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Harvin Khalaf : Une lumière s’est éteinte, mais la réconciliation reste à faire

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Cultural Bridges, Current Events, Democracy, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Solidarity, Syria, The Search for Peace, War Crimes, World Law on October 22, 2019 at 12:16 PM

Par René Wadlow

Le 12 octobre 2019, Havrin Khalaf, Co-secrétaire générale du Parti de l’Avenir de la Syrie, a été abattue à un barrage routier par la milice Ahrar al-Shargiya soutenue par la Turquie. Le Parti de l’Avenir de la Syrie avait été formé en mars 2018 à Raqqa afin de créer «une Syrie démocratique, pluraliste et décentralisée». Le Parti était actif au sein de l’Administration autonome du Nord et de l’Est de la Syrie – région souvent désignée par les Kurdes en tant que Rojava. La région présente une haute diversité, tant de par les groupes qui la peuplent que par les religions qui y sont représentées. Le Parti de l’Avenir de la Syrie cherchait donc à bâtir des ponts de compréhension entre Kurdes, Arabes, Turkmènes et tous les autres groupes, ainsi qu’entre Musulmans, Chrétiens et Yézidis. L’espoir était que cet effort pour bâtir des passerelles devienne un exemple pour tout le reste de la Syrie.

Avant même le début des combats en Syrie en 2011, la société syrienne était divisée selon des critères ethniques et religieux. Les hostilités, le déplacement de populations, la montée de l’Etat islamique (Daesh) n’ont fait qu’accroître les divisions ethniques et religieuses. Dans de nombreux cas, la confiance entre les groupes a été brisée, et même la coopération a minima qui se manifestait à travers des liens économiques a volé en éclats. Rebâtir la coopération, et c’était l’un des buts principaux du Parti de l’Avenir de la Syrie, s’avérera difficile. L’incursion des forces turques et de leurs alliés syriens au nord-est de la Syrie va rendre la coopération par-delà les divisions ethniques et religieuses encore plus ardue.

A elle seule, Havrin Khalaf symbolisait cet effort de réconciliation. Elle était également un symbole de la quête pour l’égalité entre femmes et hommes. Femme kurde, elle avait pour Co-secrétaire général du Parti de l’Avenir de la Syrie un homme arabe. Femme dotée d’une solide éducation – elle avait été diplômée de l’Université d’Alep en 2009 – elle était particulièrement active en matière d’autonomie et de renforcement des femmes. Elle avait souvent officié comme porte-parole auprès de diplomates, journalistes, et travailleurs humanitaires en visite dans la région. Jouissant d’une haute visibilité, elle n’a pu être tuée que de manière délibérée. En même temps qu’elle, le chauffeur de la voiture du Parti à bord de laquelle elle se déplaçait a trouvé la mort.

Le danger est réel de voir de tels assassinats se multiplier avec l’avancée des troupes turques et l’expansion permanente de leur contrôle sur ce qu’ils appellent, non sans ironie, une « zone de sécurité ». Déjà dans un passé récent, l’occupation turque de la région d’Afrin a entraîné des déplacements de population, des pillages, des prises d’otages et des tortures. Il est également à craindre que les territoires du nord-est de la Syrie récemment repassées sous le contrôle du Gouvernement syrien ne soient pas épargnées par les crimes de vengeance, ni par les violations des Droits Humains ou du droit humanitaire international pour des motifs politiques.

Avec le décès de Havrin Khalaf à trente-quatre ans, une lumière vient de s’éteindre. Mais la réconciliation reste à faire. Il faut des voix nouvelles. Nous qui vivons en dehors de la Syrie, nous devons voir ce que nous pouvons faire pour faciliter ce rôle vital de construction de ponts entre les êtres humains.

Le Professeur René Wadlow est Président de l’Association of World Citizens.

Havrin Khalaf: A Light Has Gone Out But The Tasks of Reconciliation Remain

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Cultural Bridges, Current Events, Democracy, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Solidarity, Syria, The Search for Peace, War Crimes, World Law on October 22, 2019 at 10:02 AM

By René Wadlow

On October 12, 2019, Havrin Khalaf, the Co-Secretary-General of the Future Syria Party was shot to death at a roadblock by the Turkish-backed militia, Ahrar al-Shargiya. The Future of Syria Party had been formed in March 2018 in Raqqa with its aim of a “democratic, pluralistic, and decentralized Syria.” The Party was active in the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria — an area often referred to by the Kurds as Rojava. The area is highly diverse in both population groups and religions. Thus, the Future Syria Party wanted to build bridges of understanding among Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, and other ethnic groups as well as among Muslims, Christians and Yezidis. The hope was that this bridge-building effort would become a model for all of Syria.

