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+ International Forum - Expanding the Role of Women - Baku, June 10-11, 2008
+ The Feminine Embrace - Baku, Azerbaijan

Islamic Conference Youth Forum for Dialogue and Cooperatton

Thank you very much... what a great joy it is for me to address this assembly and to have the honor of following Ms. Aliyeva this morning. I want to applaud the very important efforts of the Islamic Conference Youth Forum for Dialogue and Cooperation, and I very much appreciate the opportunity to speak on these themes before us today.

Before getting to my comments this morning, please let me clarify that my talk entitled "A New Global Consciousness" - you may have seen it published - is one I prepared for the session I discussion about conflict and unity in global civilization. For this keynote address, of course, I want to speak directly about the great opportunities and challenges women and children face throughout the world.

As time distances us from the 20th century, I suggest that the legacy of the past hundred years will be celebrated for its remarkable embrace of women on the world stage. In spite of the awful catastrophes, the new century contains a happier story: for the first time in history, civilization witnessed the distinctive and widespread leadership of women in government and politics, art and science, business and culture.

And, how well we know their great names: Eleanor Roosevelt, Golda Meier, Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, the late Mother Theresa and Benizir Bhutto. And I must mention my contemporary Americans named Hillary Clinton and Oprah Winfrey too.

And, if the 20th century will be known to future generations for the emergence of women as leaders, we must recognize that it produced some infamous women too. Here, we must sadly acknowledge our dark sisters, comrpt leaders like Eva Peron and Madame Mao - two charismatic actresses who apparently went mad.

As women make more and more history in the years to come, surely, we will reveal all the shades and colors of the human condition - the darkness as well as the light. I do believe that, as females, we may possess a natural capacrty for care and concern instinctively lacking in the more predatory male. Perhaps it is true that we generously seek to build relationship rather than power. And, as mothers, our innate commitment to the interests of children may qualify us best to serve as custodians of civilization.

But, please understand, my celebration of women and feminism today will not insist that women are any better than men. We must be humble, and I do not propose that femininity affords some miracre cufe to all that ails our global civilization. Femininity should neither replace nor substitute for masculinity. Instead, each must complement the other. Our survival depends on the successful integration of both our masculine and feminine natures. The significant cross-cultural dialogue that we first must engage is the one between women and men. In our intimate relationships as w ell as in the halls of power.

Why and how did this opportunity for women develop? Women emerged in the public life of the 20th century in connection with the transformation of labor across the grobe. A civilization dependent for its sustenance on the physical toil of men was, of course, altered by mechanization, industrialization and, in the past generation, the rise of micro-technologies.

And so women may now contribute to society in a manner that we could not have during the ages of manual labor. And we are more than seizing our new-found opportunity.

Instead of brute force, it is now emotional strength, intellectual strength' artistic insight, and strength of character that determines leadership in business, politics, ffid culture throughout most of our coillmunities and homelands.

The goal of our meeting here today, then, is to chart a course by which we remove gender discrimination and persistent inequity from all nations and societies. Everywhere, we must work to liberate those unfortunate peoples stuck with ancient ideologies that deny women their full humanity and their full participation in public life. Some places' of course, are more stuck than others. I call on all of us to support Amnesty International's declaration of a few years ago that "women's human rights cannot be violated on the ground of cultural or religious norms." Any so-called norrns are no longer normal' They must be debunked and demystified, and replaced by a cosmopolitan ethic that fully embraces women.

Certainly, we sit today in a perfect place to remember these virtues. The background materials to this conference point out - and the point bears repeating - that Azerbaijan was the first nation of the East, and among the first world-wide, to extend the right to vote to women. Doing so in 1918, just after the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan even enabled the political participation of women two years before the United States. By way of further example, Greek women did not vote until 1934 and French women not until 1945. In nations with a majority Muslim population, slowly but surely, during the latter decades of the 20th century, women generally acquired the right to vote. A handful of nations, as we know, stubbornly resist this great flourishing of human rights. They are the last hold-outs as we celebrate this year's 60th anniversary of "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

The extension of voting rights is just one story among several positive trends which offer us great hope and inspiration.

