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Letting the Soul of Europe Drown on the Shores of Libya

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Europe, Human Rights, Libya, Middle East & North Africa, Migration, NGOs, Refugees, Spirituality, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, World Law on July 26, 2021 at 6:15 PM

By Bernard J. Henry

Was Libya ever a part of the 2011 Arab Spring? If the term defines solely the ouster of a dictator who had been there for decades, yes, it was. After 41 years of autocratic rule, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was irreversibly overthrown. If the Arab Spring also means the transformation of nonviolent protests into all-out armed conflict, then again, Libya qualifies as a people’s revolution, following the path successfully taken by Tunisia, that ended up as a civil war between the Jamahiriya, ruled from Tripoli by Gaddafi, and the Qatar-backed National Transitional Council based in Benghazi. Ultimately, if it means frustration at the outcome of the fight, then Libya was indeed a part of the 2011 Arab Spring, remembering how unbearably long it took the rival factions there to create a Government of National Unity, after years of competition between two, sometimes three, would-be national leaders.

Another way that Libya – tragically – qualifies as part of the 2011 Arab Spring is the ever-growing phenomenon of harraga. In Algerian Arabic, harrag means “the one who burns something”, and in Algeria where French is an unofficial second language, overlooking a red light while driving a car is “brûler un feu rouge”, literally “burning a red light”. When harrag thus refers to anyone breaching a legal restriction, its plural harraga has come to mean “those who burn the border” – migrants who leave the country without permission, either from their home government or the authorities of the country they are traveling to, in both cases risking their very lives.

One reason the West reacted sometimes coolly to the end of decades-long dictatorships in North Africa was that, while in power, Ben Ali, Gaddafi, and Mubarak enforced strict regulations on migration to the northern bank of the Mediterranean, keeping their respective peoples away from both personal freedom and European border posts altogether. The fall of each of the three regimes meant the end of a controlled emigration that used to suit European needs nicely, and ten years later, one of the three countries stands out as the most graphic and tragic embodiment of the harraga phenomenon – Libya.

Yet Libyans do not make up the bulk of those vowing to reach Europe at any cost. Those vowing to reach Europe from Libya are migrants and refugees from other countries in Africa, with some foreign residents who had lived in Libya for many years but are now feeling insecure and want to move on abroad. Others still, coming from Niger, Chad, Sudan, Egypt, and Tunisia, do want to settle down in Libya. But for those whose destination is Europe, when failure does not come by drowning into the Mediterranean, it means a fate some would deem even worse.

Inhumanity in the name of the European Union

According to a report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), North Africa is now offering three routes for migration to Europe – the Western Route from Morocco into Spain, the Eastern Route from Turkey into Greece, and the Central Route from Libya into Italy. Unsurprisingly, the Central Route is the most active, preferred by many refugees and migrants. They come from West, East, and Central Africa, some of them fleeing extreme poverty back home and the others running from war and persecution. Although Europe has the oldest and best-functioning human rights court in the world, nostalgic as it is of its unenviable dictator friends in North Africa, it will not lift a finger to help these people yearning for the freedom and dignity that Europeans enjoy them every day.

In a newly released report entitled ‘No One Will Look for You’: Forcibly Returned from Sea to Abusive Detention in Libya, Amnesty International explains how “men, women and children intercepted while crossing the Mediterranean Sea and forcibly returned to detention centers in Libya” get subjected to an array of human rights violations in detention centers, such as “torture and other ill-treatment, cruel and inhuman detention conditions, extortion and forced labor” as well as “invasive, humiliating and violent strip-searches”, when not rape.

The organization sheds light on the role played since 2020 by the Libyan Government’s Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM) in sexual abuses against women.

But, in the words of Amnesty’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Diana Eltahawy, “The report also highlights the ongoing complicity of European states that have shamefully continued to enable and assist Libyan coastguards in capturing people at sea and forcibly returning them to the hellscape of detention in Libya, despite knowing full well the horrors they will endure.” Consequently, Amnesty urges “European states to suspend cooperation on migration and border control with Libya”.

Blocking unauthorized migration from North Africa to Europe was one thing, when many in Western countries deemed Arab peoples unable to sustain democracy, thus supporting dictators who both reined in their constituents at home and deterred them from seeking a better life, let alone freedom, abroad. Ten years later, as a stifled democracy proves unable to protect Tunisia from a deadly wave of Covid-19 and Egypt appears locked in an absolute monarchy in all but name, Libya has set a course on the abandonment of all standards of human decency, not just in the treatment of prisoners but in knowingly punishing people just for seeking a new life on the other side of the Mediterranean.

The European ideal betrayed

It is no secret that European leaders, however progressive and opposed to extreme right populists they claim to be, have long renounced any form of firmness toward these. No more dismissing the far right by comparing it to pre-World War II fascist movements; its trademark xenophobic rhetoric has now become trendy. Leaders who once blasted the extreme right can now be heard calling for tighter border controls, making life harder for those immigrants who do get admitted, and demoting asylum from an internationally recognized right to a temporary commodity granted at the pleasure of the state.

Denmark, once hailed as a model Scandinavian social democracy with a liberal line of thought, is now considering sending Syrian refugees back to their war-torn homeland and “outsourcing” other asylum-seekers to Rwanda, a distant central African country with no geographical, historical, or other ties to Denmark whatsoever. In Britain, Home Secretary Priti Patel has proposed a host of nonsensical, dangerous measures to keep undocumented migrants and asylum seekers from reaching the country, such as the creation of an offshore processing center in … Rwanda. Not the finest tributes to the scores of Rwandans trying to flee the ongoing genocide back in 1994 one might think of.

Once conservative, moderate, liberal, or progressive democrats, the leaders of Europe have now joined the extreme right if only in its crusade to spread an insane fear of millions of Arab and African Muslim migrants taking over Europe, replacing the European Convention on Human Rights with the Sharia, imposing the Islamic veil on all women, and flogging to death anyone who swallows a drop of alcohol. So much for the European dream of Konrad Adenauer and Winston Churchill, Frenchmen Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman, and Italians Alcide de Gasperi and Altiero Spinelli – the latter’s name being part also of the history of the World Citizen and World Federalist movements.

As the motto of the European Union (EU) shifts from “United in Diversity” to “Freedom within, Fortress without”, Libya stands out as the most graphic, horrendous illustration of EU duplicity in championing human values at home, especially when opposing a Donald Trump in the USA or brutal leaders in China and Nicaragua, while condoning the total loss of humanity in North Africa where Libyan government agents keep its borders safe from – imagined – hordes of invaders poised to feast on Europe’s riches and force an Al-Qaida- or ISIS-like reactionary vision of Islam on all Europeans. That too is a sign, possibly the most important one, that when it comes to migration, European leaders are now being guided by the extreme right’s ideology, pretending to use facts but being really based on fantasy.