Even before the fighting began in Syria in 2011, the Syrian society was divided along ethnic and religious lines. The fighting, the displacement of people, the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) has increased ethnic and religious divisions. In many cases, trust among groups has been broken, and even minimal cooperation through economic links has been broken. Rebuilding cooperation, a chief aim of the Future Syria Party, will be difficult. The move of Turkish forces and their Syrian allies into northeast Syria will make cooperation across ethnic and religious divides even more difficult.

Havrin Khalaf was a symbol of this reconciliation effort. She was also a symbol of the quest for equality between women and men. As a Kurdish woman she had an Arab man as Co-Secretary-General of the Party. As an educated woman – she received a degree from the University of Aleppo in 2009 – she was particularly active for the empowerment of women. She often served as spokesperson for visiting diplomats, journalists, and aid workers. As a highly visible person, her killing was deliberate. The driver of the Party car she was in was also killed at the same time.

There is a real danger that such killings increase as Turkish troops advance and control an ever-larger part of what the Turks have ironically called “the safe zone.” Earlier Turkish occupation of the Efrin area has led to the displacement of people, looting, hostage-taking and torture. We can also fear that areas in northeast Syria newly under the control of the Syrian Government will not be free from revenge killings and politically-motivated violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.

With the death of Havrin Khalaf at the age of 34, a light has gone out. The tasks of reconciliation remain. New voices are needed. We outside of Syria must see how best we can facilitate this vital role of bridge-building.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Rabindranath Tagore: Grace and Beauty Within Your Soul

In Asia, Cultural Bridges, Poetry, Spirituality, The Search for Peace on May 7, 2019 at 10:56 PM

By René Wadlow

To mark the May 7 birth anniversary of the poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) we highlight the song-poems of the Bauls that Tagore structured both as words and music.  Today, much of the Baul music and especially the work of the leading 19th-century folk-poet Lalon Fakir are known through their preservation by Tagore.

Why do you keep looking for the Man of the Heart

in the forests, in solitude?

Turn your attention this time

to the grace and beauty within your soul.

So begins one of the songs of Lalon Shah, also known as Lalon Fakir among the Hindus of Bengal − Shah being a Muslim Sufi title. His date of birth is not recorded, but he died in 1890 as an old man having composed thousands of short songs (often four or eight lines) passed down orally from disciple to disciple.  Only a small number of his songs have survived as such, as many Baul singers add to or modify songs by intuition or in response to current events.  More of Lalon’s songs are known through the efforts of Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), Bengal’s great poet and social reformer.  Lalon Shah lived in a village on land which belonged to the Tagore family. Rabindranath Tagore as a young man spent time visiting villages on his family’s estates to understand better village life. Later in 1922, Tagore created a center for rural development and reform Sriniketan alongside an innovative school Santiniketan started in 1901 where Tagore hoped  that “the young and the old, the teacher and the student, sit at the same table to take their daily food and the food of their eternal life.”  Bauls were always welcomed to sing in the courtyard of Santiniketan, and the students spread knowledge of Baul rural culture to more elite and urban Bengali society.

Who are the Bauls?  The Bauls are a class − some would say a sect − of minstrels, wandering singers of mystic songs, though today with the socio-economic changes in Bengal (both West Bengal, India and parts of Bangladesh) many Bauls have settled rural homes and a minority have followed the rural to urban flow of populations.  The Bauls today number around half a  million persons living usually on the edges of larger settlements. Those who continue to follow a Baul way of live  together under the guidance of a spiritual preceptor and are initiated into their function of singer-teacher-mystic through rituals of initiation.

However, the Bauls, other than this original initiation, do not have set rituals, temples or priests.  Those who are active minstrels (many drop out in order to follow more conventional ways of living) have no personal possessions other than a single garment, often saffron in color, a reminder of a period, prior to the 13th century arrival of Islam. The Bauls represent an earlier pre-Islamic Bengali current of thought which later influenced Buddhism in Tibet and has many similarities with the Yin/Yang balance of forces found in Chinese Taoism.

Lalon Shah, by his talent and by the interest in his songs taken by Tagore, is the outstanding representative of Baul teaching. In his songs, he tears down the barriers of caste and creed, the walls that separate humans. As he sang:

            If you circumcise him, he becomes a Muslim,

            Then what is the rule for women?

            I recognize the Brahman by his sacred thread,

            Then how do I recognize a Brahmani?

For Lalon, as with the Baul tradition, the Kingdom of God is within. There are no temples but that of the body of each person.  Life is a continuous interior search in which intuition awakens the Spirit.  Within the body, especially the heart, the Laws of Nature are known. The Baul exercises are partly based on the concept of the Kundalini − a fire within the body which can be activated by the control of breath and dance-like motions.  These exercises awaken the Spirit and become ‘Living Wisdom’ within each person.  Wisdom aims at the good life.  It involves intuition, feelings and conscience.