I acknowledge - and we must never forget - that female illiteracy is too high, drug use and poverty and exploitation too prevalent. Sadly, tragically, we could fill all of our remarks for days on end with awful statistics that break our hearts.

But the feminine embrace, as I call it here today, is effectively and positively reshaping the world. We must accentuate achievement where we find it, and dedicate ourselves to initiatives that enable women and children to reach their potential and follow their dreams. We know what works --- communication, education, literacy, nutrition, ethical business and government. We must work on behalf of various key governmental and non-governmental initiatives.

In Madrid, for example, just a few days ago, I see that Spain's Minister of Equality, Bibiado Aido signed onto the "Say No To Violence" program sponsored by UNIFEM - the United Nations Development Fund for Women. Spain's commitment follows that of the Tanzanian government in February. I hope all of us are aware of UNIFEM's program and the way it works hand-in-hand with U.N. Secretary General's "LINITE" campaign to end violence against women. Since the inception of UNIFEM's trust fund in 1997, the organization has awarded more than $19 million in grants to 263 projects in 115 countries. This is the kind of commitment we need to support!

Likewise, I was happy to read reports that in honor of International Women's Day in 2006 ISESCO released a major policy statemenpt ledging "to eliminate the material and moral barrierst hat hinder women in several Islamic countries." We also should acknowledge ISESCO's organization of several regional workshops and training sessions on the issues of Muslim women in places like Egypt, Afghanistan, Benin, Jordan, and Palestine.

Similarly, I would like to applaud the Organization of the Islamic Conference - another significant presence represented at this Forum and its adoption of a multi-faceted "New Vision" initiative in 2005. The OIC's "New Vision" urges their "member states to sign, ratify, and adhere to the provisions of the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women."

Yet, as we celebrate these great initiatives sponsored by nongovernmental organizations like UMFEM, ISESCO, and the OIC, on a local level in smaller ways, each of us personally must also affirm Gandhi's pledge "to be the change we want to see in the world." Where we see an opportunity to establish early childhood education, embrace it. Where there's a spark to bring young people together in a multinational camp, ignite it. Where a community can afford the means to conserve resources, implement it. Where individuals commit violence, stop it. Where people speak out for freedom, protect it. Where students express their creativity, rejoice in it.

In my own life, I have dedicated myself to public service and philanthropy for organizations in the arts and sciences such as the Los Angeles Opera and Ballet, and the City of Hope and Cedars-Sinai Medical Centers. I have been on the boards of - and or supported several major music competitions such as the yearly Metropolitan Opera competitions, etc, etc... And, I have celebrated athletics by sending an Equestrian to the Olympic Try Out Festival in St. Louis and honoring Wimbledon champions at the University of California campus in Los Angeles.

In addition to being involved with the Los Angeles Consular Corps ....for the past few years, I have concentrated my effort with a handful of friends to create a modest International Society of Artists/ Cultural Ambassadors. And today, I am very excited to announce my commitment to broaden our organization and establish an international festival that engages artists on behalf of cross-cultural dialogue. My dream is to gather artists at the dawn of their professional careers and have them join in performance and craft as cultural ambassadors. These artist-cultural ambassadors can be great agents of inter-national and inter-faith healing. I extend a full invitation to all of you - please join me in this important effort to support our future leaders, ages l8 - 30, from east and west, passionate men and women of all creeds and colors, of exceptional skills and talents... let us create a festival of cultural dialogue through the arts.

Once again, I thank this great conference for such an opportunity for partnership and good will - this opportunity to extend my feminine embrace. I look forward to speaking with you during the conference and to working with all of you.

