Keynote Address: Bridges of Understanding Award

Washington, DC
December 2, 2010

I wish to express my sincere appreciation to Ambassador Kawar and Ambassador Holliday, to the members of the Board, Advisory Board and National Advisory Council for the honor of being given this Award. To be with my wife Theresa, among so many old friends, who possess a vision for a better world, one shaped by a deeper understanding between the American people and the people of the Arab world, is a very special privilege.

I am deeply impressed by the work of Bridges of Understanding, having followed your development since your founding. The program as it exists today is further evidence of the importance of your role in promoting comprehension of both American and Arab cultures.

It goes without saying that this recognition today is inextricable from my relationship to Georgetown University, the community that has been my home now for more than thirty-five years. Much of my personal formation has taken place there; the resources that I bring to my engagement with the Arab world and the Muslim faith have been cultivated there. Georgetown is a community that has long understood the importance of providing a context for the work of inter-cultural and inter-religious understanding.

In the building on our campus that houses our Walsh School of Foreign Service, the Intercultural Center, these words are written in the main entry way. They are the words of the distinguished Jesuit, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: “The Age of Nations is past. The task before us now, if we would not perish, is to build the Earth.”

It is that spirit that has guided Georgetown. The Walsh, of our Walsh School of Foreign Service, is another Jesuit, Edmund A. Walsh, one of the founders of the School in 1919. The School was conceived in the days following the devastation of the First World War to develop a new kind of public servant for a nation coming to terms with its new role in the world. The School anticipated the creation, five years later, of the Foreign Service of our Department of State. In his address at the founding of the School, Father Walsh captured the meaning of the moment:

“The awakened consciousness of…essential human rights and their reciprocal obligations, together with the realization of the very definite lesson that the peoples of the world constitute one huge family, whose interests are common and whose members are interdependent, has proved to be one of the most valuable by-products of the world tragedy, now happily ended.”1 That was in 1919.

In this speech, Father Walsh outlined the curriculum for this new School and it is important to note that eight languages were to be offered, English, French, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, and Arabic.

Edmund A. Walsh is the same Father Walsh who twelve years later, in 1931, spent five months in Mesopotamia, ”devoted to a study of political, economic, and educational opportunities.” About his trip, The Washington Post reported at the time:

“Making his headquarters at Bagdad, the ancient city of the caliphs, and later at Mosul, Dr. Walsh traveled as far north as the Turkish frontier, crossed the Tigris into Kurdestan and westward into Syria….”2

What is important about this trip in 1931 is that it was in the next year that an American Jesuit secondary school was approved to open in Baghdad. This “American Jesuit secondary school” became known as Baghdad College. At the time of its founding, it was reported: “Dr. Edmund A. Walsh, vice president of Georgetown… had much to do with making the preliminary plans for the school when he visited Iraq last summer.”3

This same spirit continued to drive Georgetown forward. In the Fall of 1975, we opened our Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, known to many of you as CCAS. It was the first university-based program in the United States addressed exclusively to contemporary Arab development and international relations.

The original structure of the Center was comprised of two parts, a teaching program and an Institute for research. The first director of the Institute was a member of our faculty in Economics, known to many of you, Dr. Ibrahim Oweiss.

A few years later, Georgetown established our nation’s first graduate program in modern Arab Studies. And later, we became the first university in the country to establish MA and PhD programs in Arabic Literature, Language and Linguistics.

And today, our undergraduate programs support the largest Arabic enrollment of any university in the United States.

Over the years, we have continued to expand the nature of our engagement. With the philanthropic support of the late Hasib Sabbagh, in 1994, we established the Center for Muslin Christian Understanding, which has been directed since it’s founding by Professor John Esposito.

In 2005, an extraordinary gift from Prince Alwaleed bin Talal endowed this Center, which now bears his name. Over these past sixteen years, the Center has fostered an incredible range of conferences, symposia, and publications. The Center serves as the official representative in North American of “A Common Word,” among the most significant dialogues between Muslim and Christian leaders that is taking place in our world.

And six years ago, we created a new kind of presence—with the establishment of a campus of our School of Foreign Service, as part of Education City in Doha. SFS-Q has now had two commencements of undergraduates. We will be dedicating our new home there in February. We are proud to be educating a new generation, in preparation for public service.

This is the community in which I have spent the last thirty-five years. It is a community shaped by an ethos of engagement, of seeking to find ways to ensure that the formation of our students is shaped by a profound understanding of our world… and of the responsibilities that come with such an understanding.

It is in this context that I wish to offer some brief reflections on the kinds of responsibilities I believe we face as we seek to deepen our understanding and engagement with the Arab world. I offer these reflections from the perspective of someone living his life in the context of the contemporary Academy.

First, it is urgent that we recognize the needs for Human Development for the nearly 360 million people who comprise the 25 countries of the Arab world. Human Development is an important term. We have all used this term in many contexts throughout our lives, but it has taken on new meaning in the last generation. We celebrate this year the twentieth-anniversary of the first UN Human Development Report. It was in 1990, under the directorship of the late Pakistani economist, Mahbub ul Haq, that the United Nations began to develop a new framework for thinking about economic development. The intellectual architect of this approach is the Nobel Laureate, Amartya Sen.

