Donald Trump And The Divided State Of The Americas

The U.S. president will cast a long shadow over the upcoming Summit of the Americas gathering in Lima, Peru — even if he decides not to show up.

Beach futbol on the beach in Lima, Peru
Ricardo Lagos*


SANTIAGO — The Eighth Summit of the Americas, set to take place next month in the Peruvian capital Lima, comes at a time when the ties that bind the hemisphere together are blurrier than ever before.

The host country's chosen theme for the Organization of American States (OAS) gathering is "democratic governance against corruption." But what stands out is the overall absence of shared goals and strategies — the common ground, in other words, that would give the summit real medium- and long-term meaning.

I am not saying the Summit is unimportant, such events are and always will be, simply because we're all in the same hemisphere. But going into the Lima gathering on April 13-14, we must accept that ours is a fractured region and acknowledge that a key participant is governed by someone who does not understand that the worst kind of corruption is a ruler not telling the truth.

President Donald Trump, ensconced in his obsessions, ignores realities and insists, instead, on building walls, going after migrants and their children, and treating Venezuela and the rest of Latin America as one and the same.

What can be done? That is a job for the ministries of foreign affairs, which must work toward an agenda that addresses real, profound issues and focuses on building consensus. That is what the history of these summits shows, even if their main axis will shift, in the coming years, from economic to political concerns.

In 1994, U.S. President Bill Clinton convened the first Summit of the Americas in Miami, Florida, for one purpose: to establish the so-called Free Trade Area of the Americas, or FTAA, a trade zone to span the continent between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The project was started with the idea that trade would lead us to speak with one voice. We took further steps in 1998, in Santiago and Viña del Mar (Chile), and another, decisive step was expected for the 2001 Summit in Quebec (Canada).

Treating Venezuela and the rest of Latin America as one and the same.

Though in the end, the FTAA never happened. In the changing world after the Sept. 11 attacks without a regional consensus, those negotiations (in which my administration was directly involved,) became increasingly complex and difficult. At the November 2005 Summit, in Mar del Plata (Argentina), the FTAA was quietly filed away.

That left us with the question or where to next focus our energies. What could our new common goal be? At the Fifth Summit in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez offered a recently-inaugurated President Barack Obama an English edition of Open Veins of Latin America, Eduardo Galeano's celebrated denunciation of cruelty and exploitation on this continent.

Then came the 2012 Summit in Colombia, where there was a consensus: to work in depth on the issue of drugs — exploring all of its aspects, including the role played by the United States, the leading consumer country. Cuba was absent from the OAS until the 2015 Summit in Panama. Clearly, we had reached a new high-point in hemispheric relations, with a general willingness to create the political space necessary to handle modern issues.

But three years later, we head to Lima with enormous institutional weakness: None of our regional mechanisms —such as the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR in Spanish), or Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) — have the strength or coherence to handle the conversations required by today's world.

When it comes to summits and other regional events, we shouldn't confuse ritual with relevance, especially at a time when so many important elections are taking place.

The civil society, that participants spoke so insistently about in Panama, have made inroads that the political elites have yet to understand. There is a veritable split taking place whereby formerly marginalized political voices are emerging, unexpectedly, from the periphery. And it is precisely in those margins, and in those emerging political expressions, that we should seek consensus for this hemispheric dialogue.

It won't be easy.

Can there be a common outlook on climate change, or on migrations and the fight against illegal drugs? South-South migration, among other reasons, is becoming a potent force in our countries because of the drama unfolding in Venezuela. Dealing with this reality requires shared perspectives and, when it comes to the U.S. government, speaking on equal terms, because we know what we're talking about.

That leads to another question: Will President Trump attend the summit in Lima himself, or will he send his vice-president? There's a difference. We shouldn't pretend that it doesn't matter. Still, the priority for this side of the hemisphere is to agree on what issues we consider most important in our discussions with the world's leading power.

The challenge, in the few weeks that remain, is to make real progress on this agenda. It won't be easy. There are deep divisions these days within many of our countries, and within the continent as a whole. But we have to try. Because what is there to gain from a gathering marked by impasses and mutual reproaches? Whether President Trump comes or not, the message we need to convey is that our diversity doesn't stop us from seeing who we are, or where we want to go in our talks with the North.

*The author, Ricardo Lagos, is a former president of Chile (2000-2006)

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Reading Rumi In Kabul: A Persian Poet's Lesson For Radical Islam

Born some eight centuries ago, the famed poet and philosopher Rumi offered ideas on religion that bear little resemblance to the brand of Islam being imposed right now in Afghanistan by the Taliban regime.

The work of 13th-century poet Rumi still resonsates today

Mihir Chitre

Among the various Afghan cities that the Taliban has invaded and apparently "reclaimed" in recent weeks is Balkh, a town near the country's north-western border. Interestingly, it was there, about 800 years ago, that a man called Jalal ad-Din Mohammad Balkhi, better known as Rumi, was born.