Europe must continue to stand for hope

It is no fantasy that people are dying at sea while trying to reach Europe. It is no fantasy that others, also trying to reach Europe through the Mediterranean, are getting caught by the Libyan authorities and forcibly brought back to the country. It is no fantasy that, held in detention centers even though they have no crime to answer for, people are ill-treated, beaten, raped, all but killed, just because they tried to get to Europe. It is no fantasy that as many blatant violations of the European Convention on Human Rights are being committed while the EU, at best, turns a blind eye and, at worst, lends its support.

Regional integration as Europe has known it since World War II, including EU expansion after the end of the Warsaw Pact, cannot be allowed to result in such barbarity. Setting such a bad example will only be detrimental to the ongoing experiments toward regional integration in other parts of the world, obviously starting with Africa. Ultimately, the very idea of World Citizenship will be endangered too, should some raise the possibility of supranational integration, and accordingly global governance of any kind, leading to such brutal, inhuman conducts of that nature with literally nowhere to run.

Europe as we know it was born among the ruins of World War II. Neither its regional institutions nor its national governments, let alone its governmental partners overseas, can possibly let it drown on the shores of Libya, where its leaders from Rome up to Copenhagen are making the EU lose all honor, letting down both those in Libya hoping for a better future and their own citizens at home by nurturing them in fear when they should be taught pride, courage, and solidarity, both toward one another and with others in distress at the doorsteps of the Union.

Bernard J. Henry is the External Relations Officer of the Association of World Citizens.

Assault on Religious Liberty: July 20, 1937

In Being a World Citizen, Human Rights, NGOs, Religious Freedom, Solidarity, Spirituality, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, World Law on July 20, 2021 at 3:17 PM

By René Wadlow

The Nazi Government of Germany had first moved against the Jews, considered as both a racial and a religious group. The Jews had long been a target of the Nazi movement and the attack on them came as no surprise. However, the July 20, 1937 banning of the theosophical movement and of others «theosophically related» in the Nazi ideology was a turning point in Nazi repression.

On July 20, 1937, the Theosophical Society and the related Anthroposophical Society which had been founded by Rudolf Steiner who had been president of the German section of the Theosophical Society were banned. The banning order was signed by Reichsführer Reinhard Heydrich who warned that “The continuation and new foundation of this as well as the foundation of disguised succession organizations is prohibited. Simultaneously I herewith state because of the law about confiscation of property hostile to people and state that the property of the abovementioned organizations was used or intended for the promotion of intentions hostile to people and state.” Thus, all offices and buildings were confiscated.

At the time there was little organized protest. The League of Nations, while upholding tolerance and freedom of thought in general had no specific declaration on freedom of religion and no institutional structures to deal with protests. Now, the United Nations (UN) has a specific Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief of November 25, 1981 which builds upon Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion : this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship or observance.” As with all UN Instruments relating to freedom of religion, Article 18 represents a compromise. One of its achievements was the inclusion of the terms “thought” and “conscience” which quietly embraced atheists and non-believers. The most divisive phrase, however, was “freedom to change one’s religion”.

The Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief took nearly 20 years of difficult negotiations to draft. Preparations for the Declaration had begun in 1962. One of the most difficult areas in drafting the Declaration concerned the rights of the child to have “access to education in the matter of religion or belief in accordance with the wishes of his parents and shall not be compelled to receive teaching on religion or belief against the wishes of his parents or legal guardians, the best interests of the child being the guiding principle.”

The Declaration goes on to state that “The child shall be protected from any form of discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief. He shall be brought up in a spirit of understanding, tolerance, friendship among peoples, peace and universal brotherhood, respect for freedom of religion or belief of others, and in full consciousness that his energy and talents should be devoted to the services of his fellow men.”

The Declaration highlights that there can be no doubt that freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief and the elimination of intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief are of a fundamental character and derive from the inherent dignity and worth of the human person.

The gradual evolution of UN norms on the issue of religious liberty has been a complex process and is often a reflection of bilateral relations among Member States. This was especially true during the 1980s – the last decade of the USA-USSR Cold War. However, the end of the Cold War did not end religious tensions as an important factor in internal and international conflicts.

The 1981 Declaration cannot be implemented by UN bodies alone. Effective implementation also requires efforts by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). NGOs play a vital role in the development of the right to freedom of religion or belief, especially by advancing the cause of those still struggling to achieve this right.

Thus, the Association of World Citizens (AWC) had been active in the late 1970s when the UN Commission on Human Rights moved from New York to Geneva on the formulation of the 1981 Declaration. Since then, the AWC has worked closely with the Special Rapporteurs on Religious Liberty of the Commission (now the Human Rights Council). The AWC has also raised publicly in the Commission certain specific situations and violations. The AWC stresses the need for sound research and careful analysis. Citizens of the World have an important role to play in bringing spiritual and ethical insights to promote reconciliation and healing in many parts of the world.

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

The Day of Mother Earth: Living in Harmony with Nature

In Being a World Citizen, Environmental protection, NGOs, Solidarity, Spirituality, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on April 22, 2021 at 8:24 PM

By René Wadlow

International Mother Earth Day on April 22 each year was established by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in 2009. Its aim is to promote living in harmony with Nature and to achieve a just balance among the economic, social, and environmental needs of present and future generations. The concept of living in harmony with Nature was seen by the UN delegates as a way “to improve the ethical basis of the relationship between humankind and our planet.” It is the biosphere to which we belong. It is becoming the common heritage of mankind which we must defend.

The term “Mother Earth” is an expression used in different cultures to symbolize the inseparable bonds between humans and Nature. Pachamama is the term used in the Andean cultures of South America. The Earth and the ecosystem are our home. We need to care for it as a mother is supposed to care for her children and the children to show love and gratitude in return. However, we know from all the folk tales of the evil stepmother as well as the records of psychoanalytic sessions that mother-children relations are not always relations of love, care and gratitude. Thus, to really live in harmony with Nature requires deep shifts in values and attitudes, not just “sustainable development” projects.

The UN began its focus on ecological issues with the preparations for the 1972 Conference in Stockholm. However, the concept of living in harmony with Nature is relatively new as a UN political concept. Yet it is likely to be increasingly a theme for both governmental policy making and individual action.

As Rodney Collin wrote in a letter, “It is extraordinary how the key-word of harmony occurs everywhere now, comes intuitively to everyone’s lips when they wish to express what they hope for. But I feel that we have hardly yet begun to study its real meaning. Harmony is not an emotion, an effect. It is a whole elaborate science, which for some reason has only been fully developed in the realm of sound. Science, psychology and even religion are barely touching it as yet.” (1)

Resolutions in the UN General Assembly can give a sense of direction. They indicate that certain ideas and concepts are ready to be discussed at the level of governments. However, a resolution is not yet a program of action or even a detailed framework for discussion. “Living in harmony with Nature” is at that stage on the world agenda. As Citizens of the World, we strive to develop an integrated program of action.

