The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described nonviolence as “a powerful and just weapon” that cuts without wounding, “a sword that heals.”
UMass Lowell’s continuing commitment to taking up that sword was on display at the 20th annual Day Without Violence observance.
Featured speaker Shibley Telhami, professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland and a senior fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, shared his research about how shifting public opinion on the Middle East is reshaping foreign policy.
Telhami, who advised Congress during the Iraq War, told a packed auditorium in O’Leary Library Learning Commons that survey data has revealed changes in how Arabs view the United States and how Americans perceive Arabs over the past decade and a half. In the U.S., Telhami said, public opinion around the Israel-Palestine conflict has shifted dramatically over the past 18 months as diplomacy has failed to bring peace to the region.
“There’s a creeping pessimism,” he said.
Longtime bipartisan support in the U.S. for Israel has shifted and a growing divide between Democrats and Republicans over Middle East policy will make peace efforts even more challenging, he said.
Now in its 20th year, the Day Without Violence
is observed annually on college and university campuses nationwide in honor of King’s work in advancing social justice. Previous Day Without Violence speakers have included South African anti-apartheid leader and 2014 UMass Lowell Greeley Peace Studies Scholar Albie Sachs
, Nobel Peace Prize-winning African activist Leymah Gbowee
, former Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis III
and human-rights activist John Prendergast
More than 90 Lowell High School students attended Telhami’s talk.
The dialogue on non-violence and its implications continued at a second public event, a discussion hosted by the university’s Peace and Conflict Studies Institute
(PACSI). Institute founders and co-directors the Rev. Imogene Stulken and Prof. Robert Gamache
led a talk about non-violence initiatives on campus, from bringing attention to international trouble spots to organizing events for local youths.
“If you don’t think and talk about peace, you’ll never see it,” Gamache said.
Guest speaker Michael Patrick MacDonald, an anti-violence activist and author, suggested resolving conflict peacefully requires a strong dose of empathy.
“If we want to promote peace, we have to understand someone’s desire to pick up a gun. It’s only in understanding that mindset, created by violence, that we can move the world forward,” MacDonald said.
-With reporting by Julia Gavin