The Official Blog of the

Archive for the ‘Cultural Bridges’ Category

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.

************************************

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)

************************************

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

Advertisements

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.”

citi01_400

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.

2009_protest_at_un_against_chinas_re-election_in_the_human_rights_council_%e8%81%af%e5%90%88%e5%9c%8b%e5%a4%96%e6%8a%97%e8%ad%b0%e4%b8%ad%e5%9c%8b%e5%9c%a8%e4%ba%ba%e6%ac%8a%e5%a7%94%e5%93%a1

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).

543px-guan_yin_100

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.

3580833211_ca9e9598fb_b

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.

art_13949

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.

rene02_400_02

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.

rene01_400_06

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.

Heavy Fog Blocks England’s View of the World

In Being a World Citizen, Cultural Bridges, Current Events, Europe, The Search for Peace on October 7, 2016 at 9:26 AM

HEAVY FOG BLOCKS ENGLAND’S VIEW OF THE WORLD

By René Wadlow

In her recent address to the Annual Conference of the Conservative Party, Theresa May, the new British Prime Minister, said in speaking of the world economy and the role of transnational corporations, “If you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere.” As a World Citizen, I would say that the reverse is true: If you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of everywhere and so are concerned with the dignity and well-being of each person in the world.

theresa_may

If only the British Prime Minister could remember the words of her fellow Briton Thomas Paine, “The World is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion” …

Therefore we must be concerned with the well-being of all the English and even their Prime Minister. It is true that the recent vote on leaving the European Union indicated that a heavy fog prevents some English from seeing the Continent. Small towns and rural areas, marginal to world economic currents, voted more heavily to leave the EU while the larger cities, especially(y London, a key player in the world economic system, voted to remain. There have been half-serious propositions that London could join the EU as a “city-State” perhaps to be followed by Geneva for the same reasons.

bremain

One can participate in a world-oriented economic system without necessarily feeling that one is a world citizen just as one can walk in the woods without feeling the beauty of Nature or the majesty of the growth of the trees. World citizenship as living in harmony with Nature is a question of values held in the mind and emotions centered in the heart.

sadiq_khan

Sadiq Khan, the recently-elected Mayor of London, claims that “London is Open”. But if the British capital wants to remain an “open” place, sooner or later it may have to go its own way and leave the UK.

As citizens of the world, our high endeavor is to develop free human beings who are able themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives. The need for imagination, a sense of truth, and a feeling of responsibility – these three forces are at the very core of our efforts. Therefore, there is a need to strengthen our inner spiritual life and at the same time to plan in a realistic way the methods we can use to improve the emerging world society.

It is likely that the fog will lift, and people living in England will see that there is land beyond the waters and that we are all bound together with a sense of responsibility for the world but also with joy in our common humanity.

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

World Interfaith Harmony Week: Steps Toward A Harmony Renaissance

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Cultural Bridges, Human Rights, Religious Freedom, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on February 1, 2016 at 10:44 PM

WORLD INTERFAITH HARMONY WEEK: STEPS TOWARD A HARMONY RENAISSANCE

By René Wadlow

 

February 1, 2016

 

The Association of World Citizens, a nongovernmental organization in consultative status with the United Nations (UN), cooperates fully with the World Interfaith Harmony Week, which takes place February 1-7. The UN General Assembly designates the first week of every February as a time for cooperation for a common purpose among all religions, faiths and beliefs.

The General Assembly, building on its efforts for a culture of peace and non-violence in which World Citizens have played an active part, wishes to highlight the importance of mutual understanding and inter-religious dialogue in developing a creative culture of peace and non-violence. The General Assembly recognizes “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 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.

interfaith.jpg

Global citizens have stressed that peace comes from cooperation beyond the boundaries of ethnicity, religion and nationality, and have called for a cultural renaissance based on the concept of harmony. Rather than concentrating primarily on conflicts, struggles, and suffering, they have suggested focusing on cooperation, coexistence, and visions of a better future. Harmony includes tolerance, acceptance, equality, and forgiveness of past pains and conflicts. Harmony leads to gentleness, patience, kindness, and thus to inner peace and outward relations based on respect.