For the Bauls, what we may call the Divine (for lack of a better concept) is reflected in the beauty of Nature and all created things.  The moon holds a special place. As the Lelon song states:

            By great good luck one may see that moon.

            It has no dark spots.

            In it lies the golden abode of the Unknowable.

            In the world of the moon there is no play of day or night.

Today, the Bauls are looked down upon by the more legalistic Muslims of Bangladesh or thought of only as “folk singers”.  However, their search for the inner person, for the indwelling light has a message for each of us.

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Notes

For anthropology studies based on field work see:

Jeanne Openshaw, Seeking Bauls of Bengal (Cambridge University Press, 2002)

June McDaniel, The Madness of the Saints: Ecstatic Religion in Bengal (University of Chicago Press, 1989)

Edward  Dimroch, The Place of the Hidden Moon  (University of Chicago Press, 1966)

For translations into English of Baul songs and their philosophical context see:

Deben Phattacarya, Songs of the Bards of Bengal (Grove Press, 1989)

Charles Capwell, The Music of the Bauls of Bengal (Kent State University Press, 1986)

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Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Khalil Gibran: The Foundations of Love

In Being a World Citizen, Cultural Bridges, Literature, Middle East & North Africa, Poetry, The Search for Peace on December 18, 2018 at 7:26 AM

By René Wadlow

Life without love is like a tree without blossom and fruit. And love without beauty is like flowers without scent and fruits without seed… For Love is the only flower that grows and blossoms without the aid of seasons… Love is a rose, its heart opens at dawn.”

Khalil Gibran (1883-1931) the Lebanese poet, whose birth anniversary we mark on January 6, in many ways represents the deeper spirit of Lebanon though he lived most of his life outside the country: in Paris as an art student and in the USA where he started to write directly in English. His best known book The Prophet was written directly in English.

In “My Birthday”, written in Paris on January 6, 1908 Gibran wrote “Thus have I walked round the sun twenty and five times. And I know not how many times the moon has encircled me. Yet I have not unveiled the secrets of life, neither have I known the hidden things of darkness… Much have I loved in these five and twenty years. And much that I have loved is hateful to people, and much that I have hated is by them admired… I have loved freedom, and my love has grown with the growth of my knowledge of the bondage of people to falsehood and deceit… Love is the only freedom in the world because it so elevates the spirit that the laws of humanity and the phenomena of nature do not alter its course.”

In a vision that was correct, he added in the 1908 birthday essay “And today, today I stand in remembrance as a tired wayfarer who stands mid-way on the ascending road.” He died in 1931 at the age of 48. (1)

For Gibran, Love and Beauty are the foundations of existence. As he wrote in an essay which gave the title to the book “A Tear and a Smile” Then my heart drew near to wisdom, the daughter of Love and Beauty, saying ‘Give me wisdom that I may carry it to humankind’. She answered ‘Say that happiness begins in the holy of holies of the spirit and comes not from without.

A Tear and a Smile sums up well Gibran’s attitude toward life which is always made up of contrasts: light and dark, knowledge and doubt.

How beautiful is life, beloved.
Tis like the heart of a poet,
Full of light and spirit,
How harsh is life, beloved
Tis like an evildoer’s heart
Full of guilt and fear.

In “The Hymn of Man”, nearly a credo of his views, he stresses the ‘both/and’ of contrasts:

I have hearkened to the teachings of Confucius and listened to the wisdom of Brahma, and sat beside the Buddha beneath the tree of knowledge. Behold me now contending with ignorance and unbelieving.

I have borne the harshness of insatiable conquerors, and felt the oppression of tyrants and the bondage of the powerful. Yet I am strong to do the battle with the days.

I was,
And I am.
So shall I be to the end of Time.
For I am without end.

(1) Quotations are from Khalil Gibran A Tear and A Smile. Translated from the Arabic by H.M. Nahmad (London: William Heinemann, 1930)

Painting: Age of Women by Khalil Gibran

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Kofi Annan (1938-2018): A way forward for the resolution of armed conflicts through negotiations in good faith

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Cultural Bridges, Human Development, Human Rights, NGOs, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, World Law on August 21, 2018 at 8:34 PM

By René Wadlow

 

“Over the years we have come to realize that it is not enough to send peacekeeping forces to separate warring parties. It is not enough to engage in peace-building efforts after societies have been ravaged by conflicts. It is not enough to conduct preventive diplomacy. All of this is essential work, but we want enduring results. We need, in short, a culture of peace.”

Kofi Annan.