Note
1) His letters have been assembled after his death by his wife into a book:
Rodney Collin, The Theory of Conscious Harmony (Boulder, CO: Shambhala, 1958)

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

U. Thant (1909-1974): Member of the Human Race

In Asia, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Spirituality, The Search for Peace, United Nations on April 13, 2021 at 7:22 PM

By René Wadlow

I am always conscious of the fact that I am a member of the human race. This consciousness prompts me to work for the great human synthesis which is the implicit goal of the World Organization I had the privilege of serving … Thus I am making a plea for a dual allegiance. This implies an open acceptance of belonging to the human race as well as to our local community and nation … I believe that the mark of the truly educated person facing the 21st century is that he feels himself to be a World Citizen.
U. Thant in View from the UN (New York: Doubleday, 1979)

At a time when the face of Burmese leadership is that of the current military dictator General Min Aung Hlaing, best known for his campaign against the Rohingya, it is useful to recall another style of Burmese leadership, that of U. Thant, the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General from 1961 to 1971.

U. Thant was the third UN Secretary-General. This gentle Burmese Buddhist was regarded as unremarkable which was exactly what the major powers, led by the USA. and the USSR, wanted after the lightning bolt of the second Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjold.

The Secretary-General is accorded a central role – by the UN Charter, by history, and by the trust placed in him by Member States. With no enforcement capacity, the Secretary-General is armed only with the tools of his own making. States would generally prefer a good housekeeper who does not initiate, innovate, or otherwise threaten their equilibrium of the status quo. But U. Thant’s self-effacing nature belied his moral courage and inner strength. Those who voted for him were later to find themselves surprised.

The fullest statement of U. Thant’s beliefs and practices is his talk on “The Role of Religious Convictions” at the Third International Teach-in at Toronto, Canada in 1967. The teach-in was part of an effort at conflict resolution in the 1963-1975 USA-led Vietnam war. The USA had worked so that the war in Vietnam would be discussed as little as possible at the UN and especially that the UN would take no action. This left U. Thant highly frustrated. As a Burmese, he knew Indochina well, and as UN Secretary-General, he believed that the UN should be a leader in conflict resolution efforts worldwide. As the UN was unable to act officially, he gave support, both moral and intellectual, to religious efforts to mediate the Vietnam conflict. Thus, his statement to the Toronto teach-in stressed his Buddhist roots as some of the Vietnamese Buddhists were very active in conflict resolution efforts.

As a Buddhist, I was trained to be tolerant of everything except intolerance. I was brought up not only to develop the spirit of tolerance but also to cherish moral and spiritual qualities, especially modesty, humility, compassion and most important, to attain a certain degree of emotional equilibrium. I was taught to control my emotions through a process of concentration and meditation. Of course, being human, and not yet having reached the stage of arhat (enlightened being) I cannot completely “control” my emotions.

Among the teaching of the Buddha are four features of meditation, the primary purpose of which is the attainment of moral and spiritual excellence: metta (goodwill or kindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (sympathetic joy), and upekka (equanimity or equilibrium).

A true Buddhist practices his metta (kindness) to all, without distinction – just as the sun shines on all, or the rain falls on all, without distinction. Metta embraces all being impartially and spontaneously, expecting nothing in return, not even appreciation. Metta is impersonal love or goodwill, the opposite of sensuous caring or a burning sensual fire that can turn into wrath, hatred, or revenge when not requited.

Karuna, the quality of compassion, is deeply rooted in the Buddhist concept of suffering. Human life is one of suffering, hence it is the duty of a good Buddhist to mitigate the suffering of others.

Mudita (sympathetic joy) can best be defined as one’s expression of sympathy with other people’s joy. The happiness of others generates happiness in the mind of a good Buddhist. The person who cultivates altruistic joy radiates it over everyone in his surroundings.

Upekka (equanimity) connotes the acquisition of a balance of mind whether in triumph or tragedy. This balance is achieved only as a result of deep insight into the nature of things, and primarily by contemplation and meditation. If one understands how unstable and impermanent all worldly conditions are, one learns to bear lightly the greatest misfortune or the greatest reward. To achieve upekka, one has to meditate. Buddhist meditation aims at cleansing the mind of impurities, such as ill will, hatred, and restlessness; it aims at cultivating such qualities as concentration, awareness, intelligence, confidence, and tranquility, leading finally to the attainment of the highest wisdom.

The highest wisdom is in little evidence on the part of the Burmese military these days. There is a real danger that military violence will provoke violence in return. Mediation efforts in the spirit outlined by U. Thant are urgently needed.

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

24 mars : La vérité est un Droit Humain

In Being a World Citizen, Democracy, Human Rights, Latin America, NGOs, Religious Freedom, Solidarity, Spirituality, Track II, United Nations on March 26, 2021 at 5:00 PM

Par Bernard J. Henry

Trente-cinq ans déjà, en janvier dernier, que le chanteur français Daniel Balavoine trouvait la mort tragiquement lors du Paris-Dakar où il était présent non comme coureur, mais, fidèle à ses convictions telles qu’il les exprimait dans ses chansons, pour une opération humanitaire qu’il avait mise en place et voulait voir aboutir – littéralement, il l’aura payé de sa vie.

Dans ses chansons, Balavoine évoquait souvent les Droits Humains, le sous-développement, les atteintes à l’environnement et, bien sûr, le racisme, comme dans son dernier succès de son vivant, L’Aziza. A sa manière, il était un Citoyen du Monde au sens où le conçoit l’Association of World Citizens (AWC). Dans son album de 1983 intitulé Loin des yeux de l’Occident, il chantait le sort des femmes dans le Tiers Monde, comme l’on appelait alors le monde en développement, les écrivains emprisonnés par les dictatures militaires d’Amérique latine et, dans cette même région du monde, les Mères de la Place de Mai en Argentine. Depuis 1977, deuxième année de la dictature militaire dans le pays, ces mères de «disparus forcés» manifestent face au siège du gouvernement en demandant la vérité sur le sort des leurs. La junte au pouvoir les avait surnommées les «folles de la Place de Mai» pour les discréditer ; elle n’a ainsi fait que rendre leur cause mondialement célèbre.

Dans Revolución, dernière piste de Loin des yeux de l’Occident qui a pour titre le dernier vers de cette même chanson, Balavoine chantait ainsi d’elles :

«Comme on porte une couronne,

Elles ont la peur sur leur visage ruisselant,

Espérant la maldonne,

Elles frappent leur poitrine en défilant,

Pieusement questionnent :

‘Est-ce que disparus veut dire vivants ?’

Faut-il qu’elles pardonnent

Pour croire que leurs morts ne sont qu’absents ?»

