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Mali: More Instability in an Unstable Region

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Democracy, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, NGOs, Solidarity, Spirituality, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on September 4, 2020 at 8:35 PM

By René Wadlow

The August 18, 2020 coup by Malian military leaders brought an end to the unstable government of Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, widely known by his initials IBK. He had come to power on March 22, 2012 in another military coup which had ended the administration of President Amadou Trouré. This 2012 coup highlighted the weakness of the government structures and the narrow geographic base of the administration’s power. This realization led to a revolt in the north of the country led by two rival Tuareg groups as well as Islamist militias of non-Tuareg fighters coming from other Sahel countries and northern Nigeria. Mali was effectively divided into two roughly equal half, each half about the size of France.

French troops were sent from France in January 2013 to prevent an expansion of the territory held by the Tuareg and the Islamists, but were not able to develop a stable administration.

Ibrahim Boubacar Keita

Mali had been poorly administered since its independence in 1960. Economic development had been guided by political and ethnic considerations. During the French colonial period, from the 1890s to 1960, the French administration was based in Dakar, Senegal, a port on the Atlantic with secondary schools, a university, and an educated middle class. Mali was considered an “outpost” (called French Sudan at the time) and largely governed by the French military more interested in keeping order than in development.

IBK’s administration was widely criticized by much of the population for its incompetence, favoritism, and corruption especially by family members such as his son Karim Keita. Islamist groups remained powerful in parts of the north and central Mali. The whole Sahel area, in particular the frontier area of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso still has powerful and violent Islamist militias. This instability is an increasing menace to the coastal countries of Togo, Benin, and Cote d’Ivoire.

Over the past year, discontent with IBK has led to a loose coalition of opposition groups known by the title M5 – RFP, of which the conservative Islamic imam Mahmoud Dicko is a leading figure.

French soldiers deployed in Mali

For the moment, the Mali military leaders have formed the Comité national pour le salut du peuple (The National Committee for the Salvation of the People). It is led by Col. Assimi Gaita, a special forces leader. The Committee has said that it is forming a military-civil transitional government that will lead to elections in nine months.

The challenges facing Mali and the wider Sahel area are great, in large measure linked to the lack of socio-economic development, economic stagnation, and poor administration. The situation is made worse by the consequences of global warming and persistent drought. The military are not trained to be development workers. A broad cooperative effort of all sectors of the population is needed. Will the military be able to develop such a broadly-based cooperative effort? Mali and the Sahel merit close attention.

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

Taiwan, Etat non-membre de l’ONU, se dote d’une Commission nationale des Droits Humains en suivant les règles des Nations Unies

In Anticolonialism, Asia, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Cultural Bridges, Current Events, Democracy, Human Rights, NGOs, Religious Freedom, Solidarity, Spirituality, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, World Law on August 2, 2020 at 9:26 PM

Par Bernard J. Henry

 

La Déclaration universelle des Droits de l’Homme ayant été proclamée par l’Assemblée générale des Nations Unies, faut-il être citoyen d’un Etat membre de l’ONU pour s’en réclamer ?

Absurde, comme question ? Elle ne l’était pas tant lorsque la Déclaration fut adoptée, en 1948, dans le monde de l’après-Seconde Guerre Mondiale où le colonialisme existait encore et des centaines de millions d’êtres humains vivaient encore sous l’autorité d’un pays européen qui avait un jour pris leur terre par la force.

René Cassin et les rédacteurs de la Déclaration savaient ce qu’ils voulaient. Le Préambule précise que les Droits de l’Homme, aujourd’hui Droits Humains, doivent être respectés «tant parmi les populations des Etats Membres eux-mêmes que parmi celles des territoires placés sous leur juridiction». L’Article 2.2 se veut tout aussi explicite en affirmant qu’ «il ne sera fait aucune distinction fondée sur le statut politique, juridique ou international du pays ou du territoire dont une personne est ressortissante, que ce pays ou territoire soit indépendant, sous tutelle, non autonome ou soumis à une limitation quelconque de souveraineté».

