CIP U.S. National Director Muftari attends American Jewish Committee Summit – Successful diplomacy requires a multifaceted approach in which one must first seek to understand before seeking to be understood
By Murat Muftari
In the first few days of June, I attended the American Jewish Committee (AJC) ACCESS Summit, a gathering of young Jewish leaders in Washington D.C., and was treated to a substance-rich, educational environment. ACJ ACCESS means of empowerment include informing young advocates on global affairs; teaching hands-on techniques in communicating with diverse audiences; engaging key opinion-makers; helping build bridges of cooperation and communication, and producing inter-generational dialogue in building a shared vision for the world’s future. Two main areas of focus for this year’s Summit included Latino-Jewish relations and Muslim-Jewish relations. I will focus on Muslim-Jewish relations and the sessions I was able to attend as U.S. National Director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism (CIP), as well as a curious observer of such a thought-provoking event.
First, I and CIP would like to thank AJC for inviting me to such a professionally organized and executed event. My first interaction with AJC occurred a few months before when I was able to sit down and introduce myself to AJC Detroit, and discuss ways of creating inter-religious and intercultural dialogue at the local level, particularly between local Jewish leaders and Bektashi Sufi Muslims, in the Jewish and Albanian communities of Metro-Detroit. Since our first interaction, the AJC has been nothing but professional, open-minded, and sincere. We immediately went to work generating ideas to bring our communities together for better communication, collaboration, and cooperation.
Proposals that emerged included inviting the Albanian Bektashi community to the local Jewish Film Festival to view the documentary film Besa: The Promise, based on the history of Albanian rescue of Jews from German occupation during World War II. The film was emotional, inspirational, and effective in portraying the good will of Albanians as down-to-earth people simply helping other humans. Following that event, we were invited by AJC ACCESS Detroit to attend a Community Table event, with a small group of young professionals and leaders from both sides in an intimate gathering, to realize how minimal our differences are, and to stimulate mutual relations. Those two local events led to the invitation by AJC Detroit to attend the AJC ACCESS Summit in Washington.
At the Summit, the opening plenary included inspirational speeches by Alicia Chandler and Benjamin Sigel, ACCESS Global co-chairs. They helped put into perspective how the gathering of 400 young leaders in D.C. could activate global change exponentially. They were followed by inspirational words from Dalia Zaida, a human rights activist in Egypt and the Arab world. Her actions show the power of the interconnected world we live in and of grassroots activism and social media.
A breakout session on Muslim-Jewish bridge-building at home and abroad was particularly effective in revealing hands-on success stories. Ilja Sichrosky, the founder and Secretary General of the Muslim Jewish Conference, puts together an annual one-week event that tackles ignorance and stereotyping. Sichrosky’s group unites young Jewish and Muslim leaders in action-based and result-driven teams, completing major projects by getting Muslims and Jews “talking to each other instead of about each other.”
These perspectives reminded me of the activities of my former U.S. Special Forces team in Iraq. By eating, living, and fighting alongside elite Iraqi soldiers, a greater level of mutual respect and trust was built, creating a shift in perception and fostering true friendship. Such shared experiences and achievements produce a strong bond between humans no matter their race, religion, or ethnicity.
I later sat in on a session titled Can Jews and Muslims be More Than Good Neighbors? in which Rabbi David Rosen gained the attention of the crowd by making the audience not only believe that the two communities may be good neighbors but may become interdependent neighbors in regional and global affairs. On the other side of the rabbi sat Dr. Ahmed Abaddi, a Moroccan Muslim scholar with a long list of awards and critical responsibilities in promoting Islamic dialogue. Dr. Abbadi answered direct questions honestly and humbly, but he also took the time to analyze and discuss the situation I mentioned to him, regarding infiltration of Islamic extremism in the Balkans. I came away motivated to continue this effort to keep extremists on the run (literally), not only in the Balkans but throughout the Muslim world.