Et c’est bien là toute la question, au-delà même des atteintes aux Droits Humains – la question de la vérité sur les sévices commis, cette vérité que l’on refuse aux proches des victimes et qui, dans notre monde d’aujourd’hui, est pourtant considérée en elle-même comme un Droit Humain à part entière.

Monseigneur Romero : le plomb d’une balle pour le plomb du silence

Chaque année, dans le langage technique et bureaucratique, comme l’ONU et les autres organisations intergouvernementales bien intentionnées mais lourdes à manier en ont le secret, le 24 mars est la «Journée internationale pour le droit à la vérité en ce qui concerne les violations flagrantes des droits de l’homme et pour la dignité des victimes», même s’il suffit d’en retenir quatre mots, les plus «essentiels» comme le dit ce monde de pandémie – droit à la vérité.

Si Balavoine chantait les disparitions forcées, violation des Droits Humains qui invisibilise par excellence le martyre infligé aux victimes et permet comme nulle autre le mensonge, y compris en sa forme la plus cruelle et cynique qu’est le silence, le droit à la vérité concerne tout type d’atteinte aux Droits Humains, qu’elle soit perpétrée derrière les épais murs d’un bâtiment gouvernemental ou sous les yeux de qui voit soudain un proche connaître le pire. Et bien sûr, de la même manière que Chamfort parlait au dix-huitième siècle d’une France où «on laisse en repos ceux qui mettent le feu, et on persécute ceux qui sonnent le tocsin», dans un pays qui attente au droit, quiconque le dénonce devient soi-même une victime de choix.

Monseigneur Óscar Romero

C’est en mémoire de l’une de ces victimes, qui avait osé élever la voix sur les atrocités dont il avait été témoin, que la Journée internationale a été proclamée. Il se nommait Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez, il était Archevêque catholique romain de San Salvador, capitale du Salvador où la guerre civile opposait depuis peu le gouvernement conservateur et une guérilla marxiste. Lui aussi conservateur au départ, Monseigneur Romero reçoit un choc avec l’assassinat en 1977 d’un prêtre jésuite de son diocèse par un escadron de la mort pro-gouvernemental. Il devient alors un ardent défenseur des Droits Humains, notamment de ceux des paysans. Devenu un farouche dénonciateur des exactions de l’armée et des paramilitaires, il est abattu d’un coup de fusil en pleine poitrine le 24 mars 1980 alors qu’il dit sa messe dans un hôpital.

Le Salvador, autre pays dont avait parlé Balavoine dans Dieu que l’amour est triste, où il le rebaptisait le «San Salvador». Et autre exemple de la guerre aux Droits Humains que menaient à travers l’Amérique latine, du Guatemala jusqu’à la Terre de Feu, des dictatures civiles ou militaires auxquelles tout était bon pour réprimer la moindre opposition, cette guerre qui, en 1982, allait avoir pour victime collatérale à des milliers de kilomètres par-delà l’Atlantique, au Palais des Nations de Genève, Theo van Boven, chassé de la direction du Centre des Nations Unies pour les Droits de l’Homme pour avoir lui aussi élevé la voix trop fort, même si lui, au moins, y survécut et en témoigne encore à ce jour.

Le mensonge, première atteinte aux Droits Humains

Bien entendu, le temps a passé. Trente-cinq ans depuis le décès tragique de Daniel Balavoine. Plus de quarante ans depuis l’assassinat de Monseigneur Romero et bientôt tout autant depuis l’éviction de Theo van Boven. Mais le temps et l’évolution des atteintes aux Droits Humains n’ont fait, surtout depuis la Conférence de Vienne en 1993, que renforcer la victime, réelle ou potentielle, dans sa position centrale dès qu’il est question de défendre les Droits Humains ou, comme ici donc, de diffuser l’information sur les violations.

Theo van Boven

Ce qui est vrai pour les «folles de la Place de Mai», comme les appelaient avec mépris les «hommes des casernes» de Buenos Aires, est vrai pour toute autre situation où des droits sont violés et le secret est invoqué pour en cacher l’existence, ou la réalité au profit d’une version plus commode. Il n’est pas un type de violation des Droits Humains où le droit à la vérité ne s’avère crucial, même ce qui paraît évident pouvant receler une réalité plus occulte.

Qui a tué Lokman Slim au Liban ? Qui donne l’ordre de harceler Nidžara Ahmetašević, militante bosnienne de l’aide aux migrants à la frontière entre Croatie et Bosnie-Herzégovine ? Pourquoi Mohamed Gasmi, Défenseur des Droits Humains en Algérie, est-il poursuivi au pénal par son gouvernement sous les accusations calomnieuses, désormais devenues typiques des régimes autoritaires et des démocraties illibérales à travers le monde, d’avoir «eu des contacts avec des agents étrangers ennemis du pays» et «d’avoir comploté pour commettre des actes terroristes en sol national» ? Autant de questions auxquelles l’AWC s’est employée depuis le début de cette année à recueillir des réponses, autant que possible. Parce que le mensonge, à commencer par le silence qui en est la forme la plus venimeuse, est la première et la pire des atteintes aux Droits Humains.

Le droit à la vérité sur les atteintes aux Droits Humains n’est donc pas un pur vœu moral, pas plus qu’il ne doit demeurer un vœu pieux. Il est un véritable droit, dont la revendication n’est pas morale ou spirituelle mais bel et bien juridique, et au sens large du terme, politique. A défendre toujours, contre le mensonge et le silence des violateurs et contre les fausses vérités des tenants du complotisme et du confusionnisme sur Internet et ailleurs de par le monde.

Bernard J. Henry est Officier des Relations Extérieures de l’Association of World Citizens.

Pourparlers de paix en Afghanistan : Les femmes qui devraient être reines

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Democracy, Human Rights, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Solidarity, Spirituality, The Search for Peace, Track II, War Crimes, Women's Rights, World Law on March 8, 2021 at 7:00 AM

Par Bernard J. Henry

«Quand vous êtes blessé et abandonné sur les plaines d’Afghanistan, et que les femmes arrivent pour découper ce qu’il reste de vous, dépêchez-vous de rouler jusqu’à votre carabine, de vous faire sauter la cervelle et d’aller vers votre dieu comme un soldat», disait Rudyard Kipling, l’écrivain britannique dont le culte de la virilité, notamment militaire, transpire à travers son œuvre. En témoigne son poème «If», «Si …», traduit en français par André Maurois dans Les silences du colonel Bramble et parfois désigné par son vers final, «Tu seras un homme, mon fils».

Le même Kipling qui nous racontait, dans The Man Who Would Be King, en français L’homme qui voulut être roi, la fable de deux Anglais qui se jurent de découvrir le pays perdu du Kafiristan, niché quelque part entre Afghanistan et Pakistan, alors colonies britanniques. Ils y parviennent et, lors d’un affrontement avec des indigènes, un hasard fait que l’un des deux, Daniel Dravot, est subitement pris pour un dieu. Conduit à la capitale de ce pays rendu au culte d’Alexandre le Grand, il est proclamé fils du conquérant et couronné roi. Mais lorsqu’il épouse une jeune fille pour fonder sa dynastie, celle-ci le démasque. Dravot exécuté en public, son comparse supplicié puis libéré rentre en Inde en emportant sa tête encore ornée de la couronne.

