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Pakistan Blasphemy Death Sentence Overturned: A One-time Event or a Trend Toward Justice?

In Asia, Current Events, Human Rights, NGOs, Religious Freedom, Solidarity, Track II, United Nations, Women's Rights on November 1, 2018 at 10:55 PM

By René Wadlow

On October 29, 2018, the Supreme Court of Pakistan reversed the decision of lower courts sentencing to death Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of four for blasphemy. After 3,422 days of imprisonment in solitary confinement, the Supreme Court reversed a 2010 lower court verdict. Asia Bibi is now in seclusion and will probably leave the country as some 60 persons in Pakistan have been murdered since 1990, accused of blasphemy.

Her case had drawn attention in Pakistan. Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab Province, was murdered by his bodyguard for commenting on the Bibi case and suggesting that the blasphemy laws should be modified or abolished. Shahbaz Phatti, the Central Government’s Minister for Minorities likewise was murdered for commenting on the Asia Bibi case. Already, there are angry groups in the streets near the homes of the Supreme Court justices attacking their decision. The military has been called to protect them, but radical Islamist groups such as the Tehreek-i-Labaik may incite more demonstrations.

Asia Bibi

During the presidency of General Zia ul-Haq (1977-1988) the Hudaad (Punishment) Ordinances were introduced in 1984 which “define crimes against Islam”. In hudaad cases, the testimony of a non-Muslim is considered worth half that of a Muslim. Section 298-B and 298-C of the Pakistan Penal Code dealing with blasphemy singles out the Ahamadiyya as “non-Muslim”, considered by Sunni theologians as heretics, while the Ahmadi consider themselves as the final flowering of Islam. Shi’a Muslims have also been arrested for blasphemy as the law has been expanded to include defiling of the Prophet’s family and companions. (1)

Section 298-C is very broad. “Whoever by words, either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammad (Peace be upon him) shall be punished with death.

While the blasphemy laws were originally directed against the Ahmadi, some of whom hold high position in society, the blasphemy laws are increasingly used against Christians who are often the rural poor, having been converted from low caste Hindus prior to Independence. While there is a small Protestant elite, the bulk of Christians in Pakistan are Roman Catholic and rural poor. Those in cities often carry out menial work, sweeping streets, garbage collection. Thus, when accused, it is difficult for them to pay a lawyer, and lawyers who have taken the defense have been threatened with death. In the climate of intolerance which prevails and in view of threats and pressures brought on the judiciary, it has become nearly impossible to obtain a fair hearing for those charged under the blasphemy laws.

In practice, the blasphemy charges are often used to mask more material motivations, often disputes over land ownership and land use as well as personal vendetta. The failure of successive Governments to bring under control the Islamist extremist movements in the country has strengthened their hands to victimize individuals and groups with impunity.

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) is opposed to the death penalty in all cases, which certainly includes the “crime of blasphemy”. The AWC has appealed to the authorities of Pakistan to repeal the blasphemy laws and raised the Asia Bibi case in the human rights bodies of the human rights bodies of the United Nations (UN) in Geneva. There can be no doubt that freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief is of a fundamental character and arises from the inherent dignity and worth of the human person.

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In 1981, after almost 20 years of formulation and reformulation, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief (GA Res 55, November 25, 1981). The Declaration represented the efforts of a relatively small group of governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) both religious and secular such as the AWC. The UN Commission on Human Rights, continued by the Human Rights Council, has a Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief who makes reports largely based on information provided by NGOs. The existence of the Special Rapporteur and thus an automatic agenda item allows NGO representatives to highlight issues as they develop. An example is my 2008 intervention at a time when the Government of Indonesia was about to follow the pattern of Pakistan in its attacks on the Ahmadiyya.

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         “Mr President, One of the important functions of NGO representatives in the work of our Council is that of ‘early warning’. By calling attention at the first signs of danger, our hope is that governments and NGOs working together in a cooperative spirit can uphold universally recognized human rights standards. Our aim is to avoid violence and to prevent an escalation of tensions which often take on a life of their own.

It is in this spirit that we raise what seems to be a growing pressure against the Ahmadiyya branch of Islam in Indonesia. We raise it under agenda item 9 as the defamation of a religion can be understood as attacks without reasoned discussion on the doctrine of a religion, on the founder of a religious movement or on the current representatives of a religious movement.

