Desmond Tutu Award Acceptance Remarks
On Thursday, February 18, 2016 I was humbled and honored to receive the 2016 Desmond Tutu Peace and Reconciliation Award from my university. At the ceremony, I made brief remarks. Several people at the event urged me share my remarks. Here it is:
Good afternoon. This is unbelievable. An immigrant from India receiving the Desmond Tutu Peace Award at an Martin Luther King Luncheon! My parents, who are back in India, would be so proud.
I am truly humbled by this recognition. This honor is not possible without the support of my wife Savana, who is here today, and the encouragement of my children Inam and Hisham, who are in class at FSU and Stanton respectively.
It is my privilege and honor to address you for 3 minutes. So I want to speak from my heart.
Today the United States of America is more diverse than it ever has been and the trend towards even greater diversity is on an irreversible course.
And yet, paradoxically our country seems to be failing the pluralism test. We remain a divided society. We have perhaps never been so divided as a nation since the Civil War and certainly not since the 1960s.
There are many stats that point to our partisan divides. In the interest of time, I will only share one – 50 percent of consistent liberals and 66 percent of consistent conservatives see the other party as “a threat to the nation.” In other words the other party in our 2-party system is not just a worthy adversary with whom to battle in a war of ideas but to some they are “threat” thus perhaps worthy of annihilation.
There is a little fascist somewhere in all of us that whispers to us that my opinions are always right and can never be wrong and your opinions are always wrong and can never be right. If we keep feeding that beast then sooner than later it will not just run our lives but also eat us alive. Some have already succumbed as evidenced by the popularity of such outrageous ideas like ban all Muslims or build walls along our borders.
And yet I remain an optimist. Because turmoil, upheaval and anxiety can also lead to meaningful change. It is not coincidental that some of the biggest social changes in our country was brought about during the tumultuous decade of the 1960s.
But when the promise of a better future did not percolate to all parts of our society and when technological changes have disrupted people’s lives in profound ways, it is not surprising to find our country in the grip of a panic attack, convulsing in ways that make many of us become paralyzed in bewilderment. However, if handled right this moment can also galvanize us to action.
Fifty years after the Civil Rights Act, racial inequality remains an indelible part of our American landscape. Martin Luther King’s dream remains unfulfilled. In addition, income inequality threatens the fabric of our social cohesion. These systemic inequities are the result of our political system that benefits too few at the expense of the too many.
And so the anxiety has begun to metastasize. And then to appeal to the darkest recesses of our humanity, political leaders have resorted to demonizing Muslims, marginalizing African Americans, the stereotyping Hispanic Americans, fear mongering about lesbian, gays and transgender people, and caricaturing refugees.
Our fear of the other remains our hardest mountain to climb. But climb we must so that we can truly honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
My dear friends, we are undoubtedly a rainbow nation. Only by embracing pluralism and by articulating a vision of inclusion can we usher-in a new era of peace at home, strength abroad and a shared prosperity for all.
Thank you for the honor. May God bless us all.