A 21st Century Renaissance Man
By Craig Considine
Let us examine the life and times of Ambassador Akbar Ahmed. He has served as the High Commissioner to Great Britain in the late 1990s. He has been a favorite professor for thousands of students at the world’s most prestigious universities, including Cambridge, Harvard and Princeton. He has produced the epic movie Jinnah (1999), the award winning documentary Living Islam (1992), and just recently two plays Noor and The Trial of Dara Shikoh.
When interfaith dialogue was pivotal after 9/11, he teamed up with Judea Pearl to win the first ever Purpose Peace Prize (2006). With his latest one-man play Waziristan to Washington – A Muslim at the Crossroads, Ambassador Ahmed has distinguished himself as a Renaissance Man for the 21st century.
This Theatre J showcase, conceptualized and produced by John Milewski and Stephen Stern (also the director), was praised with reviews on October 2nd, 2008 by a packed audience of family, friends, college students, university professors, and US State Department officials at the Jewish Community Center in Washington, DC. Ambassador Ahmed’s monologue memoir text, according to Dr. Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer of Georgetown University, ‘is great in tone, substance, and balance. The story is enormously significant for its unique perspective on ‘great game’ political power plays – as well as its blowing of stereotypes about Islam and Muslims’.
Through multi media visuals and audio commentary, the audience is reeled through a journey into some of the world’s crises over the last five decades through Ambassador Ahmed’s lens. During his childhood, he watched his country slowly slip away from Jinnah’s democratic vision for Pakistan. He was a political administrator in turbulent South Waziristan when the Russians invaded Afghanistan in the late-1970s. After Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses (1988), he portrayed Islam in a more progressive light. Madeeha Hameed, a senior at the College of William and Mary of Pakistani descent, noted that ‘Ambassador Ahmed has shown an innate ability to persevere through the most trying times and has shown a unique skill in building bridges amongst rival factions’.
Waziristan to Washington is a ‘must see’ for Americans who are trying to understand the complexities of the ‘Great Game’, especially as Americans are engaged with political quagmires in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It offers new light to comprehend the intricacies and complexities of contemporary Muslim societies. Most importantly, it re-conceptualizes the image of Muslims in the age of globalization. In an era where the media’s exacerbation of stereotypes negates the compassionate and tolerant nature of Islam, this monologuedestroys all the violent images that the powerful television programs and the Internet portray today.
I have been extremely fortunate to learn lifelong lessons under a great tutor like Ambassador Ahmed over the last five years. As a young American, I see no better role model for the American youth. Ambassador Ahmed may not be an American by birth, but he is an American in spirit. He has always expressed fundamental American values like cultural integration, religious tolerance, education, human rights, and democracy. Today, Americans can look to this Muslim man for advice on how to build bridges with newfound enemies, on how to reestablish America’s image abroad, but most importantly, to refuel the American people with the values given to them by Washington, Jefferson, Adams and Franklin.
Once again, Ambassador Ahmed has presented us all with another masterful piece. The 15th century gave human beings the magnificence of Leonardo da Vinci, a master of art, engineering, and anatomy. In the 21st century, Ambassador Ahmed has emerged as an expert of diplomacy, academia, and interfaith dialogue. Da Vinci gave human beings aesthetic visuals and scientific discoveries. But Ambassador Ahmed has taught human beings the most important of all lessons: seek understanding and build bridges. What more could one-man offer?