Thus, attacks on the Ahmadiyya are often focused on the founder of the movement: Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad who is considered by his followers as the promised Madhi who is to mark the birth of a new era. The movement began in the early 1880s in what was then British India’s Punjab province, now split between India and Pakistan.

From there, the movement has spread to many different countries, including Indonesia. In normally tolerant Indonesia, the Ahmadiyya movement has carried on its activities of worship, education and social services in relative peace for many years.

The causes of the recent flair up of defamation against the founder and the charges of being heretics against the Ahmadiyya followers need to be looked at carefully if we are to prevent what seems to be some violent attacks against flowers followed by police closings of places of worship. The constant defamation of the founder should serve as a warning. In cooperation with the Government of Indonesia, the Council must do all it can to encourage the restoration of mutual understanding among people of different religious movements. Thank you Mr. President”

The AWC welcomes the decision of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. We will have to watch if it is a one-time event not to be repeated soon or if, more hopefully, it is a sign of a trend toward justice on the part of the new Pakistan Administration.

Note:

(1) See Charles H. Kennedy. “Repugnance to Islam. Who Decides? Islam and Legal Reform in Pakistan” in International and Comparative Law, Vol. 41, Part 4, p. 772, October 1992.

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

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Nadia Murad: A Yazidi Voice Against Slavery

In Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Human Rights, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Refugees, Religious Freedom, Solidarity, Syria, The Search for Peace, United Nations, Women's Rights, World Law on October 24, 2018 at 9:33 PM

By René Wadlow

Nadia Murad, now a United Nations (U. N.) Goodwill Ambassador on Trafficking of Persons, is the co-laureate of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize. In 2014, when she was 21, she and her neighbors in a predominantly Yazidi village in the Simjar mountainous area of Iraq were attacked by the forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). These forces were following a pattern of targeted killings, forced conversions to Islam, abductions, trafficking of women, sexual abuse and slavery. In Murad’s village, most of the older men were killed, the younger men taken to be soldiers in the ISIS forces, and the women taken into slavery, primarily as sex slaves, in Mosul, the city which served as the headquarters of ISIS.

There were some 500,000 Yazidi in Iraq though Iraqi demographic statistics are not fully reliable. Yazidi leaders may give larger estimates by counting Kurds who had been Yazidis but had converted to Islam. There had been some 200,000 Yazidis among the Kurds in Turkey but now nearly all have migrated to Western Europe, Australia and Canada. Many of the Yazidi are ethnic Kurds and the government of Saddam Hussein was opposed to them not so much for their religious beliefs but because some Yazidi played important roles in the Kurdish community seen as largely opposed to his government.

Nadia Murad

 

After a time in Mosul, Murad, with the help of a compassionate Muslim family, was able to escape Mosul and make her way to the Iraqi Kurdistan area where many Yazidis from the Sinjar area had already arrived. Once there she joined a newly created association of Yazidi women who had organized to defend their rights and so that the voices of women could be heard. A few of these women were able to be resettled in Western Europe. Nadia Murad was able to live in Germany where she became the spokesperson for Yazidi women and other women who had met a similar fate. In December 2015, she addressed the U. N. Security Council and became the public face both for the Yazidi women and for an even larger number of women victims of the fighting in Iraq and Syria.

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 darkness. However, the strict dual thinking of Zoroastrianism was modified by another Persian prophet, Mani of Ctesiplon in the third century CE. Mani tried to create a synthesis of religious teachings that were increasingly coming into contact through trade: Buddhism and Hinduism from India, Jewish and Christian thought, Gnostic philosophy from Egypt and Greece, as well as many smaller traditional and “animist” beliefs. He kept the Zoroastrian dualism as the most easily understood intellectual framework, though giving it a more Taoist (yin/yang) character. Mani had traveled in China. He developed the idea of the progression of the soul by individual effort through reincarnation – a main feature of Indian thought.

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

While it is dangerous to fall into a good/evil analysis of world politics, there is little to see of “good” in the ISIS actions. Thus, Nadia Murad can be seen as a bringer of light into a dark time.

