Before a packed ballroom on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the Global Hope Coalition, a network of four nonprofit foundations in the United States, Europe, Asia, and Africa dedicated to identifying heroes against violent extremism and amplifying their work, held its annual awards dinner on Thursday, September 27. Among the honorees was Al-Mesbar Center Executive Director Omar El-Turabi.
Taking place on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly’s 73rd session, the event paid tribute to several presidents and prime ministers for their “compassionate and dignified response” to the Syrian and Rohingya refugee crises.
Highlighting the evening were the 2018 Hero Awards, presented to three women and two men from Sudan, Tunisia, France, Denmark, and Mali for their courageous stance against jihadi extremism and xenophobic intolerance in their home countries and around the world.
“Last year’s Global Hope dinner showed us there is a dire need – and indeed room in the global conversation – for an organization that is dedicated to shining a light on the countless individuals that stand up to extremism every single day,” said Irina Bokova, the honorary president of Global Hope Coalition and former director general of UNESCO. “Too often, we find ourselves talking about failures in the global fight against extremism. But these individuals tell a very different story – one that can be showcased, amplified, and ultimately emulated. This year’s honorees show us true courage, determination, and resolve – characteristics each and every one of us can draw on to build a peaceful global society.”
The evening led off with Special Distinctions for Leadership, presented to: President of Niger Mahamadou Issoufoufor his work to promote peaceful Islam in the Sahel region; Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsifor his efforts towards cohesion and national unity in one of the world’s youngest democracies; Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina,for her government and people’s compassion and rapid response to the Rohingya refugee crisis; and Greek Prime MinisterAlexis Tsiprasfor his country’s diligent multilateral engagement to provide critical humanitarian aid and education for the enormous influx of refugees to Greece.
In addition to sizable delegations from Niger, Tunisia, Greece, and Bangladesh, heads of state from Angola, Nigeria, and Senegal each sent high-level personal envoys to show their support for the Global Hope Coalition and its work.
The ceremonies continued with recognition of Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie,author of the breakout novel Americanah. The Syrian refugee crisis was the focus of two awards: one to Lebanese Parliamentarian and political leader Fouad Makhzoumi, for his foundation’s humanitarian assistance to refugees in Lebanon, and a joint award to the International Rescue CommitteeandSesame Workshop, for a 100 million-dollar project funded by the MacArthur Foundation to address early childhood education of Syrians displaced by the civil war.
The 2018 Heroes of the Global Campaign against Extremism and Intolerance came from every corner of the globe and have each contributed meaningfully to peace and tolerance in their communities and countries. Heroes honored last night were Bochra Belhaj Hmida, a Tunisian Member of Parliament; female Imam Sherin Khankan, the daughter of a Syrian refugee now leading Maryam Mosque in Copenhagen; Delphine Horvilleur, a Rabbi who has become a powerful voice in her native France against anti-Semitism, prejudice and rejection of the Other; and Mamadou Gassama, a Malian migrant now known as the “Paris Spiderman”who saved a child by climbing the façade of a building in Paris last May and has since become the face of untold suffering by tens of thousands of young Africans trying to reach Europe.
Al-Mesbar Center’s Executive Director, Omer Al-Turabi —a Sudanese scholar and researcher author and advocate of a tolerant and peaceful Islam — was handed his award by noted British historian and adventurer Tudor Parfitt. Mr. Al-Turabi told the audience as follows:
“I have been frequently asked: Why did you choose to dedicate your life to countering Islamist radicalism and terrorism when there are many alternative career opportunities out there? The answer has always been clear to me: I consider this a personal mission, not a day job occupation. Radicalism and terrorism are not just regular security threats against certain nations or groups.
As in reality, they challenge the fabric of our humanity: our integration, dignity, rights, and spiritual transcendence. “He who saves a life, it is as if he has saved the lives of all humankind.” I find myself utterly humbled and truly blessed to be able to act within Al-Mesbar family, empowered by the visions and hopes of The Gulf exceptional leaders – who understand that our region will never progress without humane values, and that these values can never flourish without eradicating terrorism and radicalism in all their forms. As I stand before you tonight, I realize this award does not belong to my humble self alone, but rather, it belongs to my small and extended family, to my dear and truthful colleagues, and above and beyond, it belongs to my future children and all young and forthcoming generations.”
The event marked the second annual dinner for the Global Hope Coalition, which was launched in 2016 to convene prominent influencers around a common goal: finding and highlighting local activists fighting extremism, preaching tolerance, and dedicated to fostering diverse and inclusive societies.
“Violent extremism is a cancer that needs to be rooted out locally, through the actions of courageous women and men in vulnerable communities around the world,” said Abe Radkin, chief executive of the Coalition. “We owe it to these Heroes to empower them through better training, better networking and greater awareness.”
In addition to its annual dinner, Global Hope serves as a global convener and resource for individuals and groups engaged in promoting cross-cultural dialogue, peace, and tolerance. Serving as a link between countries, organizations, and people, the Coalition facilitates partnerships with stakeholders around the globe to increase heroes’ capacity, expand their reach, and extend their capabilities on the ground.
“The added exposure of being declared a Global Hope Hero last year gave my organization a huge boost,” said Dr. Waheed Arian, director of TeleHeal, a London-based nonprofit organization that mobilizes volunteer physicians in the UK to advise local doctors working in conflict zones through Skype. “Global Hope helped us increase our impact on the ground, and form a partnership with the World Health Organization.” Arian arrived in the UK as a teenage refugee from Afghanistan.
“We’re committed to taking the energy that coalesces around this night and translating it into meaningful partnerships and resources that can help shift not only the balance of power in this fight, but actually create a seismic shift that can help wipe out violent extremism,” said Deborah Lehr, Chair of Global Hope USAand Chairman of global cultural racketeering and theft prevention project the Antiquities Coalition.