Author: Helma Christiane Bloomberg

I thank the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, UNESCO, and ISESCO for affording me this special honor of speaking to you today. Indeed, these wonderful organizations demonstrate time and again that we have a dynamic and historically unprecedented opportunity for cross-cultural communication. And, certainly, this present international forum on “Expanding the Role of Women in Cross Cultural Dialogue” provides yet another exceptional example. Surely, the presence of a woman such as myself - a resident of California, who lives a few miles from the Pacific Ocean - at this meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan, along the Caspian Sea proves that great cultural divides may be crossed, and that our common humanity may be discovered in the 21st century.

We gather on this occasion to answer a question: Do we live in an era of increasing conflict or unity in human civilization? To this, I respond, “BOTH.” Our world is distinguished by stunning examples of cohesion and fragmentation, increasing order and rising chaos, persistent nationalism and emergent humanism, more secularism and more fundamentalism.

Respected scholarship on these issues is appropriately divided. On the one hand, witness to an apparently ineradicable chasm between the Judeo-Christian and Muslim worlds, we discover some truth in the Bernard Lewis-Samuel Huntington significant thesis about a Clash of Civilizations and cultures. Yet, from another perspective, On the other, we encounter a different version of our collective future when New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman describes a Flat world that is increasingly inter-connected and inter-dependent.

Perhaps human beings must battle over limited, finite resources on this small planet. Or, perhaps humanity can escape the zero-sum game in which one party’s victory must be another’s loss. The American author Robert Wright, for example, has significantly written about the way two agents can each come out ahead if they cooperate by trading goods, by dividing up labor, or sharing the peace dividend that comes from laying down their arms.

We surely know this about ourselves and our nature: Human beings are innocent, noble souls degraded by the offenses of civilization. And, we also manifest instincts about survival and, beyond that, lust for power. Both assessments of human nature are needed to accurately portray the full richness, the light and the dark sides, the Yin and the Yang of human experience.

And so the 21st Century, no doubt, will be known for 9/11, for The Iraq War, for Darfur, for global climate change, and, sadly, for other nightmares and atrocities yet to come. But, it will also be distinguished by the growth of interdependent webs and meshes of commerce, technology, communication, and science that raise standards of living, education, and health for billions. As has been the case throughout human history, by choice and by necessity, the segregated peoples of the world are being drawn together.

To respond to these processes, I suggest that we must blend an unsentimental, stark realism with a genuine optimism. Too many are suffering, and we must always be prepared to defend human rights fiercely.

I hope my words today will echo the great insight of Albert Einstein when he said that “No problem may be solved at the same level of consciousness which created it.” The problems are real, but so is our capacity to foster a greater and more generous consciousness to solve them.

Of course, I recognize that my own perspective has emerged from the particular circumstances of my life and its history. I see both the darkness and the light of our present civilization because I have intimate experience with the greatest horrors as well as the most fortunate opportunities of my generation.

I was born in Berlin, Germany on November 4th, a few months after the end of the Second World War. Six months earlier, in May, as the western Allies bombarded the city, my parents - who where Catholic - had tried to flee and escape the blockade. During their attempted escape, however, my father was tragically killed by shrapnel and bled to death in my mother’s arms. My pregnant mother then returned to the city, and I was thereafter born. As a young child in a devastated country, I suffered from typhus and nearly died. Berlin had a poor, unhealthy food supply - milk, for example, was often contaminated. I felt the horrible aftermath of war - its displacement and dislocation - and it afflicted my family.

I also must tell you that the tragedy of war had forced three generations of my family into Berlin when it had not been home to any of us. You see, my parents had been living in Paris since 1940. But, they then felt cause to cross Western Europe at the height of the war in an effort to unite with my mother’s parents who had been displaced from their home in Switzerland and forced to relocate in Germany. My Swiss-born grandmother and my German-born grandfather had been living in Zurich for their entire marriage - indeed, my grandfather had moved to Switzerland in 1916. But, the Swiss repatriated all Germans by the end of 1945 - just as the United States expelled many German nationals too. So, my grandparents and parents made their way to Berlin. The family re-united, my father lost his life, and I was born.

