FRANCIS MATTHEW

At this dangerous time, the Gulf needs its sensible thinkers and leaders to speak up and support finding multilateral and negotiated settlements to the current problems. The region is passing through a dangerous time, as deep hatreds are encouraged: an increase of sectarian thinking at all sorts of levels has caused new enmities that will last for generations. There is also a rush to find simplistic military solutions to issues that must have political answers in the end. The obvious case is the hotheads looking for a confrontation with Iran over its nuclear ambitions, but the region also is witnessing the gradual disintegration of Iraq along ethnic and sectarian lines, the long running misery of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and political confusion in Egypt, and Libya, and a disaster waiting to happen in Syria.

It is important that those who want to see a genuine and long-term solution stand their ground and refuse to get sucked into the rush to war. They may be dismissed as dreamers, or for being impractical, or even failing to find a quick answer, but that should not stop them from insisting that there is a vision of a tolerant and multilateral Middle East that the next generation may well embrace as its own.

The UAE has for decades spoken of the importance of respectful dialogue between those with opposing views. And it has made its own history by quietly getting on with its own development, rather than rushing to war. Over 40 years ago, the UAE started with very little, and it has worked very hard to develop a population that will be able to take its place in the global 21st century world, and an economy that will flourish in the open markets of the interconnected globe.

This essential focus was restated by Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education, when he addressed the annual gathering of the Indian Institute of Management alumnae in Dubai this week. He said, “the current state of distrust and misunderstanding in the world has a great deal to do with ignorance on all sides. I strongly believe that education is one of the most effective ways to address the root causes that fuel hatred and mistrust”.

He also spoke of the importance of individuals accepting their role in society by thinking for themselves, and letting loose their imaginations.

“Higher education is an intellectual adventure that constantly encourages students to reach for knowledge that may at first exceed their grasp,” Shaikh Nahyan said, as he restated the UAE’s position in favour of its citizens and individuals pushing themselves to achieve their best. It is startling to compare this kind of government thinking with what is coming out of Syria or Egypt, where the political confusion has overwhelmed any chance of such rational ideas. A few weeks previously in Dubai, similar praise for ethical community behaviour was made by the British philosopher A.C. Grayling when he spoke at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. He said: “We each have the chance and responsibility to create good lives”.

Grayling has frequently spoken of the importance of ethics in public and individual life, saying “the question that really concerns me the most is how we live; how we treat one another; what a good life really is”.

As Grayling’s talk ranged over centuries of philosophy, he pointed out that the word ‘virtue’ has changed its meaning over time. The origin of the word is based on the Latin ‘vir’, meaning man, and in ancient history the word ‘virtue’ summed up the warrior virtues of a fighting man, under which a wronged individual could seek revenge for a wrong done to him. Grayling described how this violent perception of human rights shifted to a more social view during the period of the Greek philosophers. Grayling recounted a specific record of this shift at the trial of the Greek playwright Aeschylus in 470BC.

The playwright was on trial for revealing the secrets of a secret cult based on Demeter, and the supernatural Furies were required by the Demeter sect to wreak their revenge on Aeschylus. But their revenge was denied by the Athenian jury, who found Aeschylus innocent, as the newer (and present day), virtues based on civic and social responsibility triumphed over the older law of revenge, based on the principle of an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth.

This message from a philosopher more than 2,400 years ago is relevant today, and the appeal of the Greek jury for civilised and community focused values holds an important message for the hawks in Washington and Tel Aviv, who have to realise that even if they attack Iran, the Iranian people will still exist and the world will need to find a peaceful solution with them in the end.

This is why thinkers like Shaikh Nahyan are important when they attack the growing hatred in the region and say “there is an urgent need to bring hope and optimism to relationships among people and countries”.

–Gulf News