There's wonderful power in an ideal. My childhood visions of Camelot, where gallant knights fought for justice, "July and August cannot be too hot", and rain "never falls till after sundown", still evoke dreamy smiles. Al Andalus is another mystical world, a place where Christians, Muslims, and Jews lived in harmony, taking learning and the arts to new heights. Camelot and Al Andalus both have historical roots, Camelot in medieval Britain and Al Andalus in eight centuries on the Iberian Peninsula before Ferdinand and Isabella came to power in that famous year 1492. But history and mythology are intertwined and the lasting imprint on our moral imagination owes at least as much to myth as to reality.
Catholic nuns know lots about Health care. They founded hospitals all over the United States and ran them with love and grit. Sister Carol Keehan is president and chief executive officer of The Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA) that supports the roughly 630 Catholic hospitals that operate today in the US. With over 40 years as a nurse and administrator behind her, she is a passionate advocate for decent Health care. She knows the issues for the Affordable Health Care Act inside out, but in a series of lengthy conversations never missed the chance to drive home her central message: assuring that every person can find and afford Health care is not an option. It is a moral imperative.
The Hilton Stadtpark hotel, in Vienna, Austria, was buzzing with interfaith dialogue for a full week from November 18. The year-old KAICIID -- King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue - held a global forum, followed immediately by the Global Assembly of Religions for Peace, the ninth in a series of such events over its 43-year history. Each meeting gathered hundreds of people, from far corners of the world, and costs were clearly well in the millions of dollars. Many basked in the chance to meet and hear interesting and sometimes inspiring people and to test out ideas and dreams. Many also wrestled with questions about what could truly be achieved through such gatherings.
Georgetown University hosted two star-studded events last week: one the award of the 10th Opus Prize, a million dollars plus two $75,000 awards to other finalists, the other a meeting on Afghan women and U.S. responsibilities and opportunities. Sakena Yacoobi won the Opus prize, in recognition of her stunningly courageous work in Afghanistan to support women and girls. The separate event on Friday celebrated Afghan women's progress. Secretary of State John Kerry, his predecessor Hillary Rodham Clinton, and former First Lady Laura Bush shared the stage with a group of courageous Afghan women, including Sakena.
Wars of religion fill history books. Even today, when religious institutions rarely feature as diplomacy's leading players, religious teachings are invoked time and time again to justify or explain violence and war. Yet wise leaders and observers, coming from an extraordinary range of traditions, argue passionately that the true essence, the core, of their faith is to make and build peace. The debates matter, deeply. However complex the causal linkages, religious actors and leaders are central figures in many world conflicts. Understanding what lies behind the contrasting perceptions and the complex realities is a vital (and sadly neglected) part of international relations, in all its dimensions.
We arrived at the pesantran in the late afternoon. A rather unruly group of boys greeted the visitors, leading us through a maze of buildings, to a house where the headmistress and her staff were waiting. In short order we were introduced to the school and guided through the premises. As the sun began to set the excitement built, as it was Ramadan, the fasting season, and the moment to break the day's fast was approaching. A group of laughing girls crowded around the women among our group. Food appeared and with prayers we shared in the daily Ramadan ritual. After dinner, dancers entertained us all. In some respects it could have been a thriving school anywhere. In others, it was distinctly Indonesian, clearly Muslim, and wonderfully positive.
There's so much bad news from around the world this month that it's important to remember the less reported work of heroes. One is a remarkable woman working in Burundi: Marguerite Barankitse.
Khadiga Hussein is one determined lady. Her cause is peace -- an end to violence of all kinds, national and domestic, communal and individual. She founded and has led the Sudanese Mothers for Peace and Development movement for 25 years. Now she's itching to find new ways to make her point and achieve her ends.
My fellowship with WFDD has come to an end and after a year and a half two reports have been written and countless stories have been told through interviews and blog posts. But there is one story that I had yet to learn more about: that of the town of Anlong Veng, the last stronghold of the Khmer Rouge and the final resting place of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot.
It was an odd parable, said to be part of an African country's tradition. Two men were sleeping out in the bush. One woke up in the pitch black, hearing a noise. "What's up? Are you all right," he asked his companion. "Be quiet," the companion answered, "the hyena is eating my leg."