The Abraham Path and the Spirit of EDSA

“When I don’t see anyone as an enemy, I don’t have to fight,” said Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle during a mass to mark the 29th anniversary of the EDSA People Power.

This message reminds me of the Abraham Path Initiative founded by William Ury, one of the world’s leading experts on negotiation and mediation. The Abraham Path Initiative “seeks to build bridges between cultures and faiths by opening a walking trail and cultural route” in the Middle East that retraces the footsteps of Abraham and his family. Christiane Amanpour describes the Abraham Path as “an unprecedented initiative to break down barriers and foster communication in the most divided region of the world.”

According to Ury, a social anthropologist who is currently a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Harvard Negotiation Project, every culture has an origin-story, and that the origin-story of the Middle East is about how a man and his family walked the Middle East about 4,000 years ago. It starts from the ancient ruins of Harran in Turkey, where Abraham first heard the call to “go forth” and it passes through the world’s most revered cultural, historical, and holy sites in Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Israel. It ends in the city of Hebron at the tomb of Abraham. It offers people who walk Abraham’s Path the opportunity to engage with the peoples and landscapes of the region firsthand, and to see the region from a new perspective.

Why Abraham? Because Abraham is a venerated patriarchal figure for Islam, Judaism and Christianity. These are the three monotheistic religions whose followers from around the world have often been involved in violent conflicts. Walking the Abraham Path has a potential unifying power among people of diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. It is an innovative approach to peacebuilding that increases connectors and decreases dividers.

Why walk? Ury said that when people walk side by side and shoulder to shoulder, it makes it difficult for them to fight. In tensed negotiations when people are face to face, it becomes intimidating and encourages confrontation. So taking a walk relieves that tension and reminds people to connect and see one another as allies rather than as adversaries.

The Abraham Path is endorsed by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and the United Nations World Tourism Organization with support from the countries which the path traverses. Over 300 kilometers of the Path have now been opened to a fast-growing number of travelers. It serves as a catalyst for sustainable tourism and economic development. It also attracts young people, pilgrims and peacebuilders as well as journalists, writers, and filmmakers.

“Terrorism is treating a complete stranger as your enemy while tourism is treating a complete stranger as your friend,” explains Ury. Thus, the Abraham Path is seen as a path away from terrorism and towards tourism; from hostility to hospitality.

EDSA People Power is a special historical moment for all Filipinos. It is often called “Filipinos’ gift to the world” because it inspired many nonviolent revolutions all over the world. It was a magnificent showcase of how diverse peoples can come together for a common cause. Armed soldiers and unarmed citizens show their love and support for each other as fellow Filipinos. They saw each other as brothers and sisters, all children of one God.

Filipinos are known all over the world for their hospitality — treating complete strangers as part of their family. They feed them, open their homes to them, offer to show them around, and share their stories. They are generous with their smiles and you can count on their sense of humor to make every situation bearable. That is the Filipino spirit. That is the spirit of EDSA.

Perhaps, as the country is divided now after the Mamasapano incident, Filipinos need to look at their history and cultural landscape with fresh eyes like what people who walk the Abraham Path in the Middle East are doing. The Philippines is an archipelago, a group of islands with a rich and diverse culture. Filipinos must start looking at diversity as actually an asset, not a source of conflict. In nature, the more diverse it is, the healthier is the ecosystem.

Filipinos need to stop the divisive thinking of “Us versus Them,” treating those who do not think like us, believe the same things as we do, and behave the way we do as our enemies. Resolving our differences through violence (like calling for an all-out war) only breeds more violence.

Perhaps, what we need is to stop the destructive talk and begin the constructive walk towards peace. Side by side. Shoulder to shoulder. Equal partners and friends. Brothers and sisters, all children of one God. Connecting, not dividing. That is the true Filipino way embodied in EDSA 29 years ago and that was a proud, shining moment not just in Philippine history but in the history of the world.

First appeared on Mindanao Times, February 26, 2015