A new initiative for a better world

PETRA, Jordan — ONLY days before Jordan's King Abdullah II convened a group of Nobel laureates in the ancient Nabataean city of Petra for a conference on global security, American archaeologists uncovered the remains of an important 1st century monument holding the heads of 22 deities of the time.

By Claude Salhani

Published: Wed 25 May 2005, 10:44 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 3:21 PM

It may, of course, just be a coincidence, or one may be superstitious and find an omen in this recent discovery, taking it as a sign that the ancient gods of Petra are sending a message to today's modern mortals. The message from the gods of yore to the present day high priests of sciences, politics, business and arts is that they should, perhaps, pay heed to the message from Jordan's current monarch.

It was customary in the ancient Nabataean kingdom for travellers who journeyed through Petra to pay a levy, a sort of transit tax to be allowed safe passage. Today, Jordan's modern king who gathered some of the planet's greatest minds in this unique setting is keeping with ancient customs of his predecessors of demanding levies. So King Abdullah asked his Nobel visitors to contribute for their passage to Petra. The major difference this time is that the king is not asking for earthly treasures. Jordan's modern king is asking instead for ideas.

In so doing King Abdullah is demonstrating a truly noble and realistic approach to tackling many of the problems facing the world today: terrorism, religious fanaticism, disease, poverty and hunger, figuring in the other calamities. The list of disasters - among others - is as long as depressing. And it is courageous and pragmatic to face the reality that issues of such magnitude cannot be solved alone, even by a single state of power such as the US. Most of today's problems — terrorism, disease, conflict and poverty — transcend national borders. As the underlying theme of the Petra conference stressed, these are problems the world must face together. It therefore makes sense to seek to address them together.

Given the sheer number and severity of challenging topics the Petra panelists took on — peace and security; economic development and poverty; health, environment and science; and education, media and culture — there is, needless to say, much need for ideas.

One such idea came from former US President Bill Clinton with his William J. Clinton Foundation. The former US president is launching the Clinton Global Initiative with the goal "to help move our world beyond the current state of globalisation to a more integrated global community of shared benefits, responsibilities and values." As the former president told the Petra conference on Thursday, "the aim of this mission is to create more friends and fewer enemies." Perhaps this is an idea he would like to share with the current administration, which as we are discovering, is making fewer friends and more enemies every week. As though the Abu Ghraib scandal and the torture of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay were not enough to incite anti-Americanism in the world, and to offer additional incentives to the Bin Ladens, we now learn of the killing of two detainees in Afghanistan by US servicemen. And even if the desecration of the Holy Quran turned out to be false, it matters little. The damage was already done.

The Clinton Global Initiative — a non-partisan endeavour — will follow in the footsteps of the Petra conference, and will bring together more of the planet's "carefully selected group of the world's best minds and most distinguished problem solvers," to tackle the Earth's problems immediately. Clinton and his elite group of thinkers will gather in New York City on September 15-17, to coincide with the Millennium Summit and the Summit of the United Nations General Assembly.

The Clinton Foundation wants to "give more people the tools they need to build a better future." Did Clinton and the Petra conference take on too large a task? Perhaps, but all great endeavours started out with an idea. Clinton says his initiative will be unlike others in one respect: its determination to change things now, rather than later by discussing the world's most pressing problems and detailing successful responses to them. The Clinton Initiative will seek the "best new solutions, and most important, obtain specific commitments from each participant to take action in one of the topics addressed." "The Clinton Global Initiative can make a difference not only by providing a forum for thoughtful discussion of great global issues, but by fostering innovative, non-partisan and practical solutions," said Clinton.

As the great minds of today will gather once more, this time in the New World, let's hope God will inspire the peacemakers, guiding them on the right path.

Claude Salhani is International Editor and a political analyst with United Press International, in Washington.

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