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Actor Spreads Culture of Peace through Art

At a time of tension between cultures, regional wars and political differences couched in religious terms, some are trying to find a middle ground. One of them is an American actor who believes in spreading the message of peace and tolerance through theater and film.

F. Murray Abraham embodies American diversity. The Academy Award-winning actor's father was Syrian, his mother was Italian, and he grew up in Texas, where he became fluent in Spanish.

"I'm an American and my brothers both gave their lives for this country, and many of my people have fought for America. But that does not mean that I have no connection with the place where I came from." F. Murray Abraham says.

The place Abraham's family came from is in turmoil. The veteran movie and theatre actor believes artists like him have a role to play in easing the conflict:

"I think that the role of film is very important and powerful. It seems to me there should be room for an artistic use as well as the political and propaganda use." He says "there should be more searches for the authentic truth, and I do not think the truth is war, it is a reality but it does not have to be the truth, and I think artists, true artists search for the truth. I think that is the core of art."

Two years ago F. Murray Abraham started to use theatre as a medium for spreading the culture of peace and religious tolerance. He picked one of the earliest pieces of literature celebrating tolerance, "Nathan the Wise" a play by German writer Gotthold Lessing, published in 1779. Set in Jerusalem during the Third Crusade, it describes how the wise Jewish merchant Nathan, the enlightened ruler Salah Eldin and a Knight Templar bridge the gaps between Judaism and Islam with respect and understanding. Lessing's favorable portrayal of Jews and Muslims-revolutionary in the 18th century Europe- prompted hostility and even condemnation. But Abraham says his modern adaptation played to rave reviews.

"It was a very big success, it was attended by religious leaders from both the Christian, the Muslim as well as the Jewish power seats in Washington. They came, they stood up at the end, it was a great success and what it dealt with was the possibility of peace. I would like to do this more and more, I would like to do a good movie of it and I would like the world to see it."

F. Murray Abraham says he would like to take "Nathan the Wise"- ands its message of understanding- to the Middle East, to remind both sides of the conflict that a just peace is possible.

"I think there should be more attention paid to the voices of peace coming from Israel and Palestine, and it seems to be played down a great deal. And both Jewish Americans and Arab Americans should join together and to object certain polices in both Palestine as well as Israel."

He says that there are many ways to reach people of different backgrounds. He is now using comedy to spread the culture of peace because, he says, people trust comedy since there is no hidden agenda behind laughter.