Some see the grotesque exhibitionism of the Taliban advance as a celebration of Islam or a "going back to the roots" campaign. As if followers of Islam were always like this, as if every willing Muslim always propagated austerity and oppressiveness. As if it was always meant to be this way and any shred of liberalism was a digression from the quest of the religion.

In fact, a look at the history of the religion — and of the region — tells a different story, which is why there's no better time than now to rediscover the wisdom of the poet Rumi, but without doing away with its religious context.

In a world where Islam is a popular villain and lots of terrible acts across the world in the name of the religion have fueled this notion among the West and among people from other religions, it's paramount that we understand the difference between religion as a personal or spiritual concept and religion as an institution, a cage, a set of laws created to control us.

Why do you stop praying?

To begin with, and largely due to the film Rockstar, the most famous Rumi quote known to Indians goes like this: "Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there's a field. I'll meet you there."

Rumi's original Persian verse, however, uses the words kufr (meaning infidelity) and Imaan (meaning religion), which was translated as "wrongdoing" and "rightdoing." To me, the original verse surpasses the translation with a vital, often missed, often deliberately forgotten, interpretation, which is to highlight the fact that there is humanity, love and compassion or a certain kind of mystical quality to life beyond the concept of religion and that is the ultimate place, the place where Rumi invites us to meet him.

It would be incorrect now to read this and think of Rumi as irreligious. In fact, he was quite the opposite. But his interpretation of religion was personal, spiritual and not institutional or communal or exhibitionist.

In one of his poems, translated by Coleman Banks as "Love Dogs" in English, a man who has stopped praying to God because he never got a response meets "Khidr," an angel messenger, in his dream:

Why did you stop praising (or praying)?

Because I've never heard anything back.

This longing you express is the return message.

To me, through this poem, it's clear that Rumi advocates for a personal relationship with God. In fact, he goes on to say that being true to God is to long for his validation or nod, that life is longing.

A copy of Rumi's spiritual couplets at the Mevl\u00e2na Museum in Konya, Turkey

A copy of Rumi's spiritual couplets at the Mevlâna Museum in Konya, Turkey — Photo: Georges Jansoone/Wikimedia

Don't sweep the history of Islam with the broom of radicalism

For those familiar with the European literature of the 20th century, I could say that this echoes the ideas of Samuel Beckett. But remember: Rumi lived 800 years ago, at the heart of what we call the "Muslim world." To equate Islam on the whole with repressiveness and hostility, as many of us do today, might just be a criminal contradiction then.

It's also interesting to note that after the Quran, Rumi's is probably the most widely read work in the Islamic world, which suggests that Rumi's ideas, which may sound too progressive for anyone remotely associated with Islam in today's world, have, in fact, been accepted and cherished by the Islamic world for centuries. Sweeping the whole history of the Islamic world with the broom of radicalism wouldn't then be the fairest assessment of either the religion or of radicalism.

This physical world has no two things alike.
Every comparison is awkwardly rough.
You can put a lion next to a man,
but the placing is hazardous to both.

(From the poem: "An Awkward Comparison")

It's tragic that the Taliban has ravaged the same place with their own power-hungry, totalitarian interpretation of the religion which once produced a mind that embraces it with wide arms of warmth and peace and refuses to be compared with other followers of the same.

How to cure bad habits?

It is vital for us to separate groupism or communalism, which often escalates to barbarism, from the thought it is based on. It is vital then to read and reread that what Rumi sees as religion is the private association with God. It is also vital to mark the emphasis on individuality in Rumi's thought.

All the Western ideas of liberalism are based on the idea of individuality, which in turn is based on post-renaissance European thought. Asian philosophy is contrasted with its Western counterpart in the fact that it is rooted in mysticism as opposed to individuality.

Islam itself has long had a tradition of mysticism that is known as Sufism. Sufism is a sort of an inward dimension of Islam, a practice that encourages a direct, personal connection with the divine, a spiritual proximity to the omniscient that transcends the physical world and temporarily subverts immediate reality.

Sufism is the quest for the truth of love and knowledge, without necessarily always distinguishing between the two. Rumi was known as the Mevlana (Maulana) and his poetic collection Masnavi meaning "the spiritual couplets" is known as the Persian Quran. He was no doubt a mystic, a Sufi, and one who strongly endorsed the personal, for the most intimately individual is the truly spiritual.

Rumi might remain unparalleled in not just the Islamic world but also in the world of philosophy and poetry across the globe. Another thing that he will remain is dead. The Taliban, on the other hand, at least for now, looks rampant and alive.

It is now up to us, the other people who are alive, and the ones who are going to be born — not just Muslims but everyone else as well — to choose which interpretation of Islam we uphold or react to, how we read history, and what we borrow from it.

How to cure bad water? Send it back to the river.
How to cure bad habits? Send me back to you.

(From the poem: "My Worst Habit")

I think what we, as a world, need now more than ever is to be sent back to Rumi.
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