PeaceArch impresses Russian humanitarian

Published on Thu, Feb 3, 2005 by RichardClark

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Peace Arch impresses
Russian humanitarian

By Richard Clark

Jerry Gay drove me to the Seattle Center last Friday, where we had been invited to attend the Eighth International Conference on Philosophy and Culture. “Unity and Diversity in Religion and Culture” was this year’s theme, organized by UNESCO’s Branch of the Russian Institute for Cultural Research at St. Petersburg.

Given our mutual interest in world peace, we were pleased to represent our Peace Arch city. But our invitation was not duty free. Photography was Jerry’s job; mine was writing the story.

The conference was held in partnership with nine universities from Washington, Oregon and British Columbia. Western Washington University was included, and indeed, university affiliate Skye Burn played a leading role as project director.

Jerry was given a table for exhibiting and freely distributing “The Road to Peace,” a photographic essay in several languages, complete with a cover photo of the Peace Arch. On the wall behind the table, he had placed art photos reflective of peace on earth. Blaine was extraordinarily included at the conference.

The Snoqualmie room was full of intellectuals from the world over. It was rare to find a speaker who didn’t hold a doctorate, and by the time I saw the titles of their lectures, I felt intimidated.  

First to speak was Liubava Moreva, Ph.D., national officer for culture, UNESCO Moscow office. Her lecture, “Toward a New Paradigm of Communication: From the Diversity of Cultures to the Uniqueness of Individuals,” opened with an expression of gratefulness for the humanities. She sees the humanities generating values, and these must be appreciated and protected. Liberate the meaning of “human” in a universe of freedom and responsibility, she argued. Let it reflect transformation and a shift in the paradigm of values. But finding the bridges between the theoretical and the practical remains a challenge, she said.

Psychiatrist Rudolph Ballentine, author of “Radical Healing,” discussed the multiple meanings of healing, including “finding those pieces of the lost self,” or “discovering our spirituality.”

Healing is transition and transformation. We define ourselves in the course of healing. He associated healing with community. We are fragmented and isolated in today’s world, and we must reassemble ourselves before we can connect with others. “We are all living by stories (Jerry calls them movies) and every story is important,” he said.
James O’Dea, president of the Institute of Noetic Thought, discussed “Collective and Individual Identity.” He saw the question of identity entailing the story of inclusion and exclusion. Every human is also a human being. To know people is to call them into being. It’s the story of human rights. It’s also recognition of those who are not usually recognized. It’s a question of “what” as well as “who.” What is included? Or excluded? Quite importantly, it is also the story of belief. Revision of belief is often forbidden – but essential – territory. Identity is firmly linked to belief; it’s the story of who and what we are.

Jamal Rahman, Sufi minister at Interfaith Community Church, Seattle, was the Muslim speaker. He received the most attention. I’ll wager it was because of the war in Iraq and the fundamentalist Muslim resistance there, although I never heard Iraq discussed during our sessions. Rahman included it by implication.

“The Islamic connection,” he said, “is a matter of reaching out to those unwilling to speak but willing to destroy. Mutual understanding is not enough.” Terrorism doesn’t preach tolerance. Finding a way for them to “express themselves in civility” is the question. Muslims are not monolithic as some suppose, and he believes the Koran must be reinterpreted according to the understanding of societies that change. Of course that’s what scholars do with the Bible, too.

A moment of silence for reflection followed each lecture. When the series was completed, we reassembled in groups of five or six, and we shared our impressions and concerns. I was fortunate to see Rahman included in our group; his thoughts were most sought by all.

Let me summarize. Although I could detect a multicultural trend toward appreciation of values not exclusively American, Alan Watts had discussed similar topics in 1969.

The difference, I think, lies in a greater awareness of  “one world” as Wendell Willkie put it while circling the globe in a Liberator bomber in 1943. There is a growing understanding that we mortals are citizens of one world, interdependent and totally responsible for all that happens in and to it. Assuming that responsibility is the global challenge. It’s your responsibility. And mine.

We didn’t return to Blaine empty-handed. Dr. Moreva, a major decision-maker in conference planning, became interested in the Peace Arch and Blaine’s fine facilities for hosting conferences. Perhaps a future conference will be held in the Peace Arch city.