Over the past twenty years, the moral commitments embedded in this approach—that the purpose of development is to expand the capabilities of people to pursue their own well-being, have become widely accepted.

This approach to development seeks to define development in terms other than GDP, instead focusing on the conditions that will sustain the flourishing of each human being. It is an approach that was embraced this past decade in the Arab world with the publication of five Arab Human Development Reports, beginning in 2002.

The needs for Human Development in the Arab countries demand our engagement. Consider the following: Two-thirds of Arabs are younger than twenty-five. More than 100 million young people will enter the job market in the next twenty years. With unemployment today already among the highest in the world, the need for job creation is acute.

Job creation is human development.

We saw in 2008, the rising costs of food highlight the need for food security in the region. Investments in agriculture will be required.

Alleviating hunger is human development.

The Arab Human Development Reports highlight “three great tasks: building, using and liberating the capabilities of the Arab people by advancing knowledge, freedom, and women’s empowerment.”4

Developing the conditions for knowledge creation and dissemination—the conditions of a knowledge-based economy, is the work of human development.

Building the institutions and structures for political participation and the protection of human rights is the work of human development.

Empowering women is the work of human development.

These themes must inform our work as we deepen our engagement in the Arab world.

Second, we need to continue to engage the resources of our faiths in the work of mutual understanding. This need was quite apparent in the debate this past summer that Chris and Imam Faisal discussed earlier this morning. I know that the importance of fostering such dialogue is at the heart of the purpose of Bridges of Understanding.

I mentioned earlier that we have been deeply engaged in the initiative of HRH Prince Ghazi of Jordan, “A Common Word.” We have also hosted the interreligious gathering of the Community of Sant’Egidio, an annual event that captures the “spirit of Assisi,” the 1985 meeting in which Pope John Paul II brought together the world’s religious leaders for the first time. We support the work of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, in his inter-religious dialogue, and the World Economic Forum, in producing an annual report on faith and values. In all of this work, we have experienced an ever-deepening capacity for mutual understanding and respect.

As we move forward we will need to continue this work of dialogue. We will seek opportunities to find joint projects, on which we can work together—perhaps connected to some of the issues of human development that I described, perhaps in the work of humanitarian assistance, or in addressing issues of global health, or in peace-building. Work, which will bring us together, across our differences, in ways in which we can come to know one another more deeply. Perhaps a less prosaic way of putting it is this: We have done lots of talking, let’s go do something together!

Finally, I wish to offer a word about the fundamental purpose of the University and how this purpose is being shaped by the kind of work that is at the heart of Bridges of Understanding. In the lectures he delivered as he was founding what ultimately became University College Dublin, John Henry Newman captured the essence of the work of the University. The “main purpose,” he wrote, is to cultivate, in the young people we have the privilege to educate, a “habit of mind,” one capable of grasping, in Newman’s words, “a comprehensive view of truth in all its branches, of the relations of science to science, of their mutual bearings, and their respective values.”5

This “habit of mind,” Newman said, enables us to have a “connected view or grasp of things.”6 A mind “of which the attributes are freedom, equitableness, calmness, moderation, and wisdom….”7  This habit of mind is the product of a “Liberal Education.”   It is remarkable how prescient those words were, written in 1852, in capturing the ethos of the contemporary Academy.

But something more is expected of us today. Perhaps as a result of the forces of globalization; perhaps because of the ubiquity of new information technologies including social networking media and an unprecedented connectivity; most certainly because of the depth of efforts, such as the one that brings us together today, we must work to understand one another across our differences. Arising out of these efforts is a recognition, that however we understood the purpose of our universities before, now, here, at the dawn of this new century, we must acknowledge that we have a responsibility to prepare global citizens…young women and men who understand, as American philosopher, Martha Nussbaum, wrote, that their “primary allegiance is to the community of human beings in the entire world.”8

There is a word for this understanding of global citizenship. This word is cosmopolitan. This is a concept with a deep and rich history going back all the way to the Stoic philosophers of the third century, BC. But it is a concept that has never had more significance than it does today.   A commitment to cosmopolitanism requires that we share a responsibility for one another. Regardless of where we call home, independent of our nationality or ethnicity, we share this responsibility for one another by virtue of our common humanity.

An element of the “habit of mind” that we hope to cultivate in the lives of our young people is this sense of mutual responsibility. It is an understanding of responsibility that is at the heart of the purpose of Bridges of Understanding.

Again, it is a profound honor for me to be with you today and on behalf of Georgetown University, I wish to thank you.

1. Walsh, S.J., Edmund A. “The Aims of the School of Foreign Service.” Washington, D.C. 25 November, 1919.

2. “Educator Returns From Long Study of Ancient People.” The Washington Post, 14 June, 1931, M15.

3. “New Jesuit School to Open in Bagdad.” The Washington Post, 13 March, 1932,13.

4.  Hunaidi, Rima Khalaf. “Foreword by the Regional Director.” United Nations Development Programme: Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development. Arab Human Development Report 2003. New York: UN Publications, 2003, III.

5.  Newman, John Henry, The Idea of the University. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1982, 77.

6.  Ibid, XLIII.

7.  Ibid, 76.

8.  Nussbaum, Martha. “Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism,” The Boston Review, October/November 1994.