Tout être humain était donc titulaire des droits énoncés par la Déclaration, la colonisation n’y devant apporter aucune différence. Mais pour ne citer qu’elles, les réponses de la France et de la Grande-Bretagne aux velléités d’indépendance allaient bientôt démontrer une réalité tout autre, en particulier pendant la guerre d’Algérie.

Au début du vingt-et-unième siècle, la terre était entièrement composée d’Etats membres de l’ONU. Parmi les Etats mondialement reconnus, seule la Suisse ne l’était pas, ayant toutefois fini par rejoindre les Nations Unies en 2002. A ce jour, seuls trois Etats reconnus à travers le monde ne sont pas membres de l’ONU – l’Etat de Palestine, cependant membre de l’UNESCO, le Saint-Siège, Etat que dirige le Pape au sein de la Cité du Vatican à Rome, et Taiwan, ou plutôt, selon son nom officiel, la République de Chine.

En fait, pour l’Organisation mondiale, Taiwan n’est même pas un Etat. En 1949, à l’issue de la guerre civile opposant le Gouvernement chinois aux troupes communistes, l’île devient le seul territoire restant à l’Etat chinois reconnu et qui, à l’ONU, le reste bien qu’ayant perdu la Chine continentale. Ce n’est qu’en 1971 que les Nations Unies reconnaissent le régime de Beijing et retirent sa reconnaissance à Taiwan. Depuis cette époque, Taiwan se considère comme une province de la République de Chine, qu’elle estime être l’Etat légitime chinois en lieu et place de celui représenté au Conseil de Sécurité de l’ONU dont la Chine populaire est l’un des cinq Membres permanents.

Inexistante aux yeux des Nations Unies, Taiwan y a donc perdu tout droit – mais aussi tout devoir, notamment envers les normes internationales de Droits Humains. Pour autant, les Taïwanais sont loin d’avoir cessé d’y croire et viennent même de remporter une considérable victoire.

Des principes universels – mais qui ne lient pas Taiwan

A Taiwan, la situation est tendue, tant du fait de la Chine populaire qu’à l’intérieur même des frontières. Aux menaces de Beijing qui, s’employant à réprimer la révolte contre le projet de loi ultrasécuritaire à Hong Kong, annonce à Taiwan qu’elle est la prochaine sur laquelle viendra s’abattre sa force armée, viennent s’ajouter les poursuites judiciaires et fiscales contre le groupe spirituel Tai Ji Men, en cours depuis les années 1990 et qui ont fait descendre Taipei dans la rue.

Tout se prête à une crispation tant externe qu’interne des dirigeants, et dans de telles conditions, autant dire qu’espérer en une avancée sociale ou sociétale majeure relève au mieux du vœu pieux. Or, le «vœu pieux» vient précisément de devenir réalité.

Le 1er août, la République de Chine s’est dotée d’une Commission nationale des Droits Humains, placée sous l’autorité administrative du Yuan de Contrôle qui œuvre à l’observation du bon fonctionnement des institutions au sein de l’exécutif. Selon la Présidente taïwanaise, Tsai Ing-wen, souvent citée en exemple pour sa gestion de la COVID-19 avec plusieurs de ses homologues féminines comme Jacinda Ardern ou Angela Merkel, la Commission aura pour tâche de rendre les lois nationales plus conformes aux normes internationales de Droits Humains. Et à l’appui de sa revendication, la cheffe de l’Etat taïwanais choisit une référence frappante.

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Tsai Ing-wen, Présidente de la République de Chine

Lors de la cérémonie de création de la Commission, Tsai Ing-wen a invoqué les Principes de Paris, créés par une résolution de la Commission des Droits de l’Homme de l’ONU, ancêtre du Conseil du même nom, en 1992 puis validés par l’Assemblée générale des Nations Unies l’année suivante, également l’année de la Conférence de Vienne sur les Droits Humains qui créa en la matière le poste de Haut Commissaire.