L’histoire est fictive, mais le Kafiristan existe. Aujourd’hui le Nouristan, il est une province orientale de la République islamique d’Afghanistan, un pays où, loin des aventures viriles que rêvait Kipling, des femmes mènent une lutte quotidienne – une lutte pour la paix.

Vingt ans d’une paix introuvable

Depuis l’invasion soviétique de 1980, suivie de huit ans de combats entre régime communiste soutenu par Moscou et Mojahedin, combattants de la résistance – parmi lesquels se trouvait un groupe alors soutenu par les Etats-Unis, dénommé Al-Qaïda et commandé par un Saoudien du nom d’Osama bin Laden – le pays n’a jamais connu que la guerre, dont était sorti en 1996 l’ «Émirat islamique d’Afghanistan», créé par la milice islamiste des Talibans qui avait fait du même Osama bin Laden l’un de ses ministres, bien à l’abri pour lancer ses attaques terroristes contre son ancien allié américain le 11 septembre 2001. L’intervention militaire internationale qui avait ensuite mis fin à la folie meurtrière des Talibans n’a jamais engendré une paix durable.

Comme le chante Pierre Perret, “Quand la femme est grillagée, Toutes les femmes sont outragées.” (C) USAID

En presque vingt ans, plusieurs initiatives ont été lancées sous les présidences successives de Hamid Karzai et Ashraf Ghani, mais l’obstination des Talibans a mis à néant tous les efforts. Après un traité signé en 2016 avec un autre mouvement islamiste armé, le Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin, des pourparlers de paix avec les Talibans se sont enfin ouverts en septembre dernier à Doha, la capitale du Qatar. Mais les discussions piétinent. Malgré des propos lénifiants, les Talibans démontrent encore et toujours la même haine d’une partie bien ciblée de la population, contre laquelle ils avaient déchaîné du temps de leur «émirat» toute leur répression – les femmes.

Les puissances étrangères engagées en Afghanistan n’ont pas oublié les cinq années de ce que les Talibans voulaient le régime islamique «le plus rigide au monde», ni les femmes cloîtrées chez elles, autorisées à sortir seulement sous la burqa et, lorsqu’accusées d’adultère, lapidées. Pas de paix au prix d’un retour à cette époque, insiste-t-on à Doha. Parfait. Mais s’il n’est pas question d’une paix aux dépens des droits des femmes, pourquoi alors maintenir les Afghanes en dehors des pourparlers ?

Les droits des femmes, nerf de la guerre

Réduites au silence sous les Talibans, devenues comme fantômes sous leurs burqas, les femmes ont su depuis 2001 profiter de leur liberté retrouvée. Certes voilées en public comme leurs sœurs iraniennes, dans cette République islamique d’Afghanistan dont le nom rappelle celui du voisin de l’ouest, les Afghanes n’en ont pas moins su faire entrer le vent dans leurs voiles.

Comme le rappelle Amnesty International, elles sont avocates, médecins, magistrates, enseignantes, ingénieures, athlètes, militantes, politiciennes, journalistes, bureaucrates, entrepreneuses, policières, soldates. Et ce sont aujourd’hui 3 300 000 petites Afghanes qui sont scolarisées, se préparant à marcher dans les pas de leurs aînées.

Et pourtant. La tentation existe pour Kaboul, du jour au lendemain, de décider que la paix avec l’irréductible ennemi taliban vaut bien de brûler les (re)conquêtes de ses citoyennes. Elles le savent. Farahnaz Forotan, journaliste de vingt-huit ans contrainte à l’exil car figurant sur une liste de personnes à abattre des Talibans, le sait mieux que toute autre. Pour dire le refus des Afghanes de voir leurs droits transformés en monnaie d’échange, elle a lancé la campagne MyRedLine (Ma ligne rouge) désignant la ligne à ne pas franchir à Doha.

Farahnaz Forotan

Dans l’État afghan, la paix s’écrit au masculin. Un Ministre d’État à la Paix a été nommé au sein du Gouvernement, auquel s’ajoute un Haut Conseil de la Réconciliation nationale dirigé par Abdullah Abdullah, ancien Ministre des Affaires Étrangères et candidat malheureux à la présidentielle de 2014. Pour l’équipe Ghani, la paix est une urgence, et qui dit urgence dit sacrifices. Les droits des femmes étant le nerf de la guerre, pour une paix qu’il faut obtenir à tout prix, le premier sacrifice sera de les brûler, craignent-elles légitimement de leurs propres autorités. Des mêmes hommes qui, salués voilà vingt ans comme les vainqueurs des Talibans, sont désormais prêts à de lourdes pertes à leur profit.

Et elles ont raison, car il est déjà un droit que le Gouvernement afghan leur a retiré en vue des pourparlers de paix – tout simplement, celui d’y participer. Impardonnable erreur.

Elles sauront faire la paix

Se croire habilité à toutes les concessions à l’ennemi parce que, l’ayant déjà vaincu une fois, l’on n’a pas réussi à le vaincre une seconde fois et qu’une paix doit être conclue d’urgence, un maréchal français l’avait déjà tenté, et depuis, son nom reste associé à la Shoah, même si, aujourd’hui comme hier, d’aucuns au sommet de l’Etat prônent une «patience malvenue», comme le chante Louis Chedid dans Anne, ma sœur Anne, envers le souvenir de l’inacceptable.

Si les hommes à la tête de l’Afghanistan sont prêts à emprunter ce même chemin, il leur faudra se souvenir que, pendant qu’entre leurs mains parlaient les armes, les femmes ont su mener leur propre lutte contre les Talibans, mais sans tuer ni blesser quiconque, luttant non pour le pouvoir mais pour le bien de toutes et tous, à commencer par les victimes les plus démunies des conflits armés, toujours et partout – les enfants.

Ainsi d’Ayesha Aziz, enseignante et directrice d’école, membre du Hezb-e Islami identique aux Talibans dans les idées mais qui, historiquement plus pragmatique, a conclu la paix avec le Gouvernement afghan. Avec Ayesha Aziz parmi les membres de sa délégation.

Ayesha Aziz (C) USIP

Déployant des talents de négociation et de diplomatie que d’autres s’interdisent de voir du seul fait qu’elle est une femme, elle a réussi à obtenir des Talibans l’ouverture d’écoles pour filles, des écoles qu’elle finance par le biais d’une entreprise de raffinement de pierres semi-précieuses qu’elle a créée et où elle engage des femmes par centaines. S’appuyant sur «le respect, l’humour et l’Islam», Ayesha Aziz obtient des résultats spectaculaires auprès de l’implacable milice islamiste.

