Encounters in a polarized world: Lessons from a diplomat and public servant

International and Francophonie
Peter Harder, Huguette Labelle, Nurjehan Mawani, Jacques Frémont & Gisèle Yasmeen
Dr. Nurjehan Mawani, lawyer, public servant, diplomat and global Canadian, and current senior fellow and inaugural chair in global engagement at Massey College, spoke at the University of Ottawa February 20, as part of the uOInternational Dialogues and Insights series with support from the Alex Trebek Forum for Dialogue.

Her talk, themed "Navigating Encounters in a Polarized World: Lessons from a Diplomat and Public Servant," offered profound reflections on the complexities of human interactions in today's increasingly divided global landscape.

Dr. Mawani began by acknowledging the University’s ethos, which resonates with her personal values of inclusion, equity and bilingualism. She then described the current global landscape, marked by increasing polarization fuelled by populism, xenophobia and extremism. She showed how these forces erode social cohesion and degrade the quality of public discourse. Drawing from life experience, from her early days in colonial Kenya to her career in Canada, she provided insights into overcoming adversity, advocating for diversity and fostering inclusion.

Dr. Mawani examined the impact of technological advancements on communication, highlighting the dichotomy between enhanced connectivity and the simultaneous rise in isolation and societal fragmentation. She reflected on the societal shifts post-9/11, the scrutiny of Canadian Muslims and parallels with the societal impact of COVID-19, highlighting the revelation of deep-seated prejudices and the imperative for solid frameworks supporting social cohesion.

Throughout her lecture, Dr. Mawani stressed the significance of institutions, education and personal connections in building understanding and co-operation. She advocated for resilience in the face of divisiveness, the embrace of diversity as a collective strength and the promotion of a culture of empathy and dialogue.

Finally, Dr. Mawani called for the audience to choose hope over fear, to engage in bridge-building across societal chasms. Echoing the wisdom of the Aga Khan, she emphasized the unifying power of our shared humanity to surmount the challenges posed by a divided world.

Not a recounting of personal achievements and challenges, the lecture was a call for dialogue, understanding and collective endeavour to achieve a more inclusive, equitable and harmonious global society.

University President and Vice-Chancellor Jacques Frémont delivered opening remarks. Associate Vice-President, International Gisèle Yasmeen served as the moderator. Closing remarks were delivered by Huguette Labelle, Governor emerita and former uOttawa Chancellor.