 

Note
(1) A Yazidi website has been set up by Iraqis living in Lincoln, Nebraska, USA. The website is uneven but of interest as self-presentation: http://www.yeziditruth.org (“Yazidi” is sometimes written “Yezidi”)

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

Human Rights: Government Failures, NGO Need to Organize!

In Being a World Citizen, Children's Rights, Democracy, Fighting Racism, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, NGOs, Religious Freedom, Social Rights, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, Women's Rights, World Law on March 4, 2018 at 10:08 PM

By René Wadlow

In his final address to the Human Rights Council on February 26, 2018, United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein decried the “pernicious use of the veto” by permanent members of the UN Security Council – the USA, Russia, and China in particular – to block any unity of action to reduce the extreme suffering of innocent people in “the most prolific slaughterhouse of humans in recent times.”

However, it is not only the veto in the Security Council which prevents governments from acting. There is a widespread failure of governments to act. “Time and again, my office and I have brought to the attention of the international community violations of human rights which should have served as a trigger for preventive action. Time and again, there has been minimal action.”

He continued by mentioning States in which armed conflicts were the framework for constant human rights violations, including the fundamental right to life: Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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He highlighted the growing wave of narrow nationalism promoted by political parties and in some cases by the leaders of government. “Xenophobes and racists in Europe are casting off any sense of embarrassment – like Hungary’s Viktor Orban who earlier this month said ‘We do not want our color…to be mixed in with others’ “

He concluded with a warning and an encouragement to action. “It is accumulating unresolved human rights violations which will spark the conflicts that can break the world…For the worst offenders’ disregard and contempt for human rights will be the eventual undoing of all of us. This we cannot allow to happen.”

In the light of the use of the veto in the UN Security Council and the realpolitik considerations of States in general, it is the task of nongovernmental organizations (NGO) to promote the resolution of armed conflicts through negotiations in good faith and the respect of humanitarian international law while the armed conflicts go on. NGOs must work so that universal human rights are the basis of society at all times.

In order to carry out these crucial tasks, NGOs must become stronger, have greater access to the media, increase their networks to more countries, and develop greater cooperation among themselves. These challenges require a wise use of current resources and efforts to increase them. There is a need to increase cooperation with universities and other academic institutions for background information and analysis. Government representatives always look for factual errors in NGO presentations as a way to discredit the whole presentation. Dialogue with the representatives of governments must be continued and, if possible, made more regular. States will continue to be important agents in the world society, and we must try to be in contact even when government actions are unreasonable, even criminal.

Cooperation among NGOs will facilitate an outreach to more sectors of the world society. Often a specific NGO will reach a particular milieu – religious, geographic, professional, social class. By cooperation a wider audience can be reached, and techniques for positive action set out.

As the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stressed armed violence, systematic repression, waves of hate and xenophobia are strong today, and there is a real danger that they will grow. To meet these negative challenges, we who uphold the unity of the human family must organize ever-more effectively.

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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

Recent UN Reports Point To Anti-Rohingya Genocide in Myanmar

In Asia, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Democracy, Human Rights, International Justice, NGOs, Refugees, Religious Freedom, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, Track II, Uncategorized, United Nations, World Law on November 27, 2017 at 8:23 AM

By René Wadlow

Recent reports of October 25, 2017 from the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights based on extensive interviews with Rohingya refugees from Myanmar (Burma) now in Cox’s Bazar area of Bangladesh as well as reports from the World Food Program and UNICEF point to anti-Rohingya genocide in Myanmar without using the “G” word. The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, said that the Rohingya flight was a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. The brutal attacks against the Rohingya in Rakhine state have been well organized, coordinated and systematic, with the intent of not only driving the Rohingya population out of Myanmar but preventing them from returning to their home.

The Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948 requires action on the part of governments once genocide has been determined. Although any State party to the Convention can bring the situation to appropriate UN bodies, no State has ever evoked the 1948 Genocide Convention. However, the Convention is clear that a group need not have been totally destroyed for acts to be considered genocide. Intent is the key concept. Article VIII of the Convention states “Any Contracting Party may call upon the competent organs of the United Nations as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide, or any of the other acts enumerated in Article III.”