Instaurant le concept d’Institution nationale des Droits Humains (INDH), rôle que remplit en France, par exemple, la Commission nationale consultative des Droits de l’Homme créée en 1947, les Principes de Paris fixent des buts fondamentaux à accomplir pour toute INDH : protéger les Droits Humains, notamment en recevant des plaintes et en enquêtant en vue de résoudre l’affaire, en œuvrant à titre de médiateur dans des litiges et en observant les activités liées aux Droits Humains dans la société, mais aussi assurer la promotion des Droits Humains à travers l’éducation, l’information du public dans les médias réguliers et à travers des publications propres, ainsi que la formation, la création des aptitudes et, in fine, le conseil et l’assistance au gouvernement national.

Mais attention. N’est pas une INDH qui veut. Afin d’être reconnue comme telle, puis autorisée à rejoindre l’Alliance mondiale des Institutions nationales des Droits Humains (Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, GANHRI), une INDH doit remplir, toujours selon les Principes de Paris, six critères incontournables :

– Disposer d’un mandat large se fondant sur les normes universelles de Droits Humains,

– Disposer d’une autonomie réelle de fonctionnement envers le Gouvernement,

– Disposer d’une indépendance garantie par son statut ou son acte constitutif,

– Assurer en son sein le pluralisme,

– Bénéficier de ressources financières suffisantes pour accomplir sa tâche, et

– Bénéficier de pouvoirs d’enquête effectifs pour obtenir des résultats probants.

Il est facile pour un gouvernement, surtout sentant la pression internationale, de créer une INDH de complaisance. Mais il sera moins facile pour celle-ci d’être reconnue par ses paires. Au demeurant, la Chine populaire reconnue par l’ONU n’a pas créé à ce jour d’INDH …

Non membre de l’ONU, Taiwan n’est en théorie pas tenue par les normes internationales auxquelles se réfère la Présidente Tsai. Autant dire que le choix est risqué. S’il est risqué, c’est parce qu’il est courageux. Et s’il est courageux, c’est parce qu’il est subjectif.

Taiwan sait quels risques elle veut prendre

Entre 1949, année de la scission du peuple chinois sur le plan politique, et 1975, date de son décès, Tchang Kai-chek, ancien général puis dictateur de type fasciste en Chine continentale, aura dirigé Taiwan d’une main de fer face à Mao Zedong, patron de la Chine populaire, à laquelle il imposera un règne tyrannique ponctué par une sanglante «révolution culturelle» et qui ne survivra que quelques mois à son adversaire taïwanais.

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Tchang Kaï-chek

Jusqu’alors démocratie de façade, Taiwan en devient progressivement une plus réelle et, dans les années 1980, l’Etat insulaire émerge comme l’une des grandes puissances économiques de l’Asie, formant avec la Corée du Sud, la cité-Etat de Singapour et Hong Kong, alors toujours colonie britannique, les «Quatre Dragons».

Pour la Chine populaire, la fin de la Guerre Froide n’est pas symbole de liberté, le Printemps de Beijing et les manifestants de la Place Tienanmen étant réprimés dans le sang en juin 1989. La décennie voit le pouvoir central poursuivre et accentuer ses manœuvres d’intimidation contre les minorités ethniques et religieuses, Bouddhistes au Tibet et Ouighours musulmans au Xinjiang. Quant à Taiwan, sa position unique de non-Etat membre de l’ONU apparaît plus que jamais problématique, au sein d’un nouvel ordre mondial introuvable et pour lequel l’interminable exclusion de l’Etat insulaire fait figure d’épine dans le pied.

C’est aussi l’époque où, sous le leadership de Lee Teng-hui, Taiwan parachève sa démocratisation et entame une vaste campagne diplomatique mondiale pour trouver de nouveaux alliés. L’un des effets les moins connus de cette campagne est que, lorsque le Conseil de Sécurité des Nations Unies est appelé en 1999 à renouveler le mandat de l’UNPREDEP, force déployée à titre préventif en Macédoine – aujourd’hui République de Macédoine du Nord –, Beijing met son veto en raison de la reconnaissance accordée par l’ancienne république yougoslave à Taiwan, une opération de l’OTAN devant prendre la relève.