World Citizens maintain that harmony is a universal common value. In harmony, we can find true values that transcend all cultures and religions. The meaning of life is to seek harmony within our inner self. Humans are born with a spiritual soul that develops to seek self-fulfillment. Our soul has a conscience that elevates us. As our soul grows to maturity, we achieve our own harmony.

However, harmony is not only a personal goal of inner peace, but a guideline for political, social and world affairs. Citizens of the World believe that our actions should enhance peace, reduce conflict, and activate a culture of harmony. The 21st century is the beginning of a Harmony Renaissance. Our world mission is to be ready for humanity’s next creative wave to lead us to a higher level of common accomplishment. The World Harmony Renaissance will bring the whole world into action for this new millennium of peace and prosperity with unfettered collective energy.

“Religion without joy – It is no religion.”

Theodore Parker.

World Citizens have underlined the strong contribution that Chinese culture could play in the creation of this harmonious culture. In an earlier period of Chinese thought during the Song Dynasty, there was an important conscious effort to create a Harmony Renaissance.  This was a period of interest in science — “the extension of knowledge through the investigation of things.” It was a time when there was a conscious effort to bring together into a harmonious framework what often existed as separate and sometimes hostile schools of thought: Confucianism, Buddhism, philosophical Daoism and religious Daoism. These efforts were called Tao hsuch, the Study of the Tao, an effort Western scholars later termed “Neo-Confucianism.”

Zhou Dunyi, often better known as the Master of Lien-his, was a leading figure in this effort. He developed a philosophy based on the alternation of the Yin and Yang, each becoming the source of the other.

Today, after decades of conflict when the emphasis of nations both in policy and practice was upon competition, conflict, and individual enrichment, we need to emphasize harmony, cooperation, mutual respect, and working for the welfare of the community with a respect for nature.  When one aspect, either Yin or Yang, becomes too dominant, equilibrium needs to be restored.

zhou dunyi.jpg

Zhou Dunyi

Obviously it takes time to put into place a harmonious society at home and a harmonious world abroad. The cultivation of harmony must become the operational goal for many. As Mencius, a follower of Confucius said,

A trail through the mountains, if used, becomes a path in a short time, but, if unused, becomes blocked by grass in an equally short time.

mencius.jpg

Mencius

The World Interfaith Harmony Week is an opportunity to open new paths. As global citizens, we must find a new guiding image for our culture, one that unifies the aspirations of humanity with the needs of the planet and the individual. We hold that peace can be achieved through opening our hearts and minds to a broader perspective. We are one human race, and we inhabit one world. Therefore, we must see the world with global eyes, understand the world with a global mind, and love the world with a global heart.

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

The World, Its Protection, Its Citizens

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Cultural Bridges, Democracy, Environmental protection, Human Development, Human Rights, International Justice, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on December 30, 2015 at 12:13 PM

THE WORLD, ITS PROTECTION, ITS CITIZENS

By René Wadlow

-- AWC-UN Geneva Logo --
On behalf of the Association of World Citizens, I would like to send you our best wishes for 2016.

May it be a year that brings peace and harmony closer to our world. Progress in the world is based on the emergence of ideas, their acceptance, their transformation into ideals, and then into programs of action.

2015 has seen within the United Nations (UN) system two major frameworks of ideas and suggested plans of action. The first was the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, and the second was the Paris COP 21 goals and treaty to deal with climate change.  These guidelines require close cooperation among national governments, the UN and other multilateral government institutions such as the European Union, and the wide range of non-governmental organizations including business and agriculture associations.  We need to move from fragmented efforts to strong partnerships.

However, these positive goals need to be seen against the background of current armed conflicts and violent extremism often rooted in a deadly mix of exclusion and marginalization, mismanagement of natural resources, oppression and the alienation arising from a lack of jobs and opportunities. The World is in need of protection, both of people and Nature.  As Citizens of the World, we have a sense of responsibility to participate fully in the emerging world society where disputes among States are settled within the framework of world law and through negotiations in good faith so that common interests may be found and developed.

As Citizens of the World, we have a sense of compassion for Nature, and thus we unite to safeguard the delicate balance of the natural environment and to develop the world’s resources for the common good.

