Living in New York City in the fall of 2001 it was impossible not to ask yourself: What can I do? Is there anything I can do to make a difference? For my husband, the founder and President of the Institute for American Values, he asked himself and other prominent U.S. intellectuals: Was the United States right to invade Afghanistan in pursuit of Osama bin Laden? Soon 60 scholars and intellectuals signed an open letter stating why in concordance with just war theory the United States was following a set of universal moral principles. For those of us who had spent years in the arts, we also asked: What can we do? For me I wanted to see the Muslim world and to visualize the life of those Muslims who I knew must want the same things that are wanted by all mankind: a place to live in peace. I organized an exhibition in New York which looked at sculpture from Afghanistan from the 3rd Century alongside photographs taken in Afghanistan over the last twenty-five years. This was how I came to know the work of photographer Edward Grazda.
Unlike others who have produced work for newspapers and journals, Ed has always produced documentary work that reflects his eye, what he sees as the truth about a culture. His work over the years has taken him to Southeast Asia, Latin America, Afghanistan and the Middle East. He never takes a photograph based on a received idea or a fashionable conceit. His images try to observe what he finds, striking a balance between the self-consciousness of the trained eye with the absence of consciousness found in any random slice of life. When my husband's work began to bring Muslim intellectuals and Americans together at the conference table, I brought Ed's pictures of Afghanistan to the walls of the conference.
A joint project was born bringing the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Endowments of the Sultanate of Oman together with a small but vital think tank in New York, the Institute for American Values. The leaders of both organizations were quick to realize that political and academic work was needed to bridge the divide between Islam and the West but so was cultural understanding. In the end what matters is how do people who don't know one another develop trust? And would a project in which an American photographer spent time looking at religion and society in Oman help us to understand our common humanity? The answer lies in the photographs that you see in the pages of this book.
Raina Sacks Blankenhorn
Executive Vice President
Institute for American Values
Introduction also available in Arabic