The Genocide Convention in its Article III states that the following acts shall be punishable:

a) Genocide

b) Conspiracy to commit genocide

c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide

d) Attempt to commit genocide

e) Complicity in genocide.

Article IV states that “Persons committing genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article III shall be punished whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals.”

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The Burmese military have since shortly after the independence of the country in 1947 carried on a policy of repression against national minorities advocating independence of their area, later modified to demanding greater autonomy within a federal Union of Burma. The first and second (1974) constitutions of Burma took over the nationalities policy designed by Joseph Stalin when he was Commissioner of Nationalities in the then newly created USSR. A state within the Union would be named after a dominant ethnic group with a larger homeland of provinces for the majority population. Thus, there were seven ethnic minority states: the Chin, Kachin, Karen, Kayah (formerly called Karenni), Mon, Shan, and Rakhine (or Arakan) and seven divisions which are largely inhabited by the majority, sometimes called Burman or Bamar. As in the USSR, states had people other than the dominant nationality which gave its name to the state. Some were ethnic minorities which had always lived there; others were people living there who had moved from elsewhere for work, marriage or other life events. Some were Chinese or Indians who had moved to Burma for economic reasons.

In these conflicts, war crimes have been committed by the military and reported to UN human rights bodies:

a) arbitrary arrest and torture

b) enforced disappearances

c) systematic rape

d) confiscation of property

e) internal displacement of populations.

However, only in the case of the Rohingya can one speak of an intent of genocide – with calls by some nationalists and military to make Myanmar “Rohingya free”. Among the ‘nationalists’, there are ‘Buddhist extremists’. A form of Buddhist influence has grown since 2012 when speech and media restrictions fell away, opening a vacuum that extremists have helped to fill.

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The chief difference between the Rohingya case and those of the national minorities along the Thai and China frontiers is economic. The Burmese military are brutal but also corrupt, especially among the officer corps. The minorities along the Burma-Thai-China frontiers are deeply involved in the trade of drugs, arms, gem stones, timber and the trafficking of women to Thailand and China. There are close economic links between the Thai and Burmese military as well as between the military and the armed insurgencies.

As long as the military get their cut of the income from trade, they are willing to put up with periodic cease-fire agreements, are selective in their scorched earth policy and close their eyes to certain cross-frontier economic measures. Unfortunately for the Rohingya, they live in a poor, subsistence agriculture area next to a poor, subsistence agricultural part of Bangladesh. There might be oil resources off the coast of Rakhine state, but they have not been exploited, and it is not sure that they are really there. Thus, there is no money among the Rohingya with which to bribe the military. The idea of getting rid of the Rohingya is not so wild a dream as most had already been declared as “stateless” in a 1982 citizenship law.

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A September rally in Paris to support Myanmar’s Rohingya community

As government representatives are reluctant to raise the issue of genocide, in part for fear that they might have to do something, it has been the representatives of nongovernmental organizations who have publicly highlighted the issue, although no government has followed.

On behalf of the Association of World Citizens, I had raised the issue of genocide concerning the Fur and related groups in the Darfur, Sudan violence. Darfur means “House of the Fur” but there are also other small tribal groups in the area whose way of life may be destroyed by the systematic killing of old persons, those’ who hold tribal history and tribal law in memory – there being no written records.

In 2004, in the UN Sub-commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, in “Darfur, Sudan: Non-impunity and Prosecutions for Genocide (E/CN.4/Sub/2004/NGO24), I stressed the systematic nature of the violence against the Fur, Massaleit, Zayhawa and Birgit. After citing the evidence from public UN staff reports, I wrote, “The evidence of systematic actions – to quote from Article II of the Genocide Convention – committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group as such – is clear. What is less clear is the determination of UN Member States to act to end this violence. Until now, the efforts of governments in Darfur have been inadequate as reliable reports indicate that human rights violations have grown worse. The Genocide Convention provides an adequate framework for urgent action. Only one State needs to call on the UN to act under Article VIII. We need political will for rapid UN action to stop genocide in Darfur now – and not after it is all over, when the cry will go up, as in the past ‘Never Again!'”