Pour elle, la paix doit passer par le dialogue entre les femmes, celles du camp Ghani et les Talibanes, ainsi que par les zones rurales plutôt que par le sommet de l’État.

Très bien, pourrait-on dire, mais tout cela reste au niveau national et la paix se construit également avec des partenaires internationaux ; malgré tout son mérite, Ayesha Aziz ne semble pas taillée pour avoir affaire à eux. Si l’on pense ainsi, qu’à cela ne tienne. Palwasha Kakar, elle, sait parler hors de l’Afghanistan la langue que les décideurs doivent entendre.

Palwasha Kakar, lors de son témoignage devant le Congrès des Etats-Unis (C) USIP

Responsable principale du Programme Religion et Sociétés inclusives à l’United States Institute of Peace (USIP) de Washington, Palwasha Kakar a consacré plus de onze ans de sa vie à l’inclusion des femmes, l’engagement pour la paix des dignitaires religieux, la gouvernance et l’éducation dans son Afghanistan natal. A l’USIP, elle applique une approche comparative sur les femmes, la religion et la construction de la paix au Pakistan, en Libye, en Syrie, en Irak et au Myanmar. Son inspiration, elle la tient de ses sœurs afghanes qui, utilisant le cadre religieux, ont su négocier avec les Talibans pour des cessez-le-feu locaux, des libérations d’otages et des écoles pour filles.

Appelée à témoigner en 2019 devant le Congrès des Etats-Unis, témoignage capital au vu de la présence de deux mille cinq cents soldats américains en Afghanistan, Palwasha Kakar a rappelé que les femmes étaient essentielles au succès et à la durabilité de tout processus de paix, des pourparlers jusqu’à la mise en œuvre des accords, et qu’elles exigeaient une paix protégeant leurs acquis depuis 2001.

Pour les élus américains qui aimeraient trop Kipling, ce fut le temps d’un autre rappel. «A travers l’histoire de l’Afghanistan, les femmes ont toujours fait partie des processus de paix couronnés de succès. Même si l’on accorde toute la gloire à [l’empereur] Ahmed Shah Durrani pour avoir créé l’État d’Afghanistan moderne en 1747, c’est la contribution de Nazo Ana [poétesse et écrivaine] à l’unification des tribus qui se combattaient jusqu’alors pour ensuite affronter les Perses en 1709 qui fut la cheville ouvrière de la fondation de l’État afghan, ce qui lui a valu le titre de ‘Mère de la Nation afghane’. Quand les Talibans furent chassés du pouvoir en 2001 par les troupes américaines et leurs alliés, les femmes ont pris toute leur part au succès de l’accord politique du processus de Bonn et à la rédaction de la constitution qui a donné dix-huit ans de gouvernement démocratique stable, alors même que se poursuivaient les attaques des Talibans qui n’avaient pas été inclus dans le processus de Bonn».

Jadis, sans une femme, pas d’Afghanistan. Aujourd’hui, sans les femmes, pas d’Afghanistan libre. Demain, sans les femmes, un Afghanistan en paix est inconcevable.

La paix des femmes, seul espoir de survie

Professionnelles, citoyennes, militantes – mais indignes de donner la paix à leur pays.  A croire que les gouvernants afghans ont trop lu Kipling. Veulent-ils, à leur tour, être rois ? On le croirait pour peu, tant ils semblent craindre que, ceints de la couronne comme le fut Daniel Dravot de celle du Kafiristan, une femme censée les embrasser, mais refusant de se soumettre, ne les morde au sang et prouve que les faux dieux sont des mortels sans droit divin de régner.

Michael Caine (centre) et Sean Connery (droite) dans le film de John Huston L’Homme qui voulut être roi, d’après l’ouvrage de Rudyard Kipling, en 1975

Sans doute les femmes d’Afghanistan ne rêvent-elles pas d’être reines, laissant la futilité de ces fantasmes aux hommes pour se préoccuper de la vraie vie et de l’avenir. Mais lorsqu’il s’agit de rechercher la paix, juste et durable, impossible de ne pas penser qu’elles devraient être reines, autant que leurs compatriotes masculins se veulent rois, et pouvoir brandir leur sceptre face aux Talibans à Doha.

Blessé et abandonné sur les plaines d’Afghanistan, selon Kipling, il ne vous restait plus pour échapper à des femmes venues vous charcuter qu’à vous brûler la cervelle en un chevaleresque suicide. Sous les assauts des Talibans, c’est tout le peuple afghan qui git, blessé et abandonné, sur ses plaines rougies de sang. Voyant les femmes accourir pour le soigner et le relever, s’il leur prend la main, il saisit son ultime chance de survie. S’il choisit d’agripper son arme et se tirer une balle en refusant la paix des femmes, il voue son avenir à l’enfer.

Bernard J. Henry est Officier des Relations Extérieures de l’Association of World Citizens.

Albert Schweitzer (January 14, 1875 – September 4, 1965): Reverence for Life

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Fighting Racism, Human Rights, Social Rights, Solidarity, Spirituality, The Search for Peace on January 14, 2021 at 10:51 PM

By René Wadlow

The human race must be converted to a fresh mental attitude, if it is not to suffer extinction… A new renaissance, much greater than that in which we emerged from the Middle Ages, is absolutely essential. Are we going to draw from the spirit enough strength to create new conditions and turn our faces once again to civilization, or are we going to draw our inspiration from our surroundings and go down with them to ruin? — Albert Schweitzer

January 14 was the anniversary of the birth of Albert Schweitzer and a special day at the hospital that he founded at Lambaréné. Alsatian wine would be served at lunch, and conversations over lunch would last longer than usual before everyone had to return to his tasks. In 1963, when I was working for the Ministry of Education of Gabon and spending time at the Protestant secondary school some 500 yards down river from the hospital, I was invited to lunch for the birthday celebration. As the only non-hospital person there, I was placed next to Dr. Schweitzer, and we continued our discussions both on the events that had taken place along the Ogowe River and his more philosophical concerns.

I was interviewing Gabonese staying at the hospital on what they thought of schools, of schoolteachers, of their hopes for their children. When Schweitzer was not busy writing, I would go sit with him and discuss. Since many of the people who came from Europe or the USA to visit him would always say “Yes, Doctor, I agree”, he had relatively little time for them. But since I would say, “But no, you also have to take this into account…” he was stimulated and we had long talks. On his basic position of reverence for life, I was in agreement, and I have always appreciated the time spent on the river’s edge.

As Norman Cousins has noted,

“the main point about Schweitzer is that he helped make it possible for twentieth-century man to unblock his moral vision. There is a tendency in a relativistic age for man to pursue all sides of a question as an end in itself, finding relief and even refuge in the difficulty of defining good and evil. The result is a clogging of the moral sense, a certain feeling of self-consciousness or even discomfort when questions with ethical content are raised. Schweitzer furnished the nourishing evidence that nothing is more natural in life than a moral response, which exists independently of precise definition, its use leading not to exhaustion but to new energy.”

