Ambassador Lukman Faily Discusses Social Cohesion and Democracy at American University
By Silke Schoch
School of International Service
American University, Washington

In light of the international interest of late in Iraq, Ambassador Akbar Ahmed’s World of Islam class at American University had the special opportunity to welcome Lukman Faily, the Ambassador of Iraq to the US on Oct 16th. Ambassador Faily created a high level of anticipation in the classroom that day; nearly all the students arrived early, enthusiastically awaiting the arrival of their important guest with vivid openness and curiosity.

Ambassador Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University and former Pakistani High Commissioner to the UK and Ireland, started off the lecture by introducing Ambassador Faily to the class.

“I am excited to talk to such a class as this,” Ambassador Faily began. “Classes like this are a journey and I am honored to be a part of that journey.” He delved into his day’s discussion by highlighting three countries—Japan, the US, and Iraq—and explaining their paths to democracy.

Japan, Ambassador Faily clarified, has had a ruling family since 800 AD and yet is now one of the world’s greatest democracies. America which, in the modern sense of the word, has not been a nation state very long, is also a very advanced democracy. Yet Iraq, he concluded, while a more recent nation state and democracy, has had a legal code dating back 4,000 years.

These differences that appear in each country lead to a lot of questions, he told the class. “We must remember that a society is always in evolution and that in order for there to be a critical compare and contrast between nations, one must consider where each country currently lies in this cycle of societal and democratic evolution. One cannot assume that every country is in the same stage of their development.” The ambassador went on to give several examples of the three countries’ cultural differences before speaking about his knowledge of the way that the Japanese became a democratic society and their differences with the Iraqis journey to democracy.

Throughout his discussion Ambassador Faily deliberated on an allegory of a country’s political system, weaving it between his examples of each country’s democratic institutions and historical development. “If there is a police officer who pulls a man over and that man happens to be a senator, what will happen? Will he be issued a ticket? Will he be issued only a warning because of his status? Should a policeman take into account the job or family someone comes from if that person has broken the law? All these questions that I’ve been asking pertain to what sort of democracy exists in each country,” he concluded.

He went on to explain that three things contribute to the social harmony ‒ or cohesion ‒ within a society: religion, culture, and the government. Furthermore, each aspect has its own rule of law; the government has a legal rule of law, but religion and culture also have their own rule of laws. Often times, he explained, religious and cultural laws are implicitly trusted more than the government’s laws, and this leads to a lack of social cohesion and causes things to fall apart.

Following Ambassador Faily’s lecture there was only a moment of hesitation before several hands went up. Each student gave their name, then liberally thanked Ambassador Faily for taking time out of his busy schedule to talk to the class, before stating their inquiries. The first question from a student focused on overcoming challenges to democratization and creating a democratic culture. Ambassador Faily paused for a moment to reflect, then said, “The evolution of a democratic society is important; one needs to customize every approach to democracy. Perhaps instead of nation-building, we should focus on state building — getting the state healthy first before going on to create a nation and ask its citizens to inherently trust the government”.

During his entire dialogue, Ambassador Faily not only conveyed a sense of his expertise and wisdom but also his true respect for the countries he spoke about. Despite the class being multiethnic with Kurdish students, Afghani students, French students, and of course, American students, I think we were all equally eager and inquisitive to explore the topic Ambassador Faily was discussing with us.

On the last question about conflicting identities he ended his session by leaving the class with a powerful metaphor by simply saying, “Oftentimes people wear different hats, we as humans do not just have one identity but multiple identities and multiple hats.” He laughed as he finished talking, “Most times people do not even know which hat they are wearing.”

The American narrative of the Middle East can often be politicized and manipulated to benefit parties whose sole interest lies pointing figures during times of struggle. Yet, being instructed on the complex aspects of nation-building by a man of such intelligence and clarity like Ambassador Faily was an exciting and illuminating moment for everyone he spoke to at American University that day, especially myself.

Growing up in Southern Arizona I was surrounded by conservative politics and a somewhat limited international perspective. When the 9/11 attacks took place I was six years old and thus I have lived hearing about the conflicts in the Middle East for my entire life. This, mixed with many of my beloved family members being in the armed forces and my attendance at a high school with a number of students who died fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, slanted my introduction to politics in the Middle East, especially in Iraq.

When I began studying international relations and the history of the Middle East, my actions were interpreted as engagement in a field that was insulting to the sacrifices of my countrymen. My increased interest in conflict resolution in the Middle East during my high school years earned me no small amount of criticism and the debilitation of a few personal relationships. Yet, at the American University, I am fortunate to have been exposed to both the experience and insight of people like Ambassadors Faily and Ahmed and others interested in changing the ways America involves itself with the Middle East and Islam. I have learned in a short time, through dialogue and perception, that more can be accomplished through patience and peace, than could ever be concluded through war.


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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