Today, we all face a choice between those forces that would drive us apart, forces and attitudes such as racism, narrow nationalism and the aggressive pursuit of self-interest on the one hand, and on the other hand, those forces which promote an emerging world society that is equitable and harmonious. I am sure that you also will choose to work for wholeness, harmony and creativity.

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

Syria: ISIS Iconoclasts Leave a Bloody Trail of Destruction

In Cultural Bridges, Current Events, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Religious Freedom, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on August 25, 2015 at 11:31 AM

SYRIA: ISIS ICONOCLASTS LEAVE A BLOODY TRAIL OF DESTRUCTION

By René Wadlow

On August 18, 2015 Dr Khaled al-Assad, retired director of the Palmyra museum and an officer of the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums, had his neck cut and his body hung from a traffic light pole. The 83 year-old archaeologist had been held in seclusion (and probably tortured) for three weeks. In the public square of Palmyra an accusation was read out that he was “the director of pagan idols”. Khaled al-Assad had been born in Palmyra and had spent most of his career there, writing numerous articles as well as directing archaeological sites. He had few rivals in his knowledge of the ancient crossroad city of Palmyra, an important link on the trade routes between Asia, North Africa, and Europe.

The public killing of Khaled al-Assad renewed concern for the historic sites. It was widely believed that many of the sites had had explosives placed in them to provoke their destruction. Sites in Palmyra had already been damaged during the fighting in the spring as the soldiers of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS or Daesh in Arabic) took control of the city and the surrounding area. Then on August 23, some of the explosives were set off, damaging the important Temple of Baal, one of the most visited sites in Palmyra. Baal – the Lord of the Heavens – was represented by an eagle. He was also a storm god shown holding a lightning bolt in his hand.

From a distance, it is hard to know what elements within ISIS are responsible for the destruction and what are the motivations. ISIS has attracted fighters from a good number of countries, and it is impossible to know the chains of command or the motivations. Many Syrians are proud of the vestiges of pre−Islamic civilizations, proof that the area was an important actor and in some ways a rival of Rome. The Directorate General of Antiquities has some 2,500 employees with a record of preserving Syria’s cultural heritage. In addition, some Syrian citizens, risking their lives, have tried to defend heritage sites or to hide away cultural objects. Moreover, ISIS agents as well as persons belonging to other armed factions have been looting objects to sell outside the country, either for personal gain or to finance their political faction, rather than destroying them.

When ISIS/Daesh took Palmyra last May, many people feared they might blow up the ancient city at once. They didn't, but now the vestiges of the ancient civilization there were soon turned into a stage for ISIS/Daesh to use toward propaganda purposes.

When ISIS/Daesh took Palmyra last May, many people feared they might blow up the ancient city at once. They didn’t, but now the vestiges of the ancient civilization most inappropriately serve as a stage for ISIS/Daesh to use toward propaganda purposes.

Thus, it is not clear who wants to destroy works of art and cultural heritage. Are there sincere iconoclasts for whom any object that recalls pre-Islamic worship is an insult to the Islamic faith? Are there people who just want to destroy and will blow up most anything? Are there people who believe that public killings and destruction of heritage will facilitate military expansion and control of the population? Is there any possibility of rational discussion and good-faith negotiations with ISIS authorities to preserve cultural sites in Syria and Iraq?

Conserving a cultural heritage even in times of peace is always difficult. Weak institutional capabilities, lack of appropriate resources and isolation of many culturally essential sites are compounded by a lack of awareness of the value of cultural heritage conservation. On the other hand, the dynamism of local initiatives and community solidarity are impressive assets. These forces should be enlisted, enlarged and empowered to preserve and protect a heritage.

ISIS/Daesh members enthusiastically destroying a historical ancient site. They may bring down every reminder of the past they come by, but try as they might, they cannot change history.

Are there ways that those of us on the “outside” can reach those in Syria and Iraq who wish to preserve cultural heritage and to defend the lives of those who work to preserve protect and inform?

