I can't help but reflect on just how far our country has come since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. taught us the power of peace to stoke the fires of our greater humanity. It can be difficult at a time when our nation is avowedly "at war" with extremists to put that lesson in perspective. After all, what role does the principle of peace play when some people are willing to blow themselves up to make a political statement?
I was discussing this question the other day with a friend, and we naturally came to the recent episode on Northwest Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit in which a young Nigerian man, who will forever live in infamy as the Underwear Bomber, attempted to ignite an explosive device attached to his undergarments.
I can't say I know what kind of hatred or anger motivates someone to take such an action. I do know that in parts of the world the tactics of global terrorism have been justified as an appropriate response to oppression. While there are real and legitimate reasons many in the Islamic world feel alienated from the West, the reality is the majority of people in both the Islamic and Western worlds disagree with the actions and philosophy of radical Islamists, particularly those who trade in human lives for political gain.
Most people of every culture and creed would prefer to live and thrive rather than see others die. As a person who grew up in both the West and the Islamic world, I can say with comfort that the value and sanctity of human life is indeed a shared belief, despite any punditry to the contrary. The issue facing us today is not whether we share a common belief in the value of a human life; the question is whether we recognize that commonality.
Derrick says nonviolence is the answer
The fact is, terrorists do not have the military wherewithal to invade or destroy our nation. But they do have the ability to invade our hearts and minds and to sow seeds of fear and doubt in the fabric of our national consciousness. I believe it is right and just for us to vigorously defend our homeland and ideals from such attack. But in considering how we do so, I'm reminded of the following quote from Dr. King's Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Stockholm on December 11, 1964. He argued that:
Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Man must evolve for all human conflict a method that rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.
We live in a time when our nation is at war overseas against the forces of extremism and at home against the forces of fear that would erode our collective conscience. Though it may be a politically unpopular position to take at such a time, I believe that ultimately the struggle for the American ideal cannot be won with arms. In the 21st century, the fruits of hatred and oppression have been globalized along with those of business and culture. If Dr. King were alive today, I believe he would argue that the fruits of peace must be sown and cultivated just as vigorously.
In the end, no violence, no artifice, no ideology can undermine our humanity unless we allow it to do so. This "war" will be won by bringing diverse people closer to an understanding of that shared humanity. And by striving together toward our greater humanity, we, like our forebears, shall overcome every challenge to it.
Derrick N. Ashong, or DNA as he is sometimes known, is a Ghana, West Africa, native and has dedicated his life to building bridges between the fields of business, media, technology, youth culture, pop culture and politics. Ashong has lectured on five continents on the use of media as a tool for human development, including recent talks at the London School of Economics, King's College (Cambridge), the Reconciliation Forum in Washington, D.C., the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and before UK Parliament on the subject of "The Obama Generation." He is a member of the internationally recognized Next Generation Leadership Forum and a participant in the Arts & Entertainment task force of the U.S.-Islamic World Forum. Ashong is a Harvard graduate and resides in Los Angeles where he is the leader of the band Soulfège.