Kofi_Atta_Annan

The homage which World Citizens can give to the memory of Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), is to carry on his efforts for worldwide security and the resolution of armed conflicts through negotiations with the presence of skilled mediators. As he wrote, “We must seek new common ground for our collective efforts.” World Citizens believe that UN Member States owe an obligation to each other to make good faith efforts to reach agreements consistent with the highest principles of world law. The UN was conceived to do more than to clear away the rubble of conflicts that it was unable to prevent.

Kofi Annan saw that the concept of a global society is growing piece by piece shaped by new possibilities of communication, transport, trade and finance. An effort must be made to find the aspirations of people to hold what they have in common and to express these world citizen values in ways that many can recognize and accept.

The relations between security, conflict resolution and respect for human rights have now assumed a more dynamic form than at any other time since the creation of the UN. Thus, there is a need for concerted attention and action of States and Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs).

Kofi Annan was always sensitive to the role that NGOs could play in building a culture of peace. In 1997, he said that the UN should be “a bridge between civil society and governments.” He stressed that the role of NGOs was becoming increasingly important. The UN’s peacekeeping mandate had changed in that armed conflicts are increasingly taking place within rather than between States. Thus, peacekeeping efforts can involve electoral assistance, humanitarian aid, administrative support, and the protection of human rights.

There are at least three areas in which NGOs can cooperate effectively with the UN:

1) Fact-finding and early warning. In preventive diplomacy, NGOs, because of their familiarity with local situations are well placed to play a part in early warning by drawing the attention of governments to budding and emerging conflicts. Yet more must be done to coordinate activities to stop violence before it spreads. Coalition building can have a multiplier effect on the ability to understand the complexities of conflict before violence happens. Consultative mechanisms should be developed to enable NGOs to provide early warning information and to receive information from the UN.

2) Lines of communication. Diplomacy to keep channels of communication open between opponents is a difficult yet necessary task. Often one side will break contact which is then difficult to reestablish. Given its importance, better ways must be developed to communicate and, if desired, to pass on communications from one side to another.

3) Training. There is a need to utilize the mobilizing power of NGOs both in terms of people (networking) and resources, especially money. There is a need to develop networks among university-based specialists, NGOs and the conflicting parties themselves.

Kofi Annan was a model of calm networking and keeping lines of communication open.

We need to continue in his spirit.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Dampening the Fuse in the Wider Middle East

In Conflict Resolution, Cultural Bridges, Current Events, Human Development, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on August 21, 2018 at 8:13 PM

By René Wadlow

 

In an article “The Fuse: A Chain of Nations in Conflict” in the Bulletin of Peace Proposals (Number 2, 1980), Alan and Hanna Newcombe compared adjacent States in conflict to a fuse of a bomb which would be a wider or more violent armed conflict.

“The diffusion of war from nation to nation along the chain is facilitated by certain properties of the chain: geographic adjacency, high military preparedness, substantive conflicts between successive neighbors and a chain of two against one alliance which cause each nation to see itself surrounded by enemies.”

There is now a danger of creating such a chain of two against one alliance which would institutionalize the current divides among States in the wider Middle East. Tentatively set for October 12-13, President Trump plans to bring Arab allies to the White House to forge a military alliance against Iran. Officially known as the Middle East Strategic Alliance, it is often called the “Arab NATO” – a Saudi-led effort that includes the Gulf Cooperation Council, Egypt and Jordan.

Hanna-Newcombe-01

Such a formal military-political alliance could be the match that sets the fuse burning. The wider Middle East is the scene of rapid socioeconomic change and political flux. Factions from this Arab-Islamic heartland are considered prime movers of terrorism, both within the heartland and reaching out to Europe and the USA. Countries from outside the heartland zone of instability, in particular the USA, Russia, and Western Europe consider this zone of Middle East important to their national interests.

Moreover, the Arab-Islamic heartland which includes Israel is by far the largest importer of major conventional weapons and associated military services. Hostility is the order of the day. “My enemy’s enemy is my friend” is the first rule of the conflict game.

Efforts by the United Nations (UN) to foster negotiations in good faith in the armed conflicts of Yemen, Syria, and Libya have not been successful. The withdrawal of the USA from the Iran Nuclear Accord has seriously weakened the Accord. Negotiations on Yemen are to start at the UN in Geneva in early September, but there are few signs that the parties in this conflict are willing to compromise. Negotiation among Israelis and Palestinians, at least in public, are at a dead point, and tensions are growing.

Aerial_bombardments_on_Sana'a,_Yemen_from_Saudi_Arabia_without_the_right_aircraft._injustice_-_panoramio

A wider awareness of the fuse effect should lead to a wider vision of the issues. The lack of this wider vision is one of the major weakness of the policy making of States. A wider vision would stress three inter-related aspects:

– the wide geographic area and the impact of extra-regional States;

– the many regional factors that interact: the social structures, the economic production, ethnic loyalties, religious convictions, political power struggles, external influences;

– the longtime dimension which has created the institutions and the attitudes now present.

