Taking an early AVE train, Ambassador Solomont, Special Envoy Rosenthal, and I left Madrid for Cordoba. We passed through gorgeous green landscapes (the rain through the winter has left very lush mountains this spring) and olive groves with purple crocus flowers blooming. As we pulled into the station, I was thinking about the unique history of this special city.
Cordoba's historic period of Convivencia (translation: "Coexistence") attracts students of history, religion, philosophy, art, spirituality, and culture. It is a remarkable place, and I was excited to have a chance to come to talk to a wide range of people about the modern campaign.
In my bag was a book about Cordoba that Ambassador Solomont gave me upon arrival in Spain: Ornament of the World by Maria Rosa Menocal. The book outlines how Christians, Muslims, and Jews created a culture of tolerance in the city. Cordoba is a special place for many reasons. It is a place where many cultures and religions have lived side-by-side and celebrated each other's diversity and accomplishments in science and art. Cordoba was home to three great minds over the centuries: Seneca (born approximately 1 BC), the great Roman philosopher and thinker; Ibn Rushd or Averroes (born 1126), an Islamic philosopher and known as one of the "spiritual fathers of Europe"; and Ibn Ma'mun or Moses Maimonides (born 1135), one of the great Jewish theologian of the Middle Ages.
The visit far exceeded my expectations. To say that the campaign has taken root in Cordoba is an understatement. We were overwhelmed by the enthusiastic reception we received from the Mayor of Cordoba, Andres Ocana Rabadán, who said "Cordoba is a combination of currents; the values of Cordoba are a synthesis." His excitement about Cordoba's importance in modern history and the value he places on building communities of mutual respect was clear. "Hate is not in biology, it is in culture," he noted. Alongside the Mayor, the University of Cordoba, its students, and the various community groups and NGOs made it clear that the concept of the campaign and the value we were placing on Cordoba made an impact. They have taken this campaign and made it their own.
You may recall President Obama's landmark speech in Cairo in June 2009, where he singled out Cordoba: "Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba." Special Envoy Rosenthal and I are carrying forward the President's message from Cairo with the 2011 Hours Against Hate campaign; a message of "mutual interest and mutual respect." For these reasons Cordoba has unique significance.
In the morning, the University of Cordoba held an outstanding event with over 200 students. It was live-streamed and U.S. Ambassador Alan Solomont played the role of “Oprah," asking two university professors, Special Envoy Rosenthal, and me questions about the campaign and what we have seen and heard from young people around the world. The students then asked us questions and told us what they were doing to pledge their time for 2011 Hours Against Hate. One student told us, "This campaign is all of ours." Another young man asked us whether or not the campaign was an attempt at propaganda. Special Envoy Rosenthal pointed to all of the people and groups around the world that have taken this campaign and made it their own and are spreading the word to their networks.
2011 Hours Against Hate is not about one political party or policy, one nation or another or one racial groups versus another. It is answering the call of young people across the globe who have talked about their worry about the increase of hate (in all its forms) worldwide. They have asked us to bring attention to this horrible trend. This campaign is about people taking action -- taking responsibility for building a world they want to see. The next generation faces global challenges unlike any other generation -- no one group, culture, religion, or nation will be able to find solutions alone. We must break down divisions now and work together for a prosperous future.
We also got questions and comments submitted via Facebook from other parts of Spain. One Facebook follower said, “Hate is covering one's eyes...You are not just responsible for sensitivity to this issue, but responsible for the future." To build a positive future we have to do more than talk, we have to take action! The enthusiasm was contagious and their energy kicked our time in Cordoba into high gear. You can watch the event highlights here.
In a meeting with Mayor Ocana, he reminded us that 2011 is the European Union year of volunteerism. He is using this campaign to draw attention to the importance of volunteerism and ramp up the number of young people who give time to their community. We could not be more proud to partner with the City of Cordoba for the 2011 Hour Against Hate campaign.
Later, we passed through a volunteer fair outside the office of the university's president. Young people were getting their peers to sign up for organizations like "Cruz Roja" (Red Cross) and the Autism Association.
In the afternoon, we were able to visit the old Jewish quarter and 13th century synagogue, just a few minutes walk from the Cathedral/Mosque. These places truly represent the city's history of cohesiveness and acceptance of the other. The impressive architecture, artful detailing, and mixture of religious traditions of the Cathedral/ Mosque especially make it unlike anything else in the world. Walking in this symbolic place was an honor for both of us.
Another highlight was a meeting with an NGO named Cordoba Acoge that works with immigrants to integrate them into Spanish society. They already have over 150 volunteers, most of which are young. These volunteers are living the mission of the 2011 Hours Against Hate campaign everyday. (By the way, they are always looking for more volunteers if you are in the neighborhood!)
Back in Madrid, we were able to link up with over 20 NGOs that do work on a variety of issues all over Spain. The representatives we met with committed to collaborating with the 2011 Hours Against Hate campaign over the next year and fighting all forms of hate through volunteer work. Check out the video they made.
Although we're sad to say goodbye to Spain, we're thrilled by the commitments so many people have made to the 2011 Hours Against Hate campaign. This country has proven that with one click of the mouse and one hour of your time, you can be a part of building a better future.