“May Rihani's Inaugural Lecture is inspirational reading for all those working for peace, both within the academy and across society. Her theme—that the oneness of humanity is the path to peace—shines like a light on a restless sea.”
— Wallace D. Loh, President of the University of Maryland
The George and Lisa Zakhem Kahlil Gibran Chair for Values and Peace began a new chapter for the Chair on September 20 when its Director, May Rihani, delivered her inaugural lecture to more than 200 attendees, including representatives from several embassies, universities, think-tanks, and international organizations.
In her 35-minute lecture, Ms. Rihani outlined a step-by-step plan to help change the paradigm about world peace by creating a new mindset that “recognizes that which connects us, unifies us, and ultimately leads us to true and lasting
Peace.” Adding that despite its apparent elusiveness, “peace is something that humanity has continually yearned for.”
The audience was welcomed by UMD President Wallace Loh
, who acknowledged the legacy of Professor Bushrui, and said the work of Ms. Rihani and of the Gibran Chair are especially meaningful and necessary at a time when the United States and the world is challenged by pressing human rights issues. Dean Gregory Ball introduced Ms. Rihani, highlighting her career as an internationally known and respected pioneer in girls’ education and an advocate of women’s rights. She serves as an adviser and consultant to numerous international agencies on the topics of education and women’s rights.
Ms. Rihani, who is the former co-chair of the United Nations Girls Education Initiative, presented and discussed several ways that the chair and the University can work to create the new “peace is possible” paradigm. “We need to reimagine Peace, the way Nelson Mandela was able to reimagine his society from a prison cell. The way Gandhi was able to reimagine independence even ‘while India was under a colonial power,” she said.
“Scholars who study peacemaking and peacebuilding came to understand that peace does not manifest itself only as the absence of war but, as Spinoza wrote in 1670, Peace is a virtue, a state of mind, and a disposition for benevolence, confidence, and justice.”
She defined peace and the peace process, quoting British theorist Paul Rogers who said that an approach to peace must be flexible and allowed to evolve yet embrace “a
strong interdisciplinary outlook, a consciously global orientation, and a determined linkage between theory and practice.”
Ms. Rihani said the top priority principles that will guide the work of the Gibran Chair are: social justice as a foundational cornerstone of peace; inclusivity as a necessary condition to peace; and valuing diversity as a pathway to peace.
Ms. Rihani underlined the contributions to peace that can be made by women. “Women can no longer be both half of the population and at the same time a special interest group. It pains me to observe that in many societies in our Century, women and girls continue to be underserved and barred from decision-making positions. It is time for us as a species to advance and step up to the level of basic equity.”
This type of global exposure and multicultural dialogue is critical to progress toward peace—both on the personal and campus-wide levels, and on the national and international stages, Ms. Rihani added, “We need bridges, not walls ... and certainly not battlements.”
Ms. Rihani announced that the Chair will sponsor a lecture in October by a noted scholar of Islam and Islamic jurisprudence, Dr. Maher Mahmassani, on “Secularism in Islam as a Path to Peace” – a topic she believes can contribute to a better understanding of Islam.
She added that the Chair will also study how women and minorities can contribute to reaching sustainable Peace. Toward this, the Chair is sponsoring a one-day symposium on Arab Women and the Peace Process. More than 15 academicians and practitioners have been invited to participate.
The Lebanese Embassy in Washington DC, was represented by Mr. Ali Karanouh, the First Secretary and Consul. In his remarks Mr. Karanouh highlighted how Lebanon and the Lebanese thinkers and authors of the early 20th century highlighted the importance of Peaceful Co- Existence, and how Gibran wrote about the brotherhood of mankind.
In his closing remarks, Dean Ball noted that the theme of the Inaugural Lecture was especially timely, given that the following day, September 21, 2016, was the UN’s International Day of Peace. To mark that day, the directors of each of the three BSOS endowed Peace Chairs—the Sadat, Baha’i, and Gibran Chairs—were interviewed about the importance of peace and ways to achieve it.
The full text of Ms. Rihani's lecture can be found here
. To watch the Inaugural Lecture, please click the video below.