A month after our appeal, the Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights, Dr. Bertrand Ramcharan, firmly stressed the Darfur situation in its harshest light.” First, there is a reign of terror in this area, second, there is a scorched-earth policy, third, there is repeated war crimes and crimes against humanity, and fourth, this is taking place under our eyes.” (Associated Press Report, May 8, 2004).

However, governments were able to avert their eyes, and no government invoked the Genocide Convention. Governments have often been unwilling to use the international legal structures which they themselves have created.

We continue to face the same issue with the massive flight of the Rohingya from Myanmar to Bangladesh and India. The welcome of the Rohingya by these governments has been “cool” if not hostile. It is very likely that a “Rohingya-free” Myanmar has been created as few persons are likely to return to Myanmar. The current challenge is how the Rohingya will be resettled in Bangladesh and India without creating new socio-economic tensions. The wider issue is to what extent are representatives of governments willing to act creatively on the few structures of world law which they have created.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

UN Fact-finding Report: The Yazidis of Iraq

In Children's Rights, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Democracy, Human Rights, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Religious Freedom, Solidarity on March 21, 2015 at 9:17 PM

UN FACT-FINDING REPORT: THE YAZIDIS OF IRAQ

By René Wadlow

On Thursday, March 19, 2015, the United Nations (UN) investigative team on human rights violations in Iraq led by Ms. Suki Nagra raised accusations of genocide and war crimes against the Islamic State (ISIS) citing evidence that ISIS sought to “destroy the Yazidi as a group” − the definition of genocide in the 1948 Genocide Convention which has become a core element of World Law. The fact-finding group of members of the Secretariat of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had been established by a Special Session of the Human Rights Council in September 2014. (See article ‘World Law Advanced by UN Special Session of the Human Rights Council on Human Rights Violations in Iraq’)

The report to the current session of the Human Rights Council included testimony from Yazidi men who had survived massacres by shielding themselves behind the bodies of men who had already been killed. “It was quite clear that attacks against them were not just spontaneous or happened out of the blue; they were clearly orchestrated. Witnesses consistently reported that orders were coming through, by telephone in many cases, about what to do with them. There was a clear chain of command”.  Ms. Nagra reported to the Human Rights Council. (On the Yazidis as a religious community, see the article ‘Iraq: Yazidis’ Genocide?’)

The report also detailed evidence that Yazidi women and girls were abducted and sold into slavery as spoils of war in violation of some of the oldest standards of world law against slavery developed by the League of Nations and continued by the UN. There were also repeated cases of rape. The use of rape as a weapon of war has become of increasing concern to both the UN human rights bodies and to NGOs.

As the Association of World Citizens’ (AWC) written Statement to the Iraq Special Session stressed, “The Association of World Citizens believes that world law as developed by the United Nations applies not only to the governments of Member States but also to individuals and non-governmental organizations. The ISIS has not been recognized as a State and is not a member of the UN. Nevertheless, the Association of World Citizens is convinced that the terms of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief adopted by the General Assembly on 25 November 1981 applies to the ISIS.”

Citizens of the World stress the need for world law and certain common values among all the States and peoples of the world. We are one humanity with a shared destiny. The challenge before us requires inclusive ethical values. Such values must be based on a sense of common responsibility for both present and future generations.

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

The Cultural Heritage of Iraq and Syria: “Destroyed by Human Ignorance – Rebuilt by Human Hope”

In Being a World Citizen, Cultural Bridges, Current Events, Human Rights, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Religious Freedom, The Search for Peace on March 3, 2015 at 9:25 PM

THE CULTURAL HERITAGE OF IRAQ AND SYRIA: DESTROYED BY HUMAN IGNORANCE – REBUILT BY HUMAN HOPE”

By René Wadlow

On Friday, February 27, 2015, the United Nations (UN) Security Council condemned “the deliberate destruction of irreplaceable religious and cultural artifacts housed in the Mosul Museum and burning of thousands of books and rare manuscripts from the Mosul Library” and having burned a few days earlier thousands of books from the Mosul, Iraq, University Library. The Mosul Museum which was not yet open to the public had a large number of statues from the pre-Islamic Mesopotamian civilizations as well as statues from the Greek Hellenistic period. The spokesman for the Islamic State (ISIS) faction which carried out the destruction − filmed and posted on the internet by them − maintained that the statues represented gods which had been worshipped while only the true god should receive worship.