After the war, my mother remarried, and I gained a loving step-father. He was Lutheran, and I then experienced a traditional upbringing in that faith. After several years of poverty and dislocation after the war, as I’ve described, my parents found a livelihood in the art and antique business. They developed a close relationship with the Abbot of the Archiconvent Des Griechischen Orthodoxen Katholischen und Ritterlichen Chor – und Hospitaliter-Ordens Der Templer — a relationship my family has enjoyed for over 50 years. When my mother later died in 1990, in her hometown of Munich, she was administered the last rights by the Abbot of the Archiconvent - in full regalia – and in the Greek Orthodox tradition. My mother’s life expressed a deep spirituality – and a capacity for a transcendent inter-faith connection.

I first became fascinated with the United States when one of my teachers in Germany inspired us with wonderful stories about Americans. This teacher - his name was Director Luther - had been the Dean of my boarding school as well as a History and English teacher. Director Luther’s warm feelings for America were ironic because U.S. soldiers had occupied his home in Germany during the war. Rather than horror stories, Director Luther spoke warmly about the American soldiers and the way they treated his family so well. Director Luther’s experience with the American occupation influenced my optimism that ethnic or national barriers - ostensibly insurmountable - may be overcome.

I moved to the United States in 1966. I first settled in Palm Springs, California due to the hospitality of a friend of my mother’s. I attended college, and I eventually met my husband. He was a doctor, - a urologist - and his family was Jewish. We raised two children in the predominantly Jewish-American community of Beverly Hills. I constantly faced questions in the community atlarge about my relationship to Nazi Germany. People assumed I was a Nazi sympathizer even though I had been born after the war and even though my family, along with others, had been forced to leave Switzerland for re-settlement in the destroyed Germany. I detest all dictatorship.

Still, that a Christian woman of central European heritage like myself - no less with the middle name of Christiane - could freely move half-way across the world and marry a Jew describes one miracle of our contemporary civilization.

And, just as surely, another miracle is my adult experience as a goodwill and cultural ambassador which has led me to this proud moment in front of you today.

And so my life has been shaped by the great conflict of the 20th century, and also by the hopeful movement of peoples and integration of cultures that it hastened. From my life, I understand that conflict is a necessary prerequisite for significant change - that, as awful as it may be, conflict stimulates growth. Frederick Douglass, the great 19th century American emancipator, describes this dynamic most eloquently. In 1857, on the occasion of the abolition of slavery in the West Indies, Douglass said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who…depreciate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning…They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one or it may be a physical one…but it must be a struggle.”

And the world is so often, too often, struggling. We are numbed by ubiquitous examples of violence - guns and gangs in my American homeland, suicide bombers in the Middle East. At times, it seems that modern civilization has only engineered hatred, and that our sleek technologies deliver a bottom-line of killing and destruction and waste.

But our wars and genocides, while they demonstrate our savage capacity, also stimulate this dialectic of progress. Again, to me, this is the physics of civilization: conflict animates progress and ultimately generates enlightenment. In the developmental arc of history, we witness the rise of tribes and then their replacement by nations. And now, out of nations, we are discovering a nascent global consciousness and hopeful new institutions - the United Nations and its International Court of Justice, the Geneva Convention, the European Union, and the recently formed International Criminal Court.

While human beings have not evolved beyond violence, several positive trends are evident. As scientist Stephen Pinker puts it, “the decline of violence is visible at the scale of millennia, centuries, decades, and years…If the wars of the twentieth century had killed the same proportion of the population that die in the wars of a typical [pre-modern] tribal society, there would have been two billion deaths, not 100 million.” Likewise, the Human Security Brief tells us that the number of battle deaths from interstate wars has declined from 65,000 per year in the 1950s to less than 2,000 in 2006. Great superpowers no longer line up in mortal combat; former enemies now join cause and seek to neutralize and isolate the threat posed by various reactionary extremists. And here we are.