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Mao Zedong

Ayant suivi depuis la fin de la Seconde Guerre Mondiale un parcours politique semblable à celui, en Europe, de l’Espagne et du Portugal, avec un régime de type fasciste disparaissant avec son créateur dans les années 1970 et une démocratisation qui va de pair avec une envolée économique, entre un modèle communiste disparu presque partout ailleurs dans le monde et celui de la démocratie de libre marché, certes imparfait mais non moins plébiscité à travers la planète, Taiwan a choisi. Entre un Etat qui se donne droit de vie et de mort sur ses citoyens, la dernière forme en étant celle de Ouighours parqués dans des camps et de femmes stérilisées de force qui confèrent à cette campagne tous les traits d’un génocide, et un Etat qui se dote d’une Commission nationale des Droits Humains en dépit même de convulsions internes et d’une menace militaire externe plus criante que jamais, Taiwan sait quels risques elle veut prendre.

Organisations intergouvernementales : un modèle à revoir ?

Une organisation comme l’AWC n’est pas là pour soutenir une idéologie politique précise, que ce soit le communisme, le capitalisme ou aucune autre. Nous ne sommes pas là non plus pour prendre parti pour un Etat contre un autre, notre but étant le règlement pacifique des différends entre nations.

Mais les contextes politiques permettant ou non le respect des Droits Humains sont une réalité. Deux Etats se veulent la Chine, l’un à Beijing, l’autre à Taipei. A présent, l’un d’eux possède une Commission nationale des Droits Humains. Et ce n’est pas celui qui, juridiquement parlant, est tenu par les Principes de Paris.

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Lee Teng-hui

Douglas Mattern, Président-fondateur de l’AWC, décrivait notre association comme étant «engagée corps et âme» auprès de l’ONU. Elle l’est, mais envers l’esprit de l’Organisation mondiale, la lettre de ses textes, et non envers la moindre de ses décisions politiques. En l’occurrence, l’exclusion totale de Taiwan du système onusien, déjà battue en brèche par la COVID-19 qui remet à l’ordre du jour la question de l’admission de Taiwan à l’Organisation mondiale de la Santé où elle a perdu son statut d’observateur au moment de l’arrivée au pouvoir de Tsai Ing-wen, apparaît plus incompréhensible encore avec l’accession à un mécanisme onusien de Droits Humains de la République de Chine quand la République populaire de Chine, Membre permanente du Conseil de Sécurité, s’affiche de plus en plus fièrement indifférente à ses devoirs les plus élémentaires.

L’expérience taïwanaise qui vient de s’ouvrir devra être observée avec la plus grande attention. S’il vient à être démontré qu’une institution de fondement onusien peut se développer avec succès sur un territoire et dans un Etat extérieurs à l’ONU, et on les sait bien peu nombreux, alors une révision du modèle des organisations intergouvernementales du vingtième siècle s’imposera, avec pour point de départ, du plus ironiquement, une leçon de cohérence donnée à l’une d’entre elles par un Etat-nation. 

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

Hagia Sophia: The Divine Spark in All

In Cultural Bridges, Current Events, Middle East & North Africa, Religious Freedom, Spirituality, The Search for Peace on August 2, 2020 at 3:20 PM

By René Wadlow

 

There is a certain irony in the return of the Hagia Sophia to being an Islamic mosque which it had been from 1453 to 1934. From 1934 till today, it was considered a museum and was visited by many especially for the fine quality of its artwork.

Sophia is the incarnation of wisdom in a feminine figure, providing light in a dark, material world. Only the feminine, the channel of creation in the world, has the power and compassion necessary to overcome the darkness of ignorance.

