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From the Ruins

By Shenila Khoja-Moolji

February 22, 2024

In Response to Why the Georgetown Global Dialogues?

This is a particularly distressing time in our history, as we witness the unconscionable disregard for Palestinian lives, imperial and civil wars in numerous countries from Ukraine to Sudan, rising ethnonationalism in India, and threats to democracy in Pakistan. At such a moment, calls for dialogue may feel futile. The term dialogue assumes that the parties involved enter into it in good faith, that they are willing not only to listen but to change their views and actions based on what they hear. Global events in recent months have shown that these conditions are not often met. The powerless continue to speak, but those in power are not listening. The space for protest seems to be shrinking, rights we had thought extended to all humans are being withheld from some populations, and there seems to be no recourse. When we are living in a catastrophe, what hope have we of dialogue?

But when confronted with catastrophe, hopelessness and despair are precisely what we must guard against. It is in times and places of catastrophe that we must imagine how to rebuild from the remnants, from the ruins.

I see the Georgetown Global Dialogues (GGD), then, as an opening. In the heart of empire, we can think and feel through all the ways in which our world is breaking; we can also begin to imagine how to mend the relations, convictions, structures, and laws that are collapsing all around us. GGD is an invitation to hope. As the Imam of Shia Ismaili Muslims, His Highness the Aga Khan, said after decades of working in the developing world, “If our animosities are born out of fear, then confident generosity is born out of hope...The replacement of fear by hope is probably the single most powerful trampoline of progress.”

The Georgetown Global Dialogues are not a panacea, but it is an occasion where we can begin the work of replacing fear with hope. Its success hinges on an ethical transaction between participants, where we recognize that the present has a history, that the global future begins today, and that we are responsible for deciding what this future will look like.

Shenila Khoja-Moolji is the Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani Associate Professor of Muslim Societies at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.