So nationalism is waning, and that’s mostly a happy development. I recognize that there is good in nationalism and ethnicity that must be preserved no doubt. Such traits express our independence and identity. Whoever I am, that is special. We strive to preserve our unique heritage, our way of speaking, our way of making culture, our way of knowing Spirit.

However, the pathological forms of nationalism, ethnicity, and religion always fail to tolerate - let alone accept - difference. This pathology produces a lonely, suspicious, cynical, and desperate way of being. Projecting fear onto an-“other,” our ethno-centrism can become a murderous, decadent ideology. This fear of the other certainly appears in George Bush’s politics in my America as it does in the radical interpretation of jihad in the Muslim world.

If we are to survive, let alone thrive, we must transcend these virulent forms of nationalism and work toward humanism. Each human being is sacred and, if we must judge, as Martin Luther King insisted, let’s judge according to the content of our characters and not the color of our skin or the names of our faiths. King’s words from the Birmingham Jail still resonate in our hearts and minds - whether we apply them to scientific challenges like global climate change or the political stalemate among peoples in Africa or the Middle East. As King said on that occasion, “We are caught in an inescapable web of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all of us indirectly.”

As we set aside our vain prejudices to embrace our common cause as human beings, however, we must be careful about what we enfold within humanism - its name can be misused too. After all, humanism becomes offensive and inhumane when it smirks at all tradition and replaces it with a vague or bland conformity. Humanism can be especially problematic when it only means the bottom-line of the marketplace. If so, we will be stuck in a homogenized McWorld with a Coke and a Starbuck’s and a cell phone and an Ipod and a YouTube in every corner. When I come to Baku, I want to drink Baku’s coffee and enjoy Azerbaijani cuisine. The unusual is symbolic. Against the intrusions of greedy commerce, we must protect unique cultures, their distinctive arts, and our sacred ideas.

Regardless of these broad trends, each of us - life by life, day by day - can push through on a personal basis to make a difference. I think Churchill called this “soldiering on,” and I’ve always been inspired by that phrase. New consciousness does not require the restructuring of the global order of nations or a new epoch of technology. An enlightened, humane way of thinking and acting is available to all of us, now. Such personal transformation may have not been available in the old Soviet Union, but it is now. It may not have been accessible in the old People’s Republic of China, but now we can hope that our giants to the east will trade ideas as well as manufactured goods. And, that they’ll voluntarily agree to limit their carbon emissions.

Regardless of the great diplomatic initiatives, on a local level in every small way, each of us must renew Gandhi’s pledge “to be the change we want to see in the world.” Where we see an opportunity to support early childhood education, embrace it. Where there’s a spark to bring young people together in a multinational camp, ignite it. Where a community can afford the means to conserve resources, implement it. Where individuals commit violence, stop it. Where people speak out for freedom, protect it. Where students express their creativity, rejoice in it.

We know what works - education, literacy, nutrition, ethical business and government. We know what doesn’t work - dumbed-down people who become fodder for manipulative media and pray at the altar of commerce. As Dr. King explained in Birmingham, “Our challenge is to create a political culture that nurtures obligation, reciprocity, and trust, to bring out policies that have a wide public support.”

We are not yet at peace, but we will continue to eliminate suffering and improve life. Like King, and Gandhi, and Douglass, and Churchill, and Gandhi, we can and will “soldier on.” With ever-expanding awareness and concern, we will find common cause, unify humanity, and solve our most prescient conflicts. And we will also preserve the unique distinctions of our cultures, our faiths, and our selves.

Of the various inspirational quotations from history I have cited today, let me conclude by recalling the profound words of Mahatma Gandhi. As Gandhi taught us, and I quote:
“When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it - always.”

Again, I thank you and the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, UNESCO, and ISESCO for this conference and for the opportunity to share with you my most sincere goodwill as cultural ambassador.

Author: Helma Christiane Bloomberg

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