Sophia as the incarnation of wisdom was a concept among the philosophers of Alexandria and from there entered Jewish thought. (See the Book of Proverbs) The Sophia myth was widespread in the Middle East at the time of Jesus. (1) Sophia was also an important part of Manichean. The Sophia image was also used in various gnostic systems and underwent a great variety of treatments.

Hagia_Sophia,_Constantinople,_Turkey,_ca._1897

Probably developed independently, the feminine embodiment of wisdom and compassion is Shakti in Hinduism and Kuan Yin, the compassionate Bodhisattva in Taoism and Chinese Buddhism.

In our own time, Carl G. Jung highlights the Sophia myth as a many-layered structure of an individual’s search for health and wholeness. Jung stresses the archetypal fall into darkness and the return to light in related myths such as the Egyptian Isis and the descent of Orpheus into the underworld to rescue his wife Eurydice.

It is not certain that all who go to pray at the newly restored mosque will know of the cultural and spiritual meaning of Sophia. However, the central theme of Sophia is that wisdom is the divine spark within each person. That spark is there if one knows the myth or not.

Note: (1) See James M. Robenson (Ed), The Nag Hammadi Library in English (San Francisco: Harper Collins).

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

June 21: A Day of Balance and Harmony

In Being a World Citizen, NGOs, Solidarity, Spirituality, The Search for Peace, Track II on June 21, 2020 at 5:11 PM

By René Wadlow

 

Our earth is a small star in the great universe
Yet of it we can make, if we choose, a planet
Unvexed by war, untroubled by hunger or fear,
Undivided by senseless distinctions of race, color, or theory.

Stephen Vincent Bennet

The 21st of June, the Summer Solstice, is in many cultures the cosmic symbol of balance and harmony: balance between light and dark, between the universal and the local, between giving and receiving, between women and men, and between our inner and outer worlds. History records humanity’s preoccupation with the sun’s annual cycle. Sites such as Stonehenge in England are thought to have been erected specifically to trace the path of the sun through the heavens.

The sun has always had symbolic meaning. As that most ancient Sanskrit prayer, the Gayatri, tells us, the sun is a disc of golden light giving sustenance to the universe, and Plato used the image of the sun to represent the idea of the One, the Good. In the age of the Old Kingdom in ancient Egypt, the concept of harmony, order, and balance were personified by the goddess Ma’at, the winged woman who replicated on earth, the celestial balance of order and beauty.

1280px-Stonehenge_Total

There is an old tradition attributed to Hermes Trismegistus and the Emerald Tablet which says, “that which is below is like that which is above, and that which is above is like that which is below.” Thus, the cosmic growth of light should be reflected in our lives in greater light, greater awareness, greater understanding.

June 21 is a day of recognition of the worldwide increase of light which destroys ignorance. It is a day in which we celebrate illumination as it dispels darkness. It is a day during which we can all recognize the growth of greater consciousness and concern for the common good. Therefore, the Association of World Citizens stresses cooperation and visions of a better future. Harmony and balance include tolerance, acceptance, equality and forgiveness of past pains and conflicts.

Due to the efforts of those with a world vision, people throughout the world are recognizing their responsibility to each other are attempting to revolve ancient and entrenched global problems. Today, we see a new spirit of cooperation as we move toward a cosmopolitan, humanist world society. We see a growing spirit of forgiveness, reconciliation, and dialogue. 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.

Education for Global Citizenship

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Human Development, Human Rights, Korean Peninsula, NGOs, Solidarity, Spirituality, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, World Law on April 22, 2020 at 7:59 PM

By René Wadlow

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has taken a lead in Education for Global Citizenship, starting in 2013 with the UNESCO Forum of Global Citizenship Education. Global Citizenship refers to a sense of belonging to the broader community of humanity. Global Citizenship emphasizes political, economic, social, and cultural interconnectedness between the local, the national, and the global. Education for Global Citizenship aims to develop an education based on creative and critical thinking that enables all people to contribute actively to political and development processes in a complex global society.

