This week's special gathering at the UN can help unite us in the fight against extremism.
History tells us that extremist ideologies surface, thrive, and proliferate in times of crisis. What ails us is much more than financial failure. It is a failure of moral values. Greed and violence have replaced generosity and compassion. The drift seems all encompassing. There is hardly a sitcom or drama on TV that does not (in varying degrees) appeal to some extreme in the moral universe.
The ground is thus more fertile for extremism and violence than it has ever been. And in this, we are together. We can no more speak of "us" versus "them." From Marshall McLuhan's global village to Thomas L. Friedman's flat world, we are told that we have finally arrived at the point of sharing pain and joy. Unfortunately, we seem to be sharing more pain than joy these days.
But that is not the whole story. Luckily, many wise leaders (and the world surely needs more of them) sense the dangers this drift poses to our common future. They recognize the nexus between globalization and mutual intolerance. One such leader is trying to do something about the impasse.
The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques – King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia – began this journey in Mecca three years ago. He called on all 57 Muslim heads of state to meet in Islam's holiest city to ponder the issues of extremism and call for a Muslim renaissance. He called on his fellow heads of state to lead a new age of scientific, economic, and cultural achievements that would echo the golden age of Islam from the 9th through the 13th century, and reach out to other faiths to avoid a clash of civilizations.
The king reiterated that message in words and deed, ultimately leading in June 2008 to a historic meeting of Islamic scholars that called for more robust dialogue with the outside world, shortly thereafter followed by a gathering in Madrid that the king hosted alongside King Juan Carlos of Spain. At an impressive and heartwarming moment in human history, he met with priests, rabbis, Hindu luminaries, and a wide range of leaders from the major philosophies of the world.