Thus, there is a need for what is likely to be a slow and difficult reweaving of the social fabric of the Arab-Islamic heartland: a social weave that will include many different ethnic groups and religious currents, a weave that will integrate people at very different stages of modernization. This weave of a new society will have to integrate Israel which is a regional power in the same way that Israel will have to integrate the Arab-Islamic culture as a legitimate component of Israeli society. The weave of a new Arab-Islamic society will contain three types of strands:

– new attitudes;

– new institutions of consultation, compromise and cooperation;

– new governmental policies based on compromise and cooperation.

The Association of World Citizens has for a good number of years proposed a Conference for Security and Cooperation in the Middle East with full recognition of all States in the region, with steps toward a Middle East Common Market, and cooperation on water issues. Such a Middle East Conference is based on the Helsinki Conference of 1973-1975.

Some seeds for a Middle East version of the Helsinki process were planted but have not yet sprouted. The 1975 Helsinki Final Act has a chapter entitled “Questions relating to security and cooperation in the Mediterranean”. The link between security in Europe and the Mediterranean has been formalized starting in 1994 with the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation: Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Israel. It is theoretically possible for leadership from these six states to propose an enlargement. Libya and Lebanon can also be considered Mediterranean. One could also start with a totally new process – inspired by the example of the Helsinki process but with no organic link.

Thus, it is not an “Arab NATO” which is called for but a Conference on Security and Cooperation in the Middle East that is needed.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

The Faiths of the Past and the Challenges of the Future: Interfaith Harmony Week

In Being a World Citizen, Cultural Bridges, Religious Freedom, The Search for Peace, World Law on February 2, 2018 at 9:15 PM

By René Wadlow

On October 20, 2010, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, by resolution A/RES/65/PV.34, designated the first week of February of every year as the World Interfaith Harmony Week among all religions, faiths and beliefs.

The General Assembly, building on its efforts for a culture of peace and nonviolence, wished to highlight the importance that mutual understanding and inter-religious dialogue can play in developing a creative culture of peace and non-violence. The General Assembly Resolution recognized “the imperative need for dialogue among different faiths and religions in enhancing mutual understanding, harmony and cooperation among people.” The week has a potential to promote the healing of religion-based tensions in the world.

As the then Secretary General Ban Ki-moon wrote “At a time when the world is faced with many simultaneous problems — security, environmental, humanitarian, and economic — enhanced tolerance and understanding are fundamental for a resilient and vibrant international society. There is an imperative need, therefore, to further reaffirm and develop harmonious cooperation between the world’s different faiths and religions.”

2000px-P_religion_world

There has always been interaction and borrowing of ideas among spiritual and religious groups. Early Christianity took ideas and rituals from the Jewish milieu of its early members including its founder, Jesus. However, ideas from the mystical traditions of the Middle East and Greece were also incorporated — Neo-Platonism as well as aspects of the Eleusinian and other initiation rituals. Christian Gnostic groups had relations with Zoroastrian thought and probably Buddhists from India.

In Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries in reaction to the violent religious conflicts between Catholics and Protestants during the Reformation, humanists such as Erasmus appealed for tolerance and tried to find an intellectual basis for reconciliation. The Erasmian spirit found one of its most beautiful expressions in a small but influential group known as the Domus Charitatis (the Family of Love). Founded in the 1540s, the Family of Love recruited its members from all over Europe and included both Catholics and Protestants. The Familists placed an emphasis on the practice and growth of spiritual love as a way of building bridges between dogmatic religious positions.

During the same period of the 16th and 17th centuries, in a more esoteric way, the alchemists turned to a wide variety of sources in their search for a symbolic language to express the mystery of both physical and spiritual transformation. In addition to Christian symbolism, they used the symbolism of Greek and Roman mythology, Gnosticism, the Jewish Kabbalah and Islamic culture. Drawing on such a wide variety of traditions, the alchemists paved the way for the gradual interest in the study of the world religions in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries.

However, we can date the start of formal inter-religious understanding and cooperation from the first World Parliament of Religions held in Chicago. In 1893, interfaith dialogue was almost unknown in the United States when immigration up until that time was nearly exclusively Christian with the addition of a small number of Jews coming from Germany and Central Europe.

John_Henry_Barrows

John Henry Barrows

The 1893 World Parliament of Religions (sometimes called the World’s Congress of Religions) was convened in Chicago in connection with the World Fair of that year (1). The Parliament owed much to the efforts of its organizing president, John Henry Barrows. Barrows was a well-known Chicago lawyer as well as a Swedenborg minister. The Parliament was heavily weighted in favor of liberal Protestant denominations: the Unitarians, the Universalists, the Congregationalists along with two more conservative Protestant churches: the Presbyterians and the Baptists. The Roman Catholics were represented by the prominent Cardinal Gibbons.