While it is important that Global Citizenship Education be implemented in the school system at all levels, Global Citizenship must also be carried out by those who are not directly part of the school programs such as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Thus, the United Nations Department of Public Information’s yearly conference for NGOs in 2016 was devoted to Education for Global Citizenship. The conference was held in the city of Gyeongju which had been the first capital in 900 AD of a unified Korea. The conference was able to draw on a larger-than-usual Asian NGOs.

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) which supports fully the Global Citizenship Education process was able to play an active role and continues its efforts.

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Prof. René Wadlow, President of the Association of World Citizens, addressing the UN DPI/NGO conference in Gyeongju.

Education for Global Citizenship is an essential strategy to address global challenges as well as to promote gender equality, facilitate the eradication of poverty and hunger, build skills, eliminate corruption, and prevent violence. Education for Global Citizenship promotes truly sustainable production and consumption, mitigating climate change and its effects, protecting our waters and biodiversity.

The AWC stresses that Education for Global Citizenship needs to highlight the importance of the human spirit in educational philosophy and practice. World Citizens hold that there are inter-acting dimensions of existence from the physical to the mental and to the dimension of the spirit. Education should consider all these dimensions and not just the physical and mental which is today the focus of most education systems.

We are still at an early stage in the creation of an Education for Global Citizenship. (1)  Education for Global Citizenship is part of a long-term process to build the defenses of peace in the minds of women and men. The Constitution of UNESCO states “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.”

Education for Global Citizenship often means changing deep-set attitudes and behavior. Yet there is much on which we can build. There is a rich body of knowledge and experience which helps students gain in self-confidence and harmony within themselves, harmony with Nature and harmony with their fellow humans.

Education for Global Citizenship requires a comprehensive system of education and training for all groups of people at all age levels, both formal and non-formal education. This is a process of awakening a sense of responsibility for the destiny of humanity as a whole.

The AWC stresses that our oneness with humanity and our acceptance of the whole planet as our home involves a process of change both in the attitudes of individuals and in the politics of States. Humanity is clearly moving towards participation in the emerging World Society. An awareness of the emerging World Society and preparation for full and active participation in this World Society is a necessary element of Education for Global Citizenship at all levels from primary schools though university and adult education.

The AWC highlights that a World Citizen is one:

– Aware of the wider world and has a sense of his role as a world citizen;

– Respects and values diversity;

– Has an understanding of how the world works economically, politically, socially, and culturally, and is willing to act to make the world a more equitable and sustainable place;

– Participates in and contributes to the community at a range of levels from the local to the global.

Note

(1) See Luis Cabrera. The Practice of Global Citizenship (Cambridge University Press, 2016)

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

A Day of Mother Earth: Living in Harmony with Nature

In Being a World Citizen, Environmental protection, Human Development, Human Rights, NGOs, Social Rights, Solidarity, Spirituality, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, World Law on April 22, 2020 at 7:45 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.”

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 them 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.

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The UN began its focus on ecological issues with the preparations for the 1972 Conference in Stockholm and has continued with the 1992 Rio Declaration followed by the Rio plus 20 conference 20 years later. 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.

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. Since the start of the yearly observation of Mother Earth Day in 2010, there have been useful projects proposed around a yearly theme. The 2018 theme is to reduce pollution from plastics. The exponential growth of plastics is now a real threat by injuring marine life, littering beaches and landfills and clogging waste systems. There is a need to reduce the single use of plastic objects by reusing and recycling plastic objects.

However, reducing pollution from plastic objects, while useful, is not yet living in harmony with Nature. There are still efforts to be made to spell out the ethical base and the necessary shifts in attitudes and actions.

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Notes

(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.

