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In search of the ‘oneness of humanity’

We must strive to build a just and peaceful world by opposing all manifestations of structural and physical violence

Middle EastWar ZonesHuman Rights

Street art in Gaza. Photo by Belal Khaled/X.

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres has expressed anguish over the situation in Gaza, warning that “Gaza is becoming a graveyard for children,” and stating that “the nightmare in Gaza is more than a humanitarian crisis. It is a crisis of humanity.” According to the World Health Organization, a child is killed every ten minutes in Gaza on average. Moreover, Gaza has endured the impact of 18,000 tonnes of bombs, resulting in the tragic loss of many civilians including more than 100 UN employees and 60 journalists. Authorities report that deaths in Gaza have topped 15,000, most of them women and children, and about two-thirds of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents have been made homeless. Schools, hospitals and mosques as well as a Greek Orthodox church, sheltering ordinary people in Gaza, have been bombed. Human Rights Watch has labelled the Gaza blockade, along with the denial of water, fuel and electricity, a collective punishment and a war crime.

Israel attributes its ongoing military operations in the Gaza Strip to Hamas’s surprise attack on October 7, which resulted in 1,200 deaths and saw 240 Israeli and foreign nationals taken as hostages. Hamas’s targeting of civilians through acts of killing and hostage-taking should be condemned unequivocally. Yet, while this narrative passes over the intricate details of this century-old conflict, it encourages thoughts on humane actions to break the cycle of violence. It is my contention that violence breeds violence, and undertaking decisive steps to end the primary form of structural violence, namely Israel’s ongoing occupation, can play a pivotal role in ending this cycle.

The current Israel-Gaza war is not a cultural clash, but cultural values profoundly shape the political discourse and dynamics of war, peace, “occupation and resistance.” Therefore, empowering and emphasizing the most humane interpretations of cultural and religious traditions is essential for realizing justice and peace. Such interpretations within the three Abrahamic and monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—prioritize the sanctity of human life, compassion, justice and peace. They underscore values such as Moses’ prohibition of murder, Jesus’s teachings on love, and the Quranic principle emphasizing the sanctity of innocent lives.

Equally crucial is the amplification of cultural voices advocating for cosmopolitan humanism, recognizing the universal right to a fair and dignified life for every human being, irrespective of their religion, nationality, race, class or gender. Martin Luther King, Jr., for instance, argued that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Similarly, the 13th century Persian poet Sa’adi encapsulates the idea of the “oneness of humanity.” His verses decorate the walls of the United Nations building in New York:

Human beings are members of a whole / In creation of one essence and soul
If one member is afflicted with pain / Other members uneasy will remain
If you have no sympathy for human pain / The name of human you cannot retain.

As Canadians navigating these challenging times, we may ponder on how to implement the principle of the “oneness of humanity.” Canada aspires to be recognized for its twin-pillar policy of “multiculturalism at home” and “peace-building abroad.” Both pillars could represent the oneness of humanity. Allow me to elaborate:

  1. Multiculturalism at home maintains domestic harmony by fostering understanding and dialogue among our diverse population. It implies that all Canadian citizens share equal moral and legal standing, rejecting the notion that Indigenous, Chinese, Hindu, Sikh, Black, Latino, Jewish and Muslim communities are merely second-class “diasporic” entities compared to the “real” first-class Canadian citizens. The government carries both a moral and legal responsibility to consider, respect and represent the interests of all Canadians, encompassing diverse perspectives on issues like the ongoing Israel-Gaza war.

  2. Peace-building abroad involves proactive diplomatic initiatives, encompassing peacekeeping missions, conflict resolutions, dialogue between conflicting parties, multilateral engagement with states and international organizations, and the provision of humanitarian assistance. This commitment extends to advocating for an immediate and permanent ceasefire, and providing humanitarian assistance to those affected by the Israel-Gaza war. The subsequent crucial measure involves the proactive implementation of UN resolutions aimed at ending the illegal occupation and establishing a viable Palestinian state, fostering peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians.

  3. The idea of the “oneness of humanity” in both domestic and foreign policy embodies the principles of justice and fairness. This entails the consistent application of the law to all, condemning any form of double standard. It signifies that no individual citizen is exempt from the country’s legal jurisdiction, and no state is exempt from international law, including laws related to war and occupation. No individual, group or state should be considered exceptional; equality is paramount. In any conflict, all parties should undergo thorough investigations regarding potential war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other offences recognized by international law.

The great Palestinian poet and author Mahmoud Darwish once wrote “to be human is to love, to create, and to resist.” Darwish’s thought carries an important message for Canada: foster a culture of love and humanism, and strive to build a just and peaceful world by opposing all manifestations of structural and physical violence.

Mojtaba Mahdavi is professor of political science and ECMC Chair of Islamic Studies at the University of Alberta.

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