Looking for Common Ground

As it turns out, Pakistan is not the only country that struggles with constantly fighting political parties who always seem to be looking out for their own interests over the good of the nation. Actually, this is something that affects all democracies. But this is what makes democracies special – even though it is difficult, there is the opportunity for multiple parties that represent all of society. This is not found in dictatorships or one-party systems. Even in the USA, political parties struggle to find common ground. I think the words of American President Barack Hussein Obama have some lessons not only for their political parties, but for all democracies as well.

Consider, for example, his words about religion and politics. This is a way that American and Pakistan are more similar than we think. If we consider the history of these two nations, however, we learn that America was founded by people who were looking to practice their own religion freely. Pakistan is the same. But even these people who had known what it was like to have religion used as a political tool soon found a convenient political tool in religion themselves, turning against the founding principles. Said the American President:

“I raise this history because far too often, we have seen faith wielded as a tool to divide us from one another – as an excuse for prejudice and intolerance. Wars have been waged. Innocents have been slaughtered. For centuries, entire religions have been persecuted, all in the name of perceived righteousness.”

“There is no doubt that the very nature of faith means that some of our beliefs will never be the same. We read from different texts. We follow different edicts. We subscribe to different accounts of how we came to be here and where we’re going next – and some subscribe to no faith at all.”

“But no matter what we choose to believe, let us remember that there is no religion whose central tenet is hate. There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being. This much we know.”

“We know too that whatever our differences, there is one law that binds all great religions together.”

In addition to having some respect for people whose religion may differ from ours – if they are Sunni, Shia, Sufi, Christian, Buddhist, or Jew – we can seek to find common ground by creating a dialogue in which people of different faiths and religions are talking. As people, we are always more same than we are different. But our relationship with other people can be better or worse depending on if we concentrate on the sameness or the differences.

“We will also reach out to leaders and scholars around the world to foster a more productive and peaceful dialogue on faith. I don’t expect divisions to disappear overnight, nor do I believe that long-held views and conflicts will suddenly vanish. But I do believe that if we can talk to one another openly and honestly, then perhaps old rifts will start to mend and new partnerships will begin to emerge. In a world that grows smaller by the day, perhaps we can begin to crowd out the destructive forces of zealotry and make room for the healing power of understanding.

This is a good lesson not only for the Americans, but for us at home. As we consider our fellow citizens as well as our neighbors and other partners in the world, let us put aside our differences and concentrate instead on finding outr sameness. Along the way, we can talk openly and honestly and respectfully. We can be an example for the world.

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