Striving for Peace in an Era of Conflicts

K G Suresh*

Published in Eternal India in February 2011

Year 2011 started on an ominous note for civilizational harmony.

A powerful bomb exploded in front of a Coptic Christian church as a crowd of worshippers emerged from a New Years Mass, killing at least 21 people and wounding nearly 80 in an attack that raised suspicions of an Al Qaeda role.

The attack came in the wake of repeated threats by Al Qaeda militants in Iraq to attack Egypt’s Christians. Al Qaeda in Iraq has already been waging a campaign of violence against Christians in that country.

In neighbouring Pakistan, the liberal Governor of its Punjab province Salman Taseer was assassinated by his own 26-year old security guard Mumtaz Qadri.

Taseer’s crime, in Qadri’s eyes, was to advocate reform of Pakistan’s
blasphemy law. Few other Pakistani politicians dared to speak against the law, which prescribes the death penalty for offenders yet is widely misused. Those who did now live in fear.

Even as a liberal dream was being buried along with Taseer, the Hindu community in Pakistan’s Balochistan started migrating out of the province frightened by the rise in kidnappings.

According to the Pakistan’s home department, 291 people were abducted while eight were kidnapped for seeking ransom throughout Balochistan in 2010.

The recent incident of abducting a leading spiritual leader, Luckmi
Chand Garji, has shaken the community.

In neighbouring Bangladesh, the minority Hindus are in shock following theft of gold and silver ornaments and money from Dhakeshwari National Temple, the most important place of worship for the community in the country.

As these religious conflicts were taking place, one was reminded of the vision of a universal religion conceived by Swami Vivekananda, whose 150th birth anniversary celebrations were inaugurated by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh on January 12.

Elaborating on his vision, the Swami had said, “How do we cope with differences ? The only rational way is to accept them, not only as inevitable, but essential. “One must learn that truth may be expressed in a hundred thousand different ways, and that each of these
ways is true as far as it goes. We must learn that the same thing can
be viewed from a hundred different standpoints, and yet be the same
thing …. ”

“Suppose we all go with vessels in our hands to draw water from
the lake. One has a cup, another a jar, another a bucket, and so
forth, and we all fill our vessels. The water in each case takes the
form of the vessel carried by each of us, but in every case, water,
and nothing but water is in the vessel….. God is like that water
filling these different vessels, and in each vessel, the vision of God
comes in the form of the vessel. Yet He is One…….”

All religions have preached peace since time immemorial. Lord Buddha’s sermon was all about Ahimsa or non-violence yet in the past couple of years, there couldn’t have been anything more violent and brutal than what the predominantly Buddhist Sinhalese Sri Lankan Army perpetrated on the innocent  Tamilian population in the island nation.

Most terror activities in India, USA, Israel, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and rest of the world are being carried out by fundamentalist elements under the garb of Islam. Certainly, such acts including against Mosques and Muslims themselves were never endorsed by the Prophet.

Jesus of Nazareth too taught the world to show the other cheek when slapped on one. Yet, neither the activities of pre-dominantly Christian insurgent groups in North-East India or the racist attack on Indian students in Australia conform to the peace and non-violence enunciated and espoused in the Holy Bible.

Since time immemorial, there have been efforts to establish peace and harmony. From the World Parliament of Religions, where Swami Vivekananda made history, to the creation of League of Nations and the United Nations, history has been witnesses to umpteen such sincere and honest efforts to resolve conflicts. Yet, disharmony rules the roost, violence continues unabated.

With the conflict resolution models failing to succeed, the time has come to evolve conflict avoidance models. Resolution comes after the conflict take place whereas conflict avoidance is a preventive as against a curative step.

The need of the hour is paradigm shift in thinking from the now prevailing notion of tolerance of other faiths as the ideal to the ideal of acceptance of all faiths as valid and sacred to achieve peace and harmony based on mutual accommodation.

Swami Vivekananda had famously said, “

“But is there any way of practically working out this harmony in religions ? … I have also my little plan … In the first place, I
would ask mankind to recognise the maxim :

‘Do not destroy’. Iconoclastic religions do no good to this
world……

Of late, a silent revolution along these lines has been taking place the world over. Religious leaders from the world over signed the historic inter-faith document, ‘The Faith Human Rights Statement’, on December 10, 2008.

While emphasizing the importance of the freedom of expression, the leaders resolved to deplore the portrayals of objects of religious veneration which fail to be properly respectful to the sensibilities of believers. They also agreed the freedom to have, to retain and to adopt a religion or belief of one’s choice, without coercion or inducement to be an undeniable right.

This declaration addressed a principal apprehension of faiths like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism (in the Indian context) and Confucianism about the Abrahamic faiths. Interestingly, conversion has been a major bone of contention between Hindu and Christian groups in the country and both leaders of Abrahamic religions and Head of the Hindu Acharya Sabha Swami Dayananda Saraswathi were signatories to this agreement at Amsterdam.

The Swami also traveled to Israel and held a comprehensive dialogue with top Jewish leaders which helped remove theological misunderstanding that existed between the two faiths over the centuries, rather millennia. In a joint declaration after the dialogue, the Jewish leaders were convinced that the different idols and Gods in Hinduism were merely the form, but in substance, the Hindus accepted only one reality. This was a path breaking and illustrative endeavour to remove a basic and fundamental misconception about Hinduism in the oldest of the Abrahamic faiths.

This opens the gates for similar consensus with the other Abrahamic faiths, Islam and Christianity, which is particularly crucial, nay critical, in the Indian context.

In this regard, the Global Foundation for Civilizational Harmony (India), which was founded three years back on January 22, 2008 in the presence of a galaxy of spiritual leaders from all faiths in the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and former President Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, has been doing a pioneering work.

Deviating from the popular and conventional models of seeking harmony among faiths and civilizations, the organization is engaged in the difficult path of persuading different faiths and civilizations to undergo an endogenous transformation and thereby bring about changes in the longstanding perceptions about them within and outside as an essential part of the process to bring about lasting harmony among faiths and civilizations.

In fact, GFCH India supported and worked with the Darul Uloom Deoband to hold rallies of Muslims against terrorism in different parts of India with a view to dispel the perception identifying terror with Islam. The Foundation felt that unless some visible initiative was taken from within the community and by a reputed and respected Islamic theological school to dispel this perception, it was bound to persist and even deepen.

Of late, GFCH been organizing Hindu Spiritual and Service Fairs in Chennai, where Hindu spiritual organizations have been participating in large numbers, with the objective of dispelling a long held perception that Hindu spiritual organizations were not socially conscious and they do not have a deep impulse for public service. Apart from the younger generation within the community, this perception had also greatly prejudiced the respect for Hindu faith in the minds of the followers of other faiths as a socially insensitive faith.

One of the primary objectives of the GFCH is to strive for a paradigm shift in thinking and to work for capacity building and force multiplication for a dialogue and understanding to prevent any threat of violence and chaos resulting from the emerging clash of civilizations.

Among its envisioned task is to create awareness among people regarding civilizational threats, implications of various contemporary developments, possible responses etc. through meetings, seminars, publications, website etc. In this regard, it has created a dynamic website www.gfchindia.com with a varied content including conflict and harmony news from across the world.

There are other organizations doing equally good work. The need of the hour is to strengthen such efforts, for at stake is global peace and harmony, which is crucial for progress and prosperity. Let our New Year resolution this year be for creating a peaceful and harmonious universe through better mutual understanding among the followers of diverse faiths. Amen, Inshallah, Tathastu!

(*The author is the Director of the Delhi-based Global Foundation for Civilizational Harmony (India)

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