My belief is that the current military action against ISIS, either with ground troops or bombing from the air, will have little positive impact. Armed force may lead some of the ISIS forces to a “burned earth” policy, destroying as much as they can before retreating. I think that there needs to be initiatives taken by those currently living under ISIS rule but who do not share ISIS values. They need to take actions to show ISIS leaders that their policies are an error and will lead to greater divisions within the population.

There is always a certain irony for someone in a safe area to encourage others to take actions which can put their lives in danger. Therefore, the least that we can do is to have a loud outcry from cultural workers throughout the world so that those in Syria and Iraq who will act positively know that they are not alone.

 

Prof. René Wadlow is President and Chief Representative to the United Nations Office at Geneva of the Association of World Citizens.

Palmyra: Protection of the Cultural Heritage of Humanity in Periods of Armed Conflict

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Cultural Bridges, Current Events, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on May 22, 2015 at 9:16 PM

PALMYRA: PROTECTION OF THE CULTURAL HERITAGE OF HUMANITY IN PERIODS OF ARMED CONFLICT

By René Wadlow

In a May 15, 2015 message to Madame Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General, the Association of World Citizens (AWC) highlighted its Appeal for a Humanitarian Ceasefire in and around Palmyra, Syria, a UNESCO Heritage of Humanity site.

On May 15, there was an intensification of fighting around Palmyra between the forces of ISIS/Daesh and the Syrian Government. A humanitarian ceasefire was an appropriate measure at that time. Now, it seems that the ISIS/Daesh forces have taken control of the city and some of the area around it. Thus, the AWC Appeal must be addressed to the leadership of the ISIS/Daesh, although the AWC has no direct communication avenues to the ISIS/Daesh leadership.

Palmyra is a rich contribution to the cultural heritage of all the Syrian people, no matter to what political faction they may now belong. Moreover, Palmyra is for all of humanity a moving example of trade routes such as the Silk Road and cultural exchanges through the centuries. For some 400 years, Palmyra was an important outpost of the Roman Empire, a link between the Gulf and the Mediterranean.

The ruins of the ancient city of Palmyra were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1980. Is ISIS/Daesh going to destroy such a place which stands out as a jewel of history in the Middle East?

The ruins of the ancient city of Palmyra were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1980. Is ISIS/Daesh going to destroy this site which stands out as a jewel of history in the Middle East? (C) Encyclopaedia Britannica

We believe that if ISIS/Daesh wishes to be seen as a valid participant in future negotiations concerning the future of Syria and Iraq, it must show its willingness to respect world law.  The protection of the cultural heritage of humanity is an important element of world law binding on States, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and individuals.

The AWC works in the tradition of the Roerich Peace Pact and its Banner of Peace for the protection of cultural institutions.

Early efforts for the protection of educational and cultural institutions were undertaken by Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947) a Russian and world citizen. Nicholas Roerich had lived through the First World War and the Russian Revolution and saw how armed conflicts can destroy works of art and cultural and educational institutions. For Roerich, such institutions were irreplaceable and their destruction was a permanent loss for all humanity. Thus, he worked for the protection of works of art and institutions of culture in times of armed conflict.  Thus, he envisaged a universally-accepted symbol that could be placed on educational institutions in the way that a red cross had become a widely-recognized symbol to protect medical institutions and medical workers.

Roerich proposed a “Banner of Peace” − three red circles representing the past, present and future − that could be placed upon institutions and sites of culture and education to protect them in times of conflict.

The Banner of Peace once proposed by World Citizen Nicholas Roerich.

The Banner of Peace once proposed by World Citizen Nicholas Roerich.

Roerich mobilized artists and intellectuals in the 1920s for the establishment of this Banner of Peace.  Henry A. Wallace, then the United States Secretary of Agriculture and later Vice-President, was an admirer of Roerich and helped to have an official treaty introducing the Banner of Peace − the Roerich Peace Pact − signed at the White House on April 15, 1935 by 21 States in a Pan-American Union ceremony.  At the signing, Henry Wallace on behalf of the USA said “At no time has such an ideal been more needed.  It is high time for the idealists who make the reality of tomorrow, to rally around such a symbol of international cultural unity.  It is time that we appeal to that appreciation of beauty, science, education which runs across all national boundaries to strengthen all that we hold dear in our particular governments and customs. Its acceptance signifies the approach of a time when those who truly love their own nation will appreciate in additions the unique contributions of other nations and also do reverence to that common spiritual enterprise which draws together in one fellowship all artists, scientists, educators and truly religious of whatever faith.”