The moral response for Schweitzer was “reverence for life”. Schweitzer had come to Lambaréné in April 1913, already well known for his theological reflections on the eschatological background of Jesus’ thought as well as his study of Bach. As an Alsatian he was concerned with the lack of mutual understanding, the endless succession of hatred and fear, between France and Germany that led to war a year later.

Since Alsace was part of Germany at the time, Schweitzer was considered an enemy alien in the French colony of Gabon. When war broke out he was first restricted to the missionary station where he had started his hospital and later was deported and interned in France. He returned to Gabon after the First World War, even more convinced of the need to infuse thought with a strong ethical impulse. His reflections in The Decay and Restoration of Civilization trace in a fundamental way the decay. He saw clearly that

“the future of civilization depends on our overcoming the meaningless and hopelessness which characterizes the thoughts and convictions of men today, and reaching a state of fresh hope and fresh determination.”

He was looking for a basic principle that would provide the basis of the needed renewal. That principle arose from a mystical experience. He recounts how he was going down river to Ngomo, a missionary station with a small clinic. In those days, there were steamboats on the Ogowé, and seated on the deck, he had been trying to write all day. After a while, he stopped writing and only watched the equatorial forest as the boat moved slowly on. Then the words “reverence for life” came into his mind, and his reflections had found their core: life must be both affirmed and revered. Ethics, by its very nature, is linked to the affirmation of the good. Schweitzer saw that he was

“life which wants to live, surrounded by life which wants to live. Being will-to-life, I feel the obligation to respect all will-to-life about me as equal to my own. The fundamental idea of good is thus that it consists in preserving life, in favoring it, in wanting to bring it to its highest value, and evil consists in destroying life, doing it injury, hindering its development.”

Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben, — reverence for life — was the key concept for Schweitzer — all life longs for fullness and development as a person does for himself. However, the will to live is not static; there is a inner energy which pushes on to a higher state — a will to self-realization. Basically, this energy can be called spiritual. As Dr. Schweitzer wrote

“One truth stands firm. All that happens in world history rests on something spiritual. If the spiritual is strong, it creates world history. If it is weak, it suffers world history.” The use of Schweitzer’s principle of Reverence for Life can have a profound impact on how humans treat the environment. Reverence for Life rejects the notion that humans can use the environment for its own purposes without any consideration of its consequences for other living things. It accepts the view that there is a reciprocal relationship among living things. Each species is linked to many others.”

Aldo Leopold in his early statement of a deep ecology ethic, A Sand County Almanac, makes the same point:

“All ethics so far evolved rest on a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts…The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soil, water, plants, and animals, or collectively, the land.”

War and the potential of the use of nuclear weapons is the obvious opposite of reverence for life. Thus, in the mid-1950s, when the political focus was on the testing in the atmosphere of nuclear weapons, Schweitzer came out strongly for an abolition of nuclear tests. Some had warned him that such a position could decrease his support among those who admired his medical work in Africa but who wanted to support continued nuclear tests. However, for Schweitzer, an ethic which is not presented publicly is no ethic at all. His statements on the nuclear weapons issue are collected in his Peace or atomic war? (1958). The statements had an impact with many, touched by the ethical appeal when they had not been moved to action by political reasoning. These protests led to the 1963 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty which bans tests in the atmosphere — an important first step.

Schweitzer was confident that an ethic impulse was in all people and would manifest itself if given the proper opportunity.

“Just as the rivers are much less numerous than underground streams, so the idealism that is visible is minor compared to what men and women carry in their hearts, unreleased or scarcely released. Mankind is waiting and longing for those who can accomplish the task of untying what is knotted and bringing the underground waters to the surface.”

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

Khalil Gibran: The Forerunner

In Arts, Being a World Citizen, Literature, Middle East & North Africa, Spirituality, The Search for Peace on January 6, 2021 at 11:06 PM

By René Wadlow

Khalil Gibran (1883-1931), the Lebanese poet whose birth anniversary we mark on January 6, was a person who saw signs in advance of later events or trends. The Forerunner is the title of one of his books, though less known than his major work The Prophet. As he wrote, “Progress lies not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be.”

Khalil Gibran

Lebanon is a country rich in legend and Biblical references. It is the traditional birthplace of the god Tanmuz and his sister Ishtar. Tammuz is a god who represents the yearly cycle of growth, decay and revival of life, who annually dies and rises again from the dead – a forerunner of Jesus. Ishtar is a goddess who creates the link between earth and heaven – the forerunner of Mary, mother rather than sister of Jesus, but who plays the same symbolic role. As Gibran wrote “Mother (woman), our consolation in sorrow, our hope in misery, our strength in weakness. She is the source of love, mercy, sympathy, and forgiveness … I am indebted for all that I call ‘I’ to women, ever since I was an infant. Women opened the wisdom of my eyes and the doors of my spirit. Had it not been for the woman – mother – the woman – sister – and the woman – friend – I would be sleeping among those who seek the tranquility of the world with their snoring.”

To Ishtar, for Gibran, the Great God placed deep within her “discernment to see what cannot be seen … Then the Great God smiled and wept, looked with love boundless and eternal.”

Yet, like Jesus, Gibran was moved by women but never married and was not known to be in a sexual relation with women. Gibran felt that Jesus was his elder brother. The life of the soul, My brother “is surrounded by solitude and isolation. Were it not for this solitude and that isolation, you would not be you, and I would not be me. Were it not for this solitude and isolation, I would imagine that I was speaking when I heard your voice, and when I saw your face, I would imagine myself looking into a mirror.”

For Gibran, Jesus died “that the Kingdom of Heaven might be preached, that man might attain that consciousness of beauty and goodness within himself. He came to make the human heart a temple; the soul an alter, and the mind a priest. And when a storm rises, it is your singing and your praises that I hear.” (1)

Like Jesus, Gibran was at odds with the established conservative institutions, the clergy and the politicians of his day, those concerned to preserve their inherited power and privileges. He sought out of his experience a general critique of society, concentrating on the hypocrisy of its religious institutions, the injustice of its political institutions and the narrow outlook of its ordinary citizens.

However, Gibran saw his role as a poet and not as a prophet. As he wrote “I am a poet am a stranger in this world. I write in verse life’s prose, and in prose life’s verse. Thus, I am a stranger, and will remain a stranger until death snatches me away and carries me to my homeland … Do not despair, for beyond the injustices of this world, beyond matter, beyond the clouds, beyond all things is a power which is all justice, all kindness, all tenderness, all love. Beauty is the stairway to the thrown of a reality that does not wound…Jerusalem proved unable to kill the Nazarene, for he is alive forever; nor could Athens execute Socrates for he is immoral. Nor shall derision prove powerful against those who listen to humanity or those who follow in the footsteps of divinity, for they shall live forever. Forever.”

