The Words of the Cataldi Family
Washington, DC, USA - This summer I joined the Ambassadors for Peace network. It has been wonderful to be connected to such a diverse and active group of people so committed to the principles of peace-building. Peace-building has always been central to my life, but 9/11 played a particular role in stimulating me to become more active in working to make the world a more peaceful place. Since then, I have been active in peace initiatives in such diverse places as Pakistan, Israel, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Indonesia, Japan, and the United States. Most recently I served as a facilitator of American-Muslim World Dialogue with the Soliya Connect Program, and am currently a Program Manager at the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy, where my work focuses on initiatives engaging madrasa leaders in Pakistan and religious and political leaders in Afghanistan.
One project I would like to share with the Ambassadors for Peace network is called the American-Islamic Friendship Project. This project seeks to build better relations between the people of America and the Muslim world by collecting messages of peace and friendship from Americans to people in the Muslim world and from people in the Muslim world to Americans. I want to publish the messages in a book to be distributed in America and various Muslim countries. The goal is to build greater understanding and friendship between our countries by allowing the voices of “ordinary” people to be heard, dispelling the common perception that Americans and people in the Muslim world are hostile to each other. This effort also helps to connect Americans and people from diverse Muslim countries and promotes our common desire for a more peaceful world.
I started this project because events such as 9/11 and the Iraq War inspired me to do something to promote friendship and greater understanding between Americans and people in the Muslim world. I believe that cultural exchange and personal relationships between “ordinary” people can play a powerful role in creating social change and improving relations between their nations. So I began to visit Muslim-majority countries so that I could meet people and learn about their culture firsthand. I admit I was somewhat apprehensive at first. I wasn’t sure how people would treat me as an American. Many Americans have the perception that people in Muslim countries don’t like them or would be hostile to them if they came to their countries.
Before I went to Egypt, for example, people in America told me to be careful and worried that something might happen to me. When I got there, however, I was overwhelmed by the kindness and hospitality of the Egyptian people. Instead of the hostility or anti-American prejudice I was afraid I might find, I found that people were curious about Americans and were happy that someone from America wanted to learn about their country. In talking about political and cultural issues, we found we had much more in common than we had expected. Yet I was surprised to see that many Egyptians seemed to have the perception that Americans don’t like Arabs or Muslims or would be hostile to them if they came to America. I had a similar experience when I went to Pakistan on a project to visit women’s madrasas. People there were incredibly kind, hospitable, and welcoming to me. They didn’t seem to dislike Americans, yet many of them seemed to believe that Americans disliked them.
In my opinion, the majority of people in America and in the Muslim world don’t have any hostility toward each other and want to have greater friendship and understanding between our countries, yet we tend to believe that the other has hostility toward us. I wanted to dispel this misperception by finding a way for Americans and people in the Muslim world to be able to communicate their real feelings to each other. I started the American-Islamic Friendship Project first because I wanted to return the kindness I had been shown in Muslim countries with the gift of messages of kindness and peace from my own country, and second because I wanted to enable people in America and the Muslim world to hear the real feelings of each other, the feelings of ordinary people beyond what we hear in the media.
Please get involved!
I am in need of more messages for the book before it can be published, especially messages from across the Muslim world. In particular, I am seeking messages from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Palestine, as these countries have experienced particular tensions in relations with America and I very much want the voices of the people of these countries to be heard. Any message is welcome as long as it promotes peace, friendship, and understanding. It can be as short as a sentence or as long as a page. Anonymous messages are also welcome, but please identify your country.
To contribute a message or for more information, please visit american-islamicfriendshipproject.blogspot.com.