Conscience: The Inner Voice of the Higher Self

In Being a World Citizen, Human Development, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, NGOs, Solidarity, Spirituality, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations on April 5, 2020 at 8:30 AM

By René Wadlow

 

The United Nations (UN) has designated April 5 as the International Day of Conscience. The first celebration is this year 2020. An awakened conscience is essential to meeting the challenges which face humanity today as we move into the World Society. The great challenge which humanity faces today is to leave behind the culture of violence in which we find ourselves and move rapidly to a culture of peace and solidarity. We can achieve this historic task by casting aside our ancient national, ethnic, and social prejudices and begin to think and act as responsible Citizens of the World.

The useful press kit prepared by the UN Information section for the April 5 International Day of Conscience highlights earlier UNESCO and then UN General Assembly efforts for the Decade of the Culture of Peace and Non-Violence. A culture of peace gives the broad social framework in which the conscience of each individual can be a guide.

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An awakened conscience makes us sensitive to hearing the inner voice that warns and encourages. We have a conscience so that we may not let ourselves be lulled to sleep by the social environment in which we find ourselves but will remain alert to truth, justice, and reason. As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says in Article 1, “All human beings are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

There is a need to build networks and bridges among Companions of Conscience. As the Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran wrote, “I believe that there are groups of people and individuals the world over who are kin, regardless of race. They are in the sme realm of awareness. This is kinship, only this.”

Companions of Conscience create a ground for common discourse and thus a ground for common, life-affirming action. The circle of Companions of Conscience is growing worldwide, and Conscience-based actions are increasingly felt.

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Khalil Gibran

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

World Interfaith Harmony Week: Steps Toward A Harmony Renaissance

In Asia, Being a World Citizen, Cultural Bridges, Spirituality on February 5, 2020 at 8:30 AM

By René Wadlow

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

The General Assembly, building on its efforts for a culture of peace and non-violence, 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.”

Citizens of the World have called for a cultural renaissance based on the concept of harmony. Rather than concentrating primarily on conflicts, struggles and suffering which is certainly necessary if we are to help resolve the many armed conflicts, World Citizens have suggested that the focus should be 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 to relations based on respect.

Harmony is a universal common value. In harmony we can find true belief that transcends 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. At this moment in history, our action should enhance peace, reduce conflict and activate a harmony culture. 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 should bring the whole world into action for this new millennium of peace and prosperity with unfettered collective energy.

Chinese culture can play an important role in the creation of this harmonious culture. In an earlier period in Chinese thought there was an important conscious effort to create a Harmony Renaissance. This was during the Sung dynasty (960-1279) which reunited China after a period of division and confusion. This was a period of interest in science — “the extension of knowledge through the investigation of things”. It was a period when there was a conscious effort to bring together into a harmonious framework currents of thought that existed in China but often as separate and sometimes hostile schools of thought: Confucianism, Buddhism, philosophical Taoism and religious Taoism. These efforts were called Tao hsuch — the Study of the Tao — an effort later called by Western scholars as “Neo-Confucianism”.

Confucius

Chou Tun-yi (1017-1073), 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.

Thus today, after decades of conflict when the emphasis of the countries of the world both in policy and practice was upon competition, conflict and individual enrichment, there is a need for an emphasis on 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, then there needs to be a re-equilibrium.

Obviously, it takes time for a harmonious society at home and a harmonious world abroad to be put into place. The re-equilibrium of the energies of Yin and Yang do not take place overnight. Nor is this re-equilibrium only the task of the Chinese. The cultivation of harmony must become the operational goal for many. As Mencius (372-289 BCE) 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.”

The World Interfaith Harmony Week is an opportunity to open new paths. As world 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.

Rabindranath Tagore: Grace and Beauty Within Your Soul

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

By René Wadlow

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

Why do you keep looking for the Man of the Heart

in the forests, in solitude?

Turn your attention this time

to the grace and beauty within your soul.

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

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

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

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

            If you circumcise him, he becomes a Muslim,

            Then what is the rule for women?

            I recognize the Brahman by his sacred thread,

            Then how do I recognize a Brahmani?

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

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

            By great good luck one may see that moon.

            It has no dark spots.

            In it lies the golden abode of the Unknowable.

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

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

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Notes

For anthropology studies based on field work see:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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