Barrow depended on his contacts in Chicago with members of the Theosophical Society for advice on Asian religions. Thus, Annie Besant, President of the Theosophical Society, living at its headquarters in India and active in Indian reform movements suggested the Asian speakers — all of whom represented a modern, social reformist wing of their faiths. Annie Besant participated and had insisted that there be an important contribution from women highlighting their specific roles — a theme then new to the largely hierarchical and patriarchal structures of religious groups.

Annie_Besant,_2

Annie Besant

Buddhism was represented by the theosophically-trained H. Dharmapala, an educator and social reformer in what is now Sri Lanka but not a member of the orthodox Buddhist Sanga of the island. The Zoroastrians were represented by an Indian Parsee, Jananji Modi, a friend of the Theosophical Society and a friend of the Oxford scholar of religions Max Muller who also played an important intellectual role in the preparation of the Parliament. Muller did not attend but sent a paper on “Greek Philosophy and the Christian Religion” which was read by Barrow. An aspect of Indian thought was represented by B. R. Nargarkara of the reformist Bhahmo-Sumaj who quoted its spirit saying “When scriptures differ, and faith disagree, a man should see truth reflected in his own spirit…We do not believe in the revelation of books and men, of histories and historical records for today God communicates His will to mankind as truly and as really as He did in the days of Christ or Moses, Mohammed or Buddha.”

Swami-vivekananda

Vivekananda

The most striking voice of Indian thought came from the young Vivekananda (born Naremdranath Datta to an aristocratic Calcutta family.) He alighted in Chicago in ochre robes and turban and gave a series of talks to the 4,000 attendees of the Parliament. Vivekananda, a follower of the more mystic thinker, Ramakrishna, defined Hinduism as a few basic propositions of Vedantic thought, the foremost being that “all souls are potentially divine”, and he quoted Ramakrishna that “the mystical experience at the heart of every religious discipline was essentially the same.” Being 31, Vivekananda had the energy to travel throughout the United States, meeting intellectuals who were discovering Indian thought not through translations of Indian scriptures as had Emerson and other New England writers but through a learned and dynamic Indian.

From the USA, his writings spread, influencing such thinkers as Leo Tolstoy and Romain Rolland who wrote a Life of Ramakrishna and a Life of Vivekananda (1928). Later the English writer, Aldous Huxley, wrote The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. Vivekananda’s enthusiasm for the USA as a new land unburdened by the old ways was boundless, and quite fittingly, he died on July 4, 1902 — the U. S. national day. He was just 39 years old but was exhausted from ceaseless work and untreated diabetes.

For many decades, the exposition of Indian thought by Vivekananda was considered to be Hinduism. It was not until the late 1950s and the coming to the University of Chicago of Mircea Eliade, the Romanian specialist of Indian religious thought that the many different strands of Hinduism were stressed. Hinduism was a term coined by the English colonists as they wanted a term to cover all Indian thought as they were already used to “Islam” for the Arabs and “Christians” for the West. At the start of the English colonial period in India, Indians never referred to themselves as Hindus, but used more often the term dharma —the law of Nature — for their faith. Likewise, Buddhists also never spoke of themselves as Buddhists. Buddha was also said to have explained the dharma which had existed eternally, and they were only following the dharma as explained by the Buddha; they were not following the historical Buddha.

Since 1893, interfaith discussions have increased, but many of the issues have remained the same: how to make religious thought relevant to the social-economic-political issues of the day. Can religious organizations play a useful role in the resolution of violent conflicts? (2)

It is important to build on past efforts, but many challenges remain. These challenges call for responses from a wide range of people and groups, motivated by good will to break down barriers and to reconcile women and men within the world community.

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Notes

For a record of the talks and statement of the Parliament see: Rev. Minot J. Savage, The World’s Congress of Religions (Boston: Arena Publishing Co. 1893, 428pp.)

For a useful overview of recent multifaith dialogue and cooperation by a participant in many of the efforts see: Marcus Braybrooks, Faith and Interfaith in a Global Age (Grand Rapids, MI: Co-Nexus Press, 1998, 144pp)

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Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Xi Jinping, Citizen of the World, and the Making of a Global Policy

In Anticolonialism, Being a World Citizen, Cultural Bridges, Current Events, Environmental protection, Human Development, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, World Law on March 5, 2017 at 12:09 PM

XI JINPING, CITIZEN OF THE WORLD, AND THE MAKING OF A GLOBAL POLICY

By René Wadlow

A recent issue of Newsweek hailed the President of China, Xi Jinping, as a citizen of the world and highlighted his January 17, 2017 speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland as setting forth a new global policy. At a time when the President of the United States is putting his “America First” policy into practice, and the President of the Russian Federation is striving to make Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church “great again”, it is China that is providing great power leadership toward a cosmopolitan, humanistic, world society.

