Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Friendship at Home and Abroad

As Aristotle states, “in a society of friends, there is no need for justice but in a society of justice, there is still need for friends.” Today, it seems as if we are all too focused on justice, on creating order and punishing those who do wrong, rather than actually embracing each other. Not only is this a waste of energy, it is also detrimental to worldwide and local politics.

The world today is increasingly more and more interconnected. In reaction, we are increasingly becoming more and more divisive. Donald Trump is warning us all about the danger of immigrants who come into America and “steal” jobs. His views, that diversity and interconnectedness is a threat, is not a solitary one. All over the world, rightwing extremism and jingoism are running rampant. Increasing globalization is presented as a risk: and, as Andrea Oelsner explains, “… every state is solely responsible for its own security, and thus, for the sake of caution, should consider other states as potential threats… By trying to ensure their own security, states make the system as a whole more insecure… The likely outcome is arms races and the emergence of balances of power.”

There is some truth to the idea that globalism means danger. Terrorism is a constant fear for all countries, especially with the increasing rise of terrorist groups like ISIS. Yet, we can combat this with a global and domestic policy of friendship rather than justice.

Friendship, time and time again, proves to be the most effective solution to the dangers of the world. If we want to embrace friendship but are unsure how, we need to look no further than friendship. Recently, I read an article titled “What Happens When Networking Replaces Friendship.”2 Although it is focused on the lives of CEOs, a very specific job in a minority realm, the point of the article, that friendship is more important than cold calculation and meaningless allyship, is applicable to government and politics as well. Oliver Staley, the author of the article, writes:

“In his influential book Bowling Alone, Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam described the decline of civil organizations, the social clubs and fraternal organizations that knit together American society. They’ve been replaced with temporary, work-based connections that feel like friendships, but quickly flicker out when no longer practical. How many work friendships endure after a friend leaves the company?

Putnam wrote Bowling Alone in 2000, before the rise of social media and the smart devices that further distract us from our neighbors.  His warning seems more urgent than ever.”

Friendship is beneficial to all. It is the one thing that not only unites us but also strengthens countries and cultures in general. We saw just this unification in the Friendship Festival that the Friendship Circle recently hosted right here at Oberlin. I attended with the first friend I made here at Oberlin, Lila. The film “Me, the Other,” was an incredibly moving documentary that preached an important message: there is so much to gain from inclusivity and appreciation for others, and so much to lose from hatred and vitriol. In the film, a transgender woman went into great detail about the many trials she had to go through in order to finally be able to accept and embrace herself. Before transitioning, she had a manipulative girlfriend who was ashamed of her cross-dressing. The type of emotional and psychological damage that woman had to go through before transitioning is something I can barely even imagine; but this movie helped broaden my horizons in that way, and reminded me to treat everyone with kindness, not judgement. Later, that very woman appeared in the panel run by the Festival. It was inspiring to see and hear her talk about her experience.

The Festival allowed me to spend quality time with Lila. We made friendship bracelets and potted a plant, which we want to put in the quad we will be living in next year with our two other close friends. We saw Polly, whom I have become close with through my freshman seminar class, and all of the wonderful cards that she made. I took two, and later that day, I was with a group of people and someone mentioned that they needed a card to send to their friend for their birthday. I gave her one of Polly’s cards, which will now reach new people and places that I don’t even know about.

The Festival brought many people of all different walks of life together. It was inspiring and intellectually stimulating and important. If we could see this type of friendly expression brought to a larger stage, brought to government and worldwide politics, I believe we would see real and positive change.


  1. Andrea Oelsner, “Friendship, Mutual Trust and the Evolution of Regional Peace in the International System” in Friendship and Politics, ed. Preston King and Graham M. Smith (London: Routledge, 2007)
  2. Staley, Oliver. “What Happens When Networking Replaces Friendship.” Government Executive, 2 Apr. 2018,

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