As I wrote in a previous article for CIP and Illyria, uniting the precision of elite units such as U.S. Special Forces with the spread of information and wisdom based on love, knowledge, and kindness, and a community push for human rights and freedom, may create a force of momentum that will push back decisively against extremists. Naturally, this phenomenon will create a short-term “flight-or-fight” reaction among the fanatics. Some will respond with acts of terror that always end in a similar fate. Some will commit suicide based on their inability to deal with the change sweeping the globe. Some will continue fighting a losing battle against the superior technology and weaponry of NATO forces. And some may go back home, to seek more wisdom and knowledge and question what they were told by radical clerics whose thirst for attention or fame is the driving force behind their preaching of falsities. If we are not part of NATO Forces, then I believe it is our duty as citizens of the world to continue as active agents of change through one of the other methods described above. This will allow Islamist terrorism only a short and unsuccessful chapter in human history.
Lastly, I would like to touch briefly on my Albanian roots and some of the parallels I see between Albanians and Jews. As inter-religious dialogue was the main theme of the AJC ACCESS Summit, it is also important to highlight inter-ethnic dialogue and diplomacy. This brings me to the last session on which I would like to comment: “Advocacy 101” with Jason Isaacson, AJC’s Director of Government and International Affairs. He highlighted the success and importance of AJC’s mission. His session and success stories of diplomacy showed that such efforts take time and persistence, because in the end, action on multiple fronts gets results. Diplomacy is not only political, it is not only behind-the-scenes bilateral communication, and it is not only local advocacy.
Successful diplomacy requires a multifaceted approach in which one must first seek to understand before seeking to be understood. This is Habit #5 described in Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. In this context, Albanians may learn a great deal from the AJC and Jewish advocacy. On my trips to my Albanian homeland, I often hear from locals how only Germany or the U.S. can fix our Albanian states of Albania and Kosova and our minorities in Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Greece.
Yet we, as Albanians, stand at a critical moment in history. We must begin to improve the position of our diaspora in a way similar to that accomplished by the Jewish people and the AJC. The actions of a few will not get the results we are striving for. The increasing recognition of Kosova as a sovereign state will not happen by hiding behind American or German statesmen, but through hard work driven by integrity at the political and community level. The progress of EU accession for Albania will not happen while corruption rules Albanian politics. And Albanian minority rights will not be achieved in Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, or Greece if we only support power-hungry Albanians who play the victim card too often, leaving our community weak and vulnerable.
Albanian politicians and diaspora leaders across the globe must act with principle and sacrifice, instead of seeking exclusivity and elite status. We must create a sense of unity in purpose among our people, similar to that of the Jewish people. We are too few in numbers to avoid mobilizing an active and participatory population that not only holds our leaders accountable but advocates on Albania’s behalf. We are geographically caught between dominant ideologies and lack a strong voice that understands all sides of the arguments on the table, as any great diplomat would.
We must work tirelessly to make Albania part of the international solution instead of an additional problem. As the AJC has created a powerful movement of young Jewish leaders, Albanian leaders must include Albanian youth in the discussion about our future, recruiting young professionals who come with an arsenal of knowledge and wisdom suitable to the age we live in. Albanian youth are needed now in positions of leadership.
Most of our parents and families grew up under communism. We are finally reaching a phase where our young leadership does not have the seeds of communism, skepticism, and cronyism engrained in them. As Hillary Clinton mentioned in a speech to Albania last November, “I urge you to tackle the problem that afflicts so many democracies in the world today, namely, corruption. This is a fight every country must wage and win, because all over the world, corruption is a cancer that eats away at societies. It drains resources, it blocks economic growth, it shields incompetent and unethical leaders, and perhaps worst of all, it creates a culture of impunity that saps people of their will to improve their own lives and communities.”
It is up to the Albanian youth to assure a prosperous future, before our people lose their will to improve their own lives, as Secretary Clinton warned in her speech. The change that is sweeping the Muslim world does not have boundaries. Styles of leadership like that of Hosni Mubarak, Mu’ammar Al-Qadhdhafi, or Bashar Al-Assad will come to a similar end.
Albanian youth, as emerging leaders, possess the power to create the future we desire for our people and our homelands. Yes, the U.S., Germany, and others are giving us tools to succeed, but Albanians must take the initiative, acting with real accountability.
Let us take AJC and AJC ACCESS as examples in enhancing the well-being of the Albanian people and comprehending the parallels we share with the Jewish people in geographic, historical, and regional affairs. Let us unite with a purpose and reinforce that purpose to create an unstoppable momentum in overcoming the challenges we face.