At Davos, Xi Jinping stressed that globalization had produced “powerful global growth and facilitated movement of goods and capital, advances in science, technology and civilization and interaction among people.” He noted the China-led creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. He ended by saying that “the people of all countries expect nothing less (than to make globalization work) and this is our unshrinkable responsibility as leaders of our times.”

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It is true that globalization – the world as an open market – has worked well for China’s export-led economy and for its foreign infrastructure development efforts – the One Belt-One Road project of rail, roads and sea ports. However, Xi Jinping also mentioned civilization and interaction among people as one of the outcomes of globalization, perhaps thinking of the large number of student exchanges and the impact of Chinese culture through the increasing number of Confucius Institutes throughout the world.

Xi Jinping stressed the need for ecologically-sound development and meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Conference – the protection of Nature being high on the list of world citizen priorities.

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China retains a preoccupying record of human rights violations, as does its northeastern neighbor Russia. Now that extreme right populism has prevailed at the polls in Britain and the United States, and as France is entering a dangerous electoral period with a genuine extreme right risk too, human rights are set to become an ever greater matter of concern in terms of global leadership, regardless of the proven merits in other fields of any given individual country. President Xi Jinping should implement immediate, significant policy changes and bring his country in line with United Nations standards at last.

It is certain that in addition to setting a broadly positive global policy, there are real internal challenges to meeting the world citizen values of equality and respect for the dignity of each person.

As fellow citizens of the world, we are heartened by the advances of the rule of world law, of equality between women and men, by efforts of solidarity to overcome poverty and hunger. We look to Chinese leadership to strengthen the forces which advance a cosmopolitan, humanist world society based on wholeness, harmony and creativity.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Kuan Yin: Goddess of Compassion and Harmony

In Asia, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Cultural Bridges, Solidarity, The Search for Peace on February 19, 2017 at 9:15 AM

KUAN YIN: GODDESS OF COMPASSION AND HARMONY
By René Wadlow

Wise in using skillful means, in every corner of the world, she manifests her countless forms

February 19, in countries influenced by Chinese culture, is a day devoted to honoring Kuan Yin, goddess of compassion, “She who hears the cries of the world and restores harmony.” She is a goddess for the Taoists and a bodhisattva for the Buddhists but she represents the same values of compassion for both faiths. There has been mutual borrowing of symbols and myths between the two groups, as well as an identification with Mary in countries with a Roman Catholic minority such as Vietnam and with Tara among the Tibetans.

From the Taoist tradition, she is associated with running water and lotus pools. Many of her virtues come from Buddhist teachings:
“Wrathful, banish thought of self
Sad, let fall the causes of woe,
Lustful, shed lust’s mental object,
Win all, by simply letting go.”

As in this Chinese verse reflecting her advice, many Buddhist values are phrased negatively: abobha (non-greed), adosa (non-hatred), amoka (non-delusion), less frequently in positive values metta (loving kindness), karuma (compassion), mudita (happiness in the good fortune of others).

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Yet Kuan Yin is associated with active compassion as a driving force of action, where all, including the least of living things are treated with fairness and consideration and where the broader currents of life move toward harmony and equilibrium.

While most of the myths and ex voto paintings found in temples show Kuan Yin helping individuals in times of stress or danger, there is also a broader, more political-social aspect to her efforts to restore harmony and balance. Today, at a time when humanity is increasingly working together to meet ecological challenges and to overcome ideologically-led strife, the spirit of Kuan Yin presents to us an important call for a cultural renaissance based on the concept of harmony. Rather than concentrating primarily on conflicts, struggles and suffering, the spirit of Kuan Yin suggests that the focus should be on cooperation, and visions of a better future. Harmony includes tolerance, acceptance, equality, and forgiveness of past pains and conflicts. The spirit of Kuan Yin leads to gentleness, patience, kindness, and to inner peace.

We are fortunate to be able to participate in a crucial moment in world history when the law of harmony, that is the law of equilibrium, is being increasingly recognized and understood. Harmony is the key to our ascent to the next higher level of human consciousness: harmony between the intellect and the heart, the mind and the body, male and female, being and doing.

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For the conscious restoration of equilibrium, we must understand the lack of harmony particular to each society and to each segment of the society. It may be a lack of balance in the goals to be reached and the means to reach these goals. It may be a lack of balance between thought and action, or it may be a lack of balance between the role of women and men.

