The golden rule
B Y TARIQ K HOSA | 10/6/2015

ONE person can make a difference: this is the credo that has helped some extraordinary individuals to positively change the course of nations. It inspired me in my public service career as a Hubert Humphrey Fellow in the United States during 198788. The mid-career leadership programme started by president Jimmy Carter in 1979 in memory of former vice president Hubert Humphrey, who truly made a difference in public service, has so far been availed of by more than 200 professionals from Pakistan.

During my current visit to the US, I have felt the impact that one man can make in touching the hearts of millions through preaching what he practises and in his ability to convey his message without raising his voice. Amidst the debate raging across the country about immigrants, Pope Francis, in his first remarks on American soil, said he was the son of immigrants (his parents migrated from Italy to Argentina) and added, `I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families`.

The 78-year-old leader of the Catholic Church enlarged upon that sentiment during his address to a joint session of the US Congress the first ever by a pontiff. He exhorted the elected leaders to use their political strength for `restoring hope, righting wrongs`, telling them they were `called to defend the dignity of fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics`. Further, he added, `a good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism`.

However, speaking to the notoriously divided house, the pope drew applause that seemed to alternate between one side of the aisle and the other.

Leaning left, he urged the lawmakers to take steps to counter the effects of climate change and abolish the death penalty. Leaning right, he called for an end to abortion and lamented the trend away from traditional marriage.

But his remarks on immigration were greeted with what appeared to be broad approval. That is because there is little disagreement in the US aboutthe failings of the immigration system and little support for the harsh solutions being promoted by some Republican presidential candidates like Donald Trump who has taken immigrant-bashing to new heights, railing about Mexican `killers and rapists`. A handful of hard-line lawmakers have managed to thwart every ef fort to overhaul the system in a reasoned, compassionate way, one that addresses this nation`s economic and security needs while offering legal status to the 12 million immigrants who are in the US without permission.

Advocating for immigrants has been a pillar of Pope Francis` ministry since his election in 2013.

Last year, when tens of thousands of Central Americans sought to enter the US via Mexico, the pope called on the international community to help end the poverty and violence that led them to flee their homelands. A few weeks back, he asked every parish in Europe to shelter at least one refugee family fleeing the civil war in Syria. He urged US lawmakers to apply the golden rule to their dealings with immigrants: `Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,` and added: `The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.

The pope minced no words while asserting that `our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War,` and said: `this presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, thousands of persons are ledto travelnorthin search ofabetterlife for themselves and their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children?` This pope has been the most vocal advocate for the global abolition of the death penalty. He said in his address: `A just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.

Unfortunately, our current criminal justice ethos is based on retribution and revenge rather than compassion and rehabilitation. During my career of four decades of law enforcement, I came to the conclusion that it is the certainty of punishment and not itsseverity that deters the criminals or reduces criminality. Similarly, summary justice through military courts being considered a panacea for combating terrorism would prove counterproductive in the long run. In my view, the collapse of the normal criminal justice system is the terrorists` ultimate aim. And they seem to have achieved their objective of subverting the rule of law in Pakistan. The pontif f made me think of the distorted mindset driving our state to brutality instead of compassion.

The pope also invoked historical lessons from four American figures Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr, monk Thomas Merton and labour activist Dorothy Day. We in Pakistan can be proud of individuals such as the founding father and statesman Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Nobel laureates physicist Prof Abdul Salam and young education activist Malala Yousafzai, sports hero Imran Khan, Oscarwinner Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and above all the icon of compassion Abdul Sattar Edhi, whose achievements can inspire those who dream to make our country greatin the nottoo distantfuture.

The pope vividly illustrated one of his concerns the plight of the poor by leaving the Capitol after his speech to travel to a downtown Washington church. There, less than an hour after he had mingled with the most powerful politicians, Francis blessed the homeless as they ate a meal provided by a charity institution. There is no mistaking how he feels about the duty to help the poor: he practises this basic doctrine by wearing plain shoes, living in a small apartment and using the low-cost, low-carbon Fiat or Ford car.

However, there is little indication that Washington`s warring factions have heeded the pope`s sermon on the Hill, exhorting them to unity, grace and magnanimity. But I can feel that he has touched the hearts of average Americans who may be willing to convert his thoughtful insights into electoral issues currently under debate for the presidential elections next year.

One man may have made the difference!•
The writer is a retired police officer.

Published in Dawn