This approach to pre-Islamic faiths and their material culture is the same as had led to the destruction of the large Buddha statues in Afghanistan − monuments that attested to the rich culture along the Silk Road.

There have been iconoclastic movements in the past, especially among Muslims and early Protestants holding that the spiritual world cannot (and thus should not) be represented in forms. All forms lead to confusing the specific form with the spiritual formless energy behind it. The iconoclastic reasoning can be defended, but not the destruction of objects which represented other philosophies, cultures and levels of understanding. (1)

As if to drive home to the least philosophical in the area, the ISIS also attacked Assyrian Christian villages in the area; villages were emptied, persons taken as hostages and younger women forced into slavery. The Assyrian Christians are among the oldest of the Christian communities; some speak Aramaic, the language spoken at the time of Jesus.

The shameless destruction by ISIS members of historical treasures Iraq will never be able to get back.

The shameless destruction by ISIS members of historical treasures Iraq will never be able to get back.

There are world laws against slavery going back to the abolitionist movements of the 1800s and made universal by conventions of the League of Nations and the UN. These conventions are rarely cited except in discussions of the current trafficking of persons as a “modern form of slavery”. Now ISIS has given us examples of slavery in its old forms, nearly to the point of caricature. We need to dust off these conventions and see that they are applied.

Syria and Iraq are home to some of the world’s first cities, a complex and unique meeting of states, empires and faiths. The protection of works of art and cultural heritage is a newer aspect of world law in which UNESCO is playing a leading role. Until the filming and posting of the destruction in Mosul, the looting of museums in Apamea, Aleppo and Raqqa as well as numerous archaeological sites had been known to specialists but had not gained wide public attention. Most of the looted objects were not destroyed but sold on a parallel international art market to fill the ISIS coffers. There is a need to develop global awareness and to campaign against this illicit trade in looted Syrian and Iraqi artifacts which first pass through the neighboring countries of Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan before ending in the hands of dealers and small auction houses who also profit from the theft.

The protection of cultural heritage owes much to the vision and energy of the Russian artist Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947). Roerich’s desire to make known the artistic achievements of the past through archaeology, coupled with the need to preserve the landmarks of the past from destruction, led to his work for the Banner of Peace to preserve art and architecture in time of war. Roerich had seen the destruction brought by the First World War and the civil war which followed the 1917 Russian Revolution. He worked with French international lawyers to draft a treaty by which museums, churches and buildings of value would be preserved in time of war through the use of a symbol − three red circles representing past, present and future − a practice inspired by the red cross to protect medical personnel in times of conflict.

In the areas it has conquered, ISIS has established formal slavery, including for girls as sex slaves.

In the areas it has conquered, ISIS has established formal slavery, including for girls as sex slaves. (C) CNN

Roerich mobilized artists and intellectuals in the 1920s for the establishment of this Banner of Peace. Henry A. Wallace, 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 addition the unique contribution 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 the libraries of Louvain and Oviedo 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 deeds any words of hatred. Let us simply say: Destroyed by human ignorance − rebuilt by human hope.”

After the Second World War, UNESCO has continued these efforts, and there have been additional conventions on the protection of cultural and educational bodies in times of conflict, in particular the Hague Convention of May 1954, though no universal symbol as proposed by Nicholas Roerich has been developed.

In 2001 Afghanistan's Taleban militia, an "early version" of ISIS, blew up the magnificent Buddha statues of Bamiyan, thinking this would help them strengthen their implacable grip on the country. This most unwise move only hastened their downfall.

In 2001 Afghanistan’s Taleban militia, an “early version” of ISIS, blew up the magnificent Buddha statues of Bamiyan, thinking this would help them strengthen their implacable grip on the country. This most unwise move only hastened their downfall. (C) RAWA

As too often, governments and people react after events rather than affirm from a deeper level of consciousness. Now, we have seen mindless but deliberate destruction of both art and people. Let us not inscribe on these deeds any words of hatred, but let us work unitedly and creatively to establish a just peace.

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

(1) A good overview of iconoclastic movements in the non-Muslim world see: Alain Besancon, L’Image interdite. Une histoire intellectuelle de l’iconoclasme (Paris: Gallimard, 1994, 722pp.)

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