As Nicholas Roerich said in a presentation of his Pact “The world is striving toward peace in many ways, and everyone realizes in his heart that this constructive work is a true prophesy of the New Era.  We deplore the loss of libraries of Lou vain and Overdo and the irreplaceable beauty of the Cathedral of Reims.  We remember the beautiful treasures of private collections which were lost during world calamities.  But we do not want to inscribe on these deeps any worlds of hatred.  Let us simply say: Destroyed by human ignorance − rebuilt by human hope.”

 

Prof. René Wadlow is President and Chief Representative to the United Nations Office at Geneva of the Association of World Citizens.

Navroz: The Recurrent Renewal

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Cultural Bridges, Current Events, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa on March 21, 2015 at 10:21 PM

NAVROZ: THE RECURRENT RENEWAL

By René Wadlow

“May the soul flourish;

May youth be as the new-grown grain.”

Navroz, usually celebrated on March 21 in Iran and Central Asia, is the “New Day”, the end of the old year with its hardships and deceptions and the start of the New Year to be filled with hope and optimism.

It is a day for spiritual renewal and physical rejuvenation and is usually a time for reciting devotional poetry, presenting food with symbolic meaning to guests, and visits among family and close friends, which coincides with the Spring Equinox, is related to myths focused on the sun and thus symbolizes the connections of humans to nature. In some of the myths, Navroz is considered as symbolizing the first day of creation − thus a time when all can be newly created. It is a day between times − old time has died; new time will start the day after Navroz. In this one-day period without time, all is possible. The seeds are planted for a new birth. Among some who celebrate Navroz, real seeds are planted, usually in seven pots with symbolic meanings of virtues. Their growth is an indication of how these virtues will manifest themselves in the coming year. Among those influenced by Islam and Christianity, Navroz is the day when God will raise the dead for the final judgment and the start of eternal life.

Navroz has an ancient Persian origin, related to Abura Mazda, the high god who was symbolized by the sun and manifested by fire. Navroz is also related to the opposite of fire, that is, water. However water can also be considered not as opposite but as complementary, and thus fire-water can become symbols of harmony. Fire – as light, as an agent of purification, as a manifestation of the basic energy of life − played a large role in Zoroastrian thought and in the teachings of Zarathoustra. Thus we find fire as a central symbol and incorporated into rituals among the Parsis in India, originally of Iranian origin.

From what is today Iran, Zoroastrian beliefs and ritual spread along the “Silk Road” through Central Asia to China, and in the other direction to the Arab world. As much of this area later came under the influence of Islam, elements of Navroz were given Islamic meanings to the extent that some today consider Navroz an “Islamic holiday”. Navroz is also celebrated among the Alawites in Syria, the Baha’i, the Yezidis, and the Kurds, each group adapting Navroz to its spiritual framework.

In Turkey, for many years, Navroz was officially banned as being too related to the Kurds and thus to Kurdish demands for autonomy or an independent Kurdistan. I recall a number of years ago being invited to participate in a non-violent Kurdish protest in Turkey on Navroz to protest the ban. I declined as the idea of going from Geneva to be put in a Turkish jail was not on top of my list of priorities. Fortunately, for the last few years, the ban has been lifted, and Kurds in Turkey can now celebrate openly Navroz.

The celebration of Navroz in the Cental Asian Republics has had an uneven history during the Soviet period and since − ranging from a ban because it was too Islamic, to being promoted as of Zoroastrian origin and thus anti-Islamic, to being “nationalized” as a holiday of national unity. As armed conflicts in Syria, Iraq, “Kurdistan” and Afghanistan and strong tensions in Iran and Central Asia continue, we must hope that 2015 Navroz will purify the old and plant the seeds of a new harmonious regional society.

Prof. René Wadlow is President and Chief Representative to the United Nations Office at Geneva of the Association of World Citizens.

%d bloggers like this: