BY NYLA ALI KHAN
My homeland, Kashmir, has been a conflict zone since 1989. I am well aware of the power of nation-states to nip idealism in the bud. I am also well aware of the role that vested interests play in keeping conflict simmering. I recognize in my work on South Asia and the United States that young people, the world over, must engage in the processes of democracy and must acquire skills and knowledge that would enable then to effectively participate in decision-making and political processes, to recognize the importance of standing up and being counted as well as the value of the vote.
In order to improve the election process for the people of the United States – particularly millennials, to engage and encourage them to be informed and to vote – it is imperative to identify issues that are important to voters to inspire them to want to make a significant difference by voting and participating.
As I observed in one of my previous articles for a couple of Oklahoma publications, I have seen the increase in polarization and fragmentation that we have been witnessing for over a decade. The rhetoric of acrimony that is palpable the world over undermines the traditional notion of self-determination, rule of law, a return to the process of internal political dialogue, negotiations, and political accommodation in a democratic nation.
We still have a lot of work to do in order to repair schisms. Democracy does not limit itself to numbers or majoritarian rule, but to substance. There is no room for the subjection of racial/religious/ethnic minorities to a centralized and authoritarian state in a democratic nation.
Self-promotion in the name of democracy, which is a given in autocratic and oligarchic forms of government, must be strongly discouraged by constitutional means and methods. Democratic growth and evolution cannot be sacrificed at the altar of arrogance, which is bred by ignorance.
So when I was invited to “Love America,” Marianne Williamson’s talk, by Joan Korenblit and Karen Carothers, I was excited. On inquiring about Karen’s motivation for having organized Williamson’s talk at the University of Central Oklahoma [UCO], she responded:
Do you believe in ‘miracles?’ I do. Foundation for Inner Peace: A Course in Miracles says that a miracle is a change in perception from fear to Love. And fear is not real. Last November, in a casual conversation with Traci Bartley [from the Interfaith Alliance], I suggested we invite Marianne Williamson to OKC for her Love America Tour. Traci replied, ‘Could we do that?’ to which I said, ‘Why not?’ Shortly thereafter we each received an enthusiastic ‘Yes’ from Marianne Williamson’s agent, Wendy Zahler.
To make a very long, fun, beautiful story short, when I trust, then the means are given. The venue was secured. The collateral money needed to get the event off and running was raised in five short days [I’ve never asked anyone for $ like this]. The Respect Diversity Foundation agreed to be the account holding the funds. Volunteers stepped up to help with online ticket sales and flyer distribution and – VOILA! Today we are SOLD OUT.
What have I learned … again? When I trust completely AND am not attached to an outcome, then I can rest assured that Spirit will carry the load and all will materialize better than I can imagine. No worries. No stress. Pure pleasure, including coming to the Women’s Interfaith Alliance meeting and the Diversi-tea and making your acquaintance, Nyla.”
Joan and Michael Korenblit of the Respect Diversity Foundation underscored, “Benjamin Franklin, as he left Independence Hall on the final day of deliberation at the close of the Constitutional Convention, was queried, ‘What kind of government have you given us?’ His response: ‘A Republic – if you can keep it.’ Marianne Williamson reminded us how fragile democracy can be. She emphasized that we must be vigilant to make sure we hold on to our democracy and our democratic institutions. We must get involved!”
Sue Tarr observed, “Even though I listen to Marianne’s weekly talks on livestream, I was spellbound by being with her at her talk at UCO. There’s just something about ‘Being Live’ that connects and inspires. A sense of unity and oneness was profoundly present in UCO’s Constitution Hall this afternoon. It was as if time was suspended figuratively and for me in real time, since when I looked down at my watch it had stopped ticking at 3:15!! Marianne’s message is one that I need to hear more than once. She speaks from conviction about principled living and has a deep knowing that we are all one, and our peace of the puzzle is to align ourselves with our one source and be used by that source for the benefit of all. When I begin my day with prayer and meditation, asking for guidance and the willingness to follow God’s guidance, I am less likely to do something I regret and more likely to gift the world and become part of a solution. Marianne’s message of active love is a much needed one at this time in our country’s history. Action from the heart, aligned with love and equality is needed. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘You have very little morally persuasive power with people who can feel your underlying contempt.’”
Tom Tarr underlined, “The events of the day can give us cause to worry, and be concerned about our future. The Russian investigation, more school shootings, and the Oklahoma Legislature not able to fund state operations without more cutbacks can present a bleak outlook for us. However, Marianne Williamson points out numerous problems that the U.S. has overcome in the past, and reminds us that our future hope is in all our hands to shape. A positive and bright future lies not in dark thoughts, or the us-vs.-them infighting, but an attitude of mutual respect, positive loving action, and participation in all those things we hold important. Our children’s future is in our hands, and it can be as bright as we will work to make it happen. Her talk was a call for loving action that creates a brighter future than the events at these times might have us see. She reminded us that we have many opportunities to start work on that bright future, as we remember our great potential and work together to create that future.”
In my book and at various public forums, I have emphasized, ad nauseam, that civil society and political institutions are closely interconnected. In order to create democracy, there must be a minimum of participation and adequate pluralism in a society. A consolidated democracy has to be open to diverse opinions; dissent and differences of opinion on policies is an important element of every democracy. This issue needs to be not addressed just in Oklahoma but across the nation as well.
My interaction with Marianne Williamson [see photo above] reinforced that message for me. I would add a caveat: we cannot afford to sink into complacent idealism, or cling to antiquated positions, which are incapable of change or progress. Also, I would have liked to see some time spent on the demonization of Islam post 9/ 11 as well as the recent hate crimes against people of the Islamic and Jewish faiths in the United States. The fear of the “other” must be addressed boldly and courageously.
If I had gotten more time with Marianne, I would have liked to delve into concrete and viable ways in which women politicians on both sides of the aisle, Republican and Democrat, can re-establish their historic ties with peace, instead of blindly advocating militarization and military invasions overseas.
– Nyla Ali Khan is a faculty member at Rose State College, and member of Scholars Strategy Network. She is the author of Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, The Life of a Kashmiri Woman, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s Reflections on Kashmir, and the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir. She is editor of the Oxford Islamic Studies’ special issue on Jammu and Kashmir. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.