The efforts to restore harmony can often be long for there are structures and institutions which, though lifeless, take a long time to crumble. One needs patience. Yet, there are, at times, unexpected breakthrough and shifts. Thus, one must always be sensitive to the flow of energy currents.

Thus, as we mark February 19 to honor Kuan Yin, we also develop a new spirit of cooperation for the creation of a cosmopolitan, humanist world society. Social harmony is inseparable from the values of respect and understanding, of goodwill, and of gratitude toward one another.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Yazidi Freedom of Thought Honored

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Cultural Bridges, Current Events, Human Rights, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Religious Freedom, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on December 3, 2016 at 11:07 PM

YAZIDI FREEDOM OF THOUGHT HONORED

By René Wadlow

The Yearly Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought awarded by the European Parliament was given on October 27, 2016 to Nadia Mourad Bassi Taka and Lamiya Aji Bachar, both Iraqi Yazidis. Both had been taken captive by Islamic State (IS) forces in August 2014 and then sold into sexual slavery and forced marriage. Both were recently able to escape from bondage and went to Germany as refugees. Both have become spokespersons for the Yazidis, especially those Yazidi women who are still being held in sexual slavery. The United Nations (UN) has appointed Nadia Taka as Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking.

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There were probably some 500,000 Yazidis, a Kurdish-speaking religious community living in northern Iraq, many in the Mosul area. Iraqi demographic statistics are not very reliable, and Yazidi leaders may give larger estimates by counting Kurds who had been Yazidis but who had converted to Islam. There were also some 200,000 Yazidis among the Kurds of Turkey but now nearly all have migrated to Western Europe, primarily Germany, to Australia, Canada, and the USA. There are also some Yazidis among Kurds living in Syria, Iran and Armenia. The Yazidi do not convert people, and so the religion continues only through birth into the community.

The structure of the Yazidi world view is Zoroastrian, a faith born in Persia proclaiming that two great cosmic forces, that of light and good, and that of darkness and evil are in constant battle. Man is called upon to help light overcome evil.

However, the strict dualistic thinking of Zoroastrianism was modified by another Persian prophet, Mani of Ctesiphon in the third century CE who had to deal with a situation very close to that of ours today. Mani tried to create a synthesis of religious teachings that were increasingly coming into contact through travel and trade: Buddhism and Hinduism from India, Jewish and Christian thought, Hellenistic Gnostic philosophy from Egypt and Greece as well as many smaller, traditional and “animist” beliefs. Mani kept the Zoroastrian dualism as the most easily understood intellectual framework, though giving it a somewhat more Taoist (yin/yang) flexibility, Mani having traveled to China, he developed the idea of the progression of the soul by individual effort through reincarnation – a main feature of Indian thought combined with the ethical insights of Gnostic and Christian thought. Unfortunately, only the dualistic Zoroastrian framework is still attached to Mani’s name – Manichaeism. This is somewhat ironic as it was the Zoroastrian Magi who had him put to death as a dangerous rival.

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Within the Mani-Zoroastrian framework, the Yazidis added the presence of angels who are to help man in his constant battle for light and good, in particular Melek Tawis, the peacock angel. Although there are angels in Islam, angels that one does not know could well be demons, and so the Yazidis are regularly accused of being “demon worshipers” (1).

If one is to take seriously the statements of the IS leadership, genocide – the destruction in whole or in part of a group – is a stated aim concerning the Yazidis. The killing of the Yazidis is a policy and not “collateral damage” from fighting. The 1948 Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide allows any State party to the Convention to “call upon the competent organs of the United Nations to take such action under the Charter of the United Nations as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide.” Thus far, no State has done so by making a formal proposal to deal with the Convention.

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The Yazidis have always been looked down upon by both their Muslim and Christian neighbors as “pagans”. The government of Saddam Hussein was opposed to them not so much for their religious beliefs but rather because some Yazidi played important roles in the Kurdish community, seen as largely opposed to the government. The Yazidis also had some old ownership claims on land on which oil reserves are found in northern Iraq which makes them suspect in the eyes of the current leadership of the Kurdish Autonomous Region of Iraq. The government of the Kurdish Region has accepted the Yazidi refugees but has done little to help their socio-economic development perhaps fearing competition with the Kurdish families now in control of the government. In all fairness, the government and the civil society of the Kurdish Region are stretched well beyond their means to deal with the refugees and displaced.

The current fighting in both Iraq and Syria overshadows concerns for the freedom of thought as the ability to live is in question. However, the Sakharov Prize may serve as a reminder that the quality of life is also measured by the ability to think and to hold on to one’s convictions.

(1) A Yazidi website has been set up by Iraqis living in Lincoln, Nebraska, USA. The website is uneven but of interest as a self-presentation: yeziditruth.org.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

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