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Says Pitt's international legal eagle: 'We deal in hope'

| Thursday, July 21, 2016, 8:55 p.m.

Xenophobic reactions to current tragedies raise important concerns about an increasingly interconnected world. Those responding to tragedy and those left behind in times of increasing income inequality seek justification for their anger and a target at which to direct that anger.

Human nature tends toward making that target someone other than ourselves. But targeting others also focuses us on fear rather than on hope. Thus, talk of walls, new tariffs and breaching trade agreements in the United States seems to draw voter support, even absent economic justification for such talk.

History has demonstrated that the more borders are closed, the more jobs are lost. But neither the consideration of history nor the careful scrutiny of political rhetoric results in either effective sound bites or sustained voter affection. Bluntly stated: When hope seems to be fading, fear sells well.

Hope should not have to fade. But neither should it be unfounded. The more we fear the unknown “other” in the world, the less we are likely either to realize that hope or to understand the benefits of looking beyond the walls we all are inclined to establish on a daily basis.

I find hope both in the process of education and in the students with whom I am privileged to work. I have been fortunate to work at the Center for International Legal Education at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, where we bring lawyers from around the world to Pittsburgh for an American legal education and send American students abroad to experience different cultures and legal systems.

Believing that the rule of law offers hope — and that rule by a privileged few generates understandable fear — a focus on the rule of law has allowed me to find hope in many places.

I have found hope in Kenya, where our graduates are dean and department heads at a young but strong law school in a struggling country with a struggling economy.

I have found hope in Kosovo, where our graduates are elected to parliament, serving in government ministries and teaching in law schools.

I have found hope in Serbia, where our graduates have led the University of Belgrade in becoming a major center for international commercial arbitration education.

I have found hope in the Middle East, where our American students and graduates have worked to train a strong cadre of young lawyers in countries like Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

And I have found hope in Washington, where our graduates work in the departments of Commerce, Homeland Security, Justice, National Intelligence, State and others.

These students and young lawyers allow me to draw hope from my experiences with them: hope from a focus on diversity over xenophobia; hope from knowledge over ignorance; and hope from inclusion over unfounded mistrust.

In a political season in which fear has become the currency of public exchange, I am thankful for the privilege of working with young future leaders who deal in hope.

Ronald A. Brand is director of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for International Legal Education.

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