Extremist violence, women's rights in Arab countries and how to be a Catholic-Jewish-atheist were some of the topics addressed by participants at a roundtable discussion held by Project Mosaic in London on March 13.
The speaker, Jonathan Peccia, a U.S. diplomat, addressed a group gathered in a private home on the subject of "The Middle East, the United States, a Rock and a Hard Place". Based in the UK since 2012, he talked about his experiences during postings in Jordan, Pakistan and Iraq.
Peccia, a First Secretary in the Political Section at the U.S. Embassy in London, with responsibility for Middle East matters, fielded a wide range of questions. The conversation included Israel/Palestine, Saudi society, grass-roots movements for social change in the Middle East and North Africa after the Arab Spring, U.S. involvement in fostering civil society in various countries, and the interface between faith communties and secularists.
The 30-odd participants at the event included businesspeople, British government staff, academics, journalists, film executives, students, nonprofit volunteers and a social worker.
Peccia, when asked, said that there was widespread support in the U.S. government for a two-state solution in the Middle East. But he said a key question remained whether leaders on the ground in the Middle East would take the necessary steps to create a lasting peace, since no outside power had the ability to impose a solution.
Asked about his family background and whether it informed his work as a diplomat, he said "It definitely informs my work. I grew up in a multi-faith home" -- his father is Catholic and his mother is Jewish -- "and this taught me to see things from different perspectives, to understand that there are different ways to view the world."
Peccia said that his work included reaching out to ethnic and religious minority communities in the UK. He said people belonging to diaspora groups had powerful roles to play in diplomacy and conflict resolution work, by creating greater understanding across national and ethnic boundaries.
He presented his talk on March 13 to a diverse group, which included people born in or tracing ancestry to Armenia, Canada, Central African Republic, Egypt, Guinea-Bissau, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Malaysia, Morocco, Palestine, Portugal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom and the United States.
One participant asked why Washington did not put more pressure on Israel to build peaceful co-existence with Palestinians. Peccia said "It makes sense that we hold a country, a state, responsible for its actions. That includes Israel. A state has power. But non-state actors can also be powerful. We need to recognise that power, too." Peccia said the impact of non-state players in the Middle East made conflict resolution more complicated.
Peccia was asked why the United States did not do more to support the rights of women in Arab countries or of minorities in the Middle East and North Africa. He said "We do strongly support the rights of women and minorities throughout the world. We show that support in a number of ways and through many programs. But it is also important for people in each country to determine how they want their society to evolve."
He said, for instance, that profound social change had been secured in the United States for African-Americans primarily as a result of long years of civil rights struggle. He said the struggle had been carried out by people willing to go to prison and to risk injury, even death. "It's the people in each country who need to decide what they want their country to be," Peccia said.