People to People Contact

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Saira Yamin
Saira Yamin
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Marc Gopin
Marc Gopin
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People to People Contact
Written: By S-CAR
Author: Saira Yamin
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Published Date: June 01, 2009
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Positive change is more often pioneered by individuals of courage, writes Marc Gopin, a rabbi, peacemaker, and scholar. His new book To Make the Earth Whole: The Art of Citizen Diplomacy in an Age of Religious Militancy offers invaluable insights for those who want to make the world a more peaceful place. The narrative evolves in the backdrop of the post 9/11 clash of civilizations, whereby fissures between the West and Islam appear to be growing. Gopin observes that relations between the United States and Syria in particular are mired in distrust and hostility. Former President of the United States George Bush dubs Syria part of the axis of evil, as he prepares a case for possible preemptive military intervention. 

The sentiment in Syria is extremely tense, resentful of the US invasion of Iraq, with whom it shares a border. Syria hosts well over a million Iraqi refugees. Sympathy for its neighbours pervades among the general population. Nonetheless Gopin is able to mobilise a process of rapprochement, generosity and self-criticism, thus carving out a conflict resolution trajectory. He shares his experiences, in a very personal and moving account of his travels to Syria, in his new book titled To Make the Earth Whole: The Art of Citizen Diplomacy in an Age of Religious Militancy.  
 
Gopin acknowledges that citizen diplomacy is still in its experimental stages but, he argues, it carries with it the element of hope and a message of peace. It is a strategy for relationship building and networking outside the political milieu, and is often recommended as a point of intervention for states at loggerheads. It entails relationship building and promotes conciliatory human encounters between ordinary citizens, hoping to mobilise pubic opinion in favour of peace. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of such exchanges over the years, argues Gopin, could build the critical mass needed to build bridges between the divided global community. Critics therefore question whether such exchanges can be sustainable without the blessings of governments who are prone to estranged relationships. It is clear that such exchanges are vulnerable to policymakers who may authorise them and subsequently suspend them at whim. The outbreak of war and violence can most certainly halt any attempted reconciliation between societies.

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