19 Nov 2015

The Path to Peace Award Acceptance Speech

Your Excellency the Most Reverend Archbishop Auza, Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

What a privilege to be hosted by the Holy See’s Mission, to the United Nations.

I am keenly aware that many other individuals, including some in this room, have dedicated themselves completely to the betterment of the human condition and are, without question, far more worthy of recognition and accolades, than I.

I accept this honour in their stead.

I have spoken before at the UN about hunger and poverty, and I had prepared words on this subject that is so close to my heart to share with you.

But tonight is about the Path to Peace. As a United Nations Messenger of Peace, I feel that on this occasion, there is a different message that I need to deliver.

On Friday night, before I slept, my prayers were for my Arab brothers and sisters in Baghdad and Beirut, both cities reeling from brutal attacks at the hands of ruthless extremists; families destroyed and futures decimated.

I lay awake in the darkness contemplating the terrible plight of Syrian and Iraqi refugees and the challenges of the many brave countries - both in our region and beyond - who have opened their hearts and borders to offer these desperate people hope and respite.

The next morning was unusually crisp and clear in Dubai, the sky achingly blue all the way down to the horizon, birdsong carried on a light ocean breeze.

A fresh new day;
a blank canvas;
a promise of hope.

And then, I turned on the news.

Like many of you in this room, I was Parisian once.

I lived in Paris for two years, training as a professional athlete for the Sydney Olympic Games.
I strolled on her sidewalks, dined in her bistros, lost myself in the glow of her lights and enjoyed attending her many concerts and sporting events.

It was also in Paris that I first met the remarkable man who later became my husband and the father of my children.

Like millions of people around the world, I watched in open-mouthed horror as details of the darkest of nights for the City of Light flashed across my TV screen.

In the ensuing days, I have asked myself time and again, how can we ensure that we do not allow extremists to fracture our world on fault lines of culture and religion? How can we look to peace without being drawn into a cycle of violence?

Clearly, there are no easy answers to these incredibly difficult questions.

The entire civilised world is united in grief for the loss of life and anger at the perpetrators. Buildings and monuments around the world —

the Burj al Arab in Dubai,
the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin,
the Tower Bridge in London,
the Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai,
the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro,
the Sydney Opera House
and the One World Trade Centre here in New York — were all bathed in the light of the tri-colour French flag.

When you look for humanity, there you will find the flickers of light that can never be extinguished, the promise of dawn after the darkest of nights.

These glimpses of higher resolve and unbreakable spirit punctuate the darkness of the longest nights and show us that the citizens of the world’s cities remain bigger than the extremists who threaten them.

The voices in the Stade de France that rose in defiant answer to the shattering sound of bomb blasts.

The people of Paris who queued around the block to give blood on Saturday morning.

The Twitter users who offered shelter to anyone in need, opening their homes, even in this terrifying time, via the hashtag, “#PorteOuverte”.

The Parisian taxi drivers who turned off their meters and drove people home — or to safety — for free.

The people of the world who, wherever atrocities happen, look to a higher Truth to hold on to in times of uncertainty; or to art and poetry to understand the complexity of the profound loss that fellow humans have experienced.

One does not have to look very far to find the humanity in the most harrowing of circumstances. And these stories are important because, they tell us something about the unbreakable human spirit, the spirit which will ultimately enable us to defeat an enemy that is ruthless and evil. Martin Luther King said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

As we mourn for the victims in Paris, let us never forget the other victims of extremist violence. The senseless killings in Beirut and Baghdad did not receive the global attention that the Paris attacks did, but the lives lost are just as precious — and our sadness and outrage should be just as strong.

The solidarity that the world displays for acts of terrorism in the West should extend worldwide.

It is encouraging to see the global linkage on social media.

Two Twitter hashtags that began in the Arab world — “#beirut2paris” and “#ArabLivesMatter” — are gaining traction beyond our region.

All of us — especially religious and political leaders, and others in positions of influence — have an obligation to condemn perverted ideologies that encourage violence against people of other religions or ethnic groups.

It makes no matter whether that violence occurs in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad, or in Nigeria, Myanmar, India, China and the West Bank. And it makes no matter whether the victims are Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Jews or adherents of other faiths.

Too many people in positions of influence remain silent in the face of extremism. Even worse are those who contribute to the problem by exploiting ethnic or religious tensions for political or economic gain.

Xenophobia and discrimination are not the answer to extremism. Our enemies on the path to peace are the extremists operating under the guise of religion, not the faithful followers of any particular religion.

His Holiness, Pope Francis, has spoken eloquently of the need to avoid condemning an entire faith for the actions of twisted extremists who claim allegiance to that faith.

“We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within,” he said. “To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. Our response must be instead one of hope and healing, peace and justice.”

As a Muslim, my first reaction to the events of last week was anger. My whole being wanted to scream at those who claim to kill for my religion: “Not in my name!” Not in the name of my family!”

The path to peace is the path of tolerance. We cannot kill a twisted ideology with a gun; we can only vanquish it with a more powerful and credible ideology.

As my husband, HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, has said:

“Only one thing can stop a suicidal youth who is ready to die for Daesh: a stronger ideology that guides him onto the right path and convinces him that God created us to improve our world, not to destroy it…In this battle of minds, it is thinkers and scientists of spiritual and intellectual stature among Muslims who are best placed to lead the charge.”

And it is not just Muslims who need to engage in this battle of minds; it is people of all faiths.

Before I left Dubai for New York, Sheikh Mohammed told me a story about his father, a man ahead of his time who set the tone for modern Dubai.

Many years ago, when Sheikh Rashid donated land for the construction of the first church in Dubai, angry hardliners asked him how he could allow such a thing. His answer was to build a mosque next to the church. He told the dissenters, “Those who want to go to the mosque, can go there. Those who want to go to the church, can go there.”

Sheikh Mohammad has continued to build Dubai in this spirit of tolerance, peace and respect for diversity, that was established by its Founding Fathers --- and is creating an environment where Arab youth can regain hope in these troubled times.

That is the kind of leadership we need, especially from the children of Abraham, to defeat extremism.

The blue, white and red images that illuminated buildings around the world this weekend are the light of hope against the forces of darkness, the promise of a new dawn after a horrendous night of death.

Our hearts are broken, but our humanity is intact. Building on this spirit of solidarity in the wake of hardship is the key to defeating a ruthless and morally bankrupt ideology.

The light will overcome darkness.

Tolerance requires dismantling the walls that divide us. If we do that, we will find that we are all human beings with similar problems, hardships and tribulations.

There has been enough destruction, enough death, enough waste.

As a Hashemite, I reject anyone who would use any methods of the extreme and claim to be, like me, a child of Abraham.

And I repeat: Not in my name. Never in my name.

They have no right to dictate through bloody acts of evil the future of our children and our children’s children.

It is time that we, the real children of Abraham and good people around the world, work together to overcome the darkness.

Thank you.