Notes:

1) See Khalil Gibran. Jesus. The Son of Man (London: Penguin Books, 1993) This is the longest of Gibran’s books. It was first published in 1928. Through the device of imagining what Jesus’ contemporaries who knew him, Gibran portrays Jesus as a multi-faceted being, a mirror of different individuals’ strengths, convictions and weaknesses.

2) The painting that accompanies the article by Khalil Gibran.

3) Also from Rene Wadlow in Ovi magazine:

Khalil Gibran: Spirits Rebellious & Khalil Gibran: The Foundations of Love

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

Maurice Béjart: Starting Off the Year with a Dance

In Africa, Arts, Asia, Being a World Citizen, Cultural Bridges, Europe, Spirituality, The Search for Peace on January 1, 2021 at 3:09 PM

By René Wadlow

January 1 is the birth anniversary of Maurice Béjart, an innovative master of modern dance. In a world where there is both appreciation and fear of the mixing of cultural traditions, Maurice Béjart was always a champion of blending cultural influences. He was a World Citizen of culture and an inspiration to all who work for a universal culture. His death on November 22, 2007 was a loss, but he serves as a forerunner of what needs to be done so that beauty will overcome the walls of separation. One of the Béjart’s most impressive dance sequences was Jérusalem, cité de la Paix in which he stressed the need for reconciliation and mutual cultural enrichment.

Béjart followed in the spirit of his father, Gaston Berger (1896-1960), philosopher, administrator of university education, and one of the first to start multi-disciplinary studies of the future. Gaston Berger was born in Saint-Louis du Sénégal, with a French mother and a Senegalese father. Senegal, and especially Leopold Sedar Senghor, pointed with pride to Gaston Berger as a “native son” — and the second university after Dakar was built in Saint-Louis and carries the name of Gaston Berger. Berger became a professor of philosophy at the University of Aix-Marseille and was interested in seeking the basic structures of mystical thought, with study on the thought of Henri Bergson and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, both of whom were concerned with the basic energies which drive humanity forward. Berger was also interested in the role of memory as that which holds the group together writing that it is memory which allows us “to be able to hope together, to fear together, to love together, and to work together.”

Gaston Berger

In 1953, Gaston Berger was named director general of higher education in France with the task of renewal of the university system after the Second World War years. Thus, when Maurice-Jean Berger, born in 1927, was to start his own path, the name Berger was already well known in intellectual and administrative circle. Maurice changed his name to Béjart which sounds somewhat similar but is the name of the wife of Molière. Molière remains the symbol of the combination of theater-dance-music.

Maurice Béjart was trained at the Opera de Paris and then with the well-known choreographer Roland Petit. Béjart’s talent was primarily as a choreographer, a creator of new forms blending dance-music-action. He was willing to take well-known music such as the Bolero of Maurice Ravel or The Rite of Spring and The Firebird of Stravinsky and develop new dance forms for them. However, he was also interested in working with composers of experimental music such as Pierre Schaeffer.

Béjart also continued his father’s interest in mystical thought, less to find the basic structures of mystic thought like his father but rather as an inspiration. He developed a particular interest in the Sufi traditions of Persia and Central Asia. The Sufis have often combined thought-music-motion as a way to higher enlightenment. The teaching and movements of G. I. Gurdjieff are largely based on Central Asian Sufi techniques even if Gurdjieff did not stress their Islamic character. Although Gurdjieff died in October 1948, he was known as an inspiration for combining mystical thought, music and motion in the artistic milieu of Béjart. The French composer of modern experimental music, Pierre Schaeffer with whom Béjart worked closely was a follower of Gurdjieff. Schaeffer also worked closely with Pierre Henry for Symphonie pour un homme seul and La Messe pour le Temps Présent for which Béjart programmed the dance. Pierre Henry was interested in the Tibetan school of Buddhism, so much of Béjart’s milieu had spiritual interests turned toward Asia.

Maurice Béjart

It was Béjart’s experience in Persia where he was called by the Shah of Iran to create dances for the Persepolis celebration in 1971 that really opened the door to Sufi thought — a path he continued to follow.

Béjart also followed his father’s interest in education and created dance schools both in Bruxelles and later Lausanne. While there is not a “Béjart style” that others follow closely, he stressed an openness to the cultures of the world and felt that dance could be an enrichment for all social classes. He often attracted large audiences to his dance performances, and people from different milieu were moved by his dances.

Béjart represents a conscious effort to break down walls between artistic forms by combining music, dance, and emotion and the walls between cultures. An inspiration for World Citizens to follow.

Maurice Béjart’s dancers performing Pierre Henry’s Messe pour le Temps présent at the Avignon festival in 1967. © Jean-Louis Boissier

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

Jacques Maritain (November 18, 1882 – April 23, 1973), World Citizen Philosopher

In Being a World Citizen, Spirituality on November 20, 2020 at 5:29 PM

By René Wadlow

Jacques Maritain was a French intellectual who spent the years of World War Two in Princeton in the USA. He was a friend of the anti-Nazi German author Thomas Mann who also lived in Princeton. Both men were among the active advocates of world citizenship. When Thomas Mann’s daughter, Elizabeth Mann Borgese, was editing the world citizen journal Common Cause from the University of Chicago in the 1947-1950 period, Jacques Maritain wrote a number of articles for the journal along the lines of his thinking set out in his Man and the State.

At the time that he was writing for Common Cause, he was the Ambassador of France to the Vatican, having been named ambassador by Charles De Gaulle from 1945 to 1948. Maritain had supported De Gaulle during the war when many French Catholics had sided with the Vichy government or were silent.

Jacques Maritain had become a well-known French intellectual in the 1930s for his writings on a wide range of topics but always in a spirit of spirituality in the Roman Catholic tradition. However, he was born into a Protestant family with anticlerical views which were common at the start of the Third Republic in the 1870s.

Maritain was converted to the Roman Catholic faith in his early twenties after a period of depression linked to his search for the meaning of life. He had married young to his wife Raissa, who came from a Jewish Ukrainian family who had come to France due to a persistent anti-Jewish atmosphere in Ukraine. Both Jacques and Raissa converted to the Roman Catholic faith at the same time as a result of intense discussions between the two.

Raissa became well known in her own right as a poet and writer on mystical spirituality, but she also always worked closely on the writings of her husband. Their spiritual Catholicism was always colored by their early friendship with unorthodox Catholic thinkers, in particular Charles Péguy and Leon Bloy. After Raissa’s death in 1960, Jacques Maritain moved back to France from Princeton to live in a monastic community for the last 12 years of his life.

His writing on the spiritual background for creative actions for the benefit of the world community can be an inspiration to us all.

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

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