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Dr. Azza Karam Addresses the Community Plenary

Dr. Azza Karam addressed the Community Plenary at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, USA.

As-salāmu ʿalaykum peace be upon you one and all. I have a great privilege of being with you here today, regardless of what has been said and it has been beautiful.

I think it’s absolutely terrible that I had to come in after that gorgeous appearance. So please join me in one more round of applause for those beautiful dancers. Thank you.

We’re talking about defending human rights. We’re talking about defending values. We’re talking about defending democracy. You’ve heard incredible words of wisdom over the last few days already. They have been beautiful. They have been powerful. They are all true.

What I intend to do is no longer sing and dance. But I want us to think a little bit about accountability. At the end of the day, we all know as we heard from the many other brilliant speakers but ultimately whatever happens actually is mandated by the divine. But it is in our hands. We were created to do. We were created to serve. We were created to love. We are created to defend that which is right. But at the end of the day perhaps, just perhaps, we may be better at pointing fingers, at labeling, at walking away, or at simply being silent. When in fact this is the time to speak truth to power. This is the time to defend that which is right, and not to do so alone, and not to do so for one sector or one person or one issue or one country or one religion only. But to do so together.

I am a believer in the divine, but the divine is waiting for us to do something too. How often have we heard, how can God allow this to happen? Well gee, how can we allow it to happen? We have heard and suffered and continue the abuse of fake news. We are writing theses and chapters and putting up associations and networks about fake news. But you know, fake news is possible because many of us stay silent. Fake news makes an impact because many of us won’t take action. 

Because you see, defending democracy, defending human rights isn’t simply about having laws in place. If it were that simple, we would have had democracy and human rights all our lives. Defending what we believe in to be the common good, which we all know what it is. There’s no rocket science. We all know what it is. But defending what we believe to be the common good has a price. It takes a toll.

We can pray and we must pray together, but we must also realize that it is up to us to perhaps pay a price. That determination is courage. To go that extra mile even when it hurts and even when we may lose and even when we lose that determination is called courage and that courage is the divine within us. And it is an obligation, not an option. If we don’t defend and sometimes at great cost then we cannot love because love is about paying a cost to and unless we can defend and be courageous together nothing will change. And if everything that’s happening around us now is not sufficient for that moral call to courage then honestly, I do not know what it will take. Let’s be committed to love which means that we have to be committed to pay the price. Defense is not easy but we tell governments to reduce their defense spending on their militaries and their police and all the structures of law enforcement 

We tell them they must reduce the spending, but are we increasing the spending of our moral courage? Are we holding ourselves accountable to that which must happen which is right here. And you may hate me, you may feel very uncomfortable about what I say and that is okay, but don’t label me, don’t marginalize me as you claim to love. And remember we marginalize one another every second of every day so easily and sometimes we marginalize those we love most, but it is time to enact the divine commandment to be people of courage, to speak out against injustice, to speak for truth and to do so when it is the most difficult thing to do. That is defending democracy. Thank you.

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