embrace a different way. He and the Imam have become a team, founded a mediation center in Kaduna in Nigeria and have become world famous for their efforts.

They were honored on the 26th at the We Are Family Foundation Gala with the Mattie J. Stepanek Award. Mattie, if you recall, was the extraordinary boy who spent his brief life besieged by a rare form of muscular dystrophy, which killed him weeks shy of his fourteenth birthday. He wrote books on peace, became a national personage because of his presence on the Oprah Winfrey Show and was eulogized at his funeral by President Jimmy Carter, with whom he co-wrote a book. The Imam and the Pastor describe Mattie as a prophet, as he might well have been. Certainly his words echo beyond the time encapsulated by his short life.

I met them briefly at the Gala, introduced by Jonathan Smith, the producer whom we had sent to Nigeria to get the footage. There was a sense about them of peace and joy, calm in the center of a tumultuous world, a presence that was tranquil and slightly transcendental. It was an honor; it was a moment I won’t forget, two men, once sworn enemies, standing together now against the ravages of the violence that racks their land. Six months ago Christians and Muslims were killing each other in the Jos Valley, the place both call home. When they left New York, they were headed for Sudan where they had been asked to lead a Peace Conference in that country, which is edging toward potential violence as it advances toward a referendum that might split the country in two. If it goes that way, there is a chance war will break out and the land that is home to infamous Darfur will once again be racked by violence, the victims of which will mostly be the poor, the desperate, the defenseless.

Nigeria, the Sudan, the Middle East, Columbia, India, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan… The list of countries wracked by violence, war, revolution, counter-revolution, insurgency goes on and on. Do we think daily of lawless Somalia, home to modern pirates that regularly seize ships in the Gulf of Aden, holding them for ransom? No, probably not. But while we live our reasonably secure lives, vast parts of the globe are war zones or de facto war zones. Jonathan described the vast sea of tension and fear that swirls through the streets of Nigerian cities as no one knows when the next bout of sectarian violence will erupt, bringing more pain and death into their lives. It is not uncommon that Muslims and Christians will chop away fingers or hands [witness Pastor Wuye] to remind their victims of their hate. The streets are filled with the disfigured.

Against this tide of religious vitriol, individuals like the Pastor and the Imam work as best they can to bring sanity into the world in which they live, to bridge the hatred, roots of which are now forgotten but not relinquished.

Against this hatred are the words of a child, Mattie Stepanek, the actions of two men of God, who stand with other men of good that dot the world, seeking in some small way to change the world, to offer an alternative to the generations of killing. For if we do not find some alternative, we will never find a way out of the vortex, one that is now more dangerous than ever as religious divide, hatred and extremism fills men who have capacity to wreck global havoc.

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