World peace & religious peace – wereldvrede & godsdienstvrede

No world peace without religious peace …….

The title of a column by Paul Delfgaauw on 15 December in Trouw (one of the main a Dutch newspapers). Its title caught my immediate attention and I’m citing (& translating) some of it below.

Jan Gruiters, Director of IKV Pax Christi (Dutch Peace Movement – website also in English), wrote in its newsletter ‘Vrede Nu’ (Peace Now):

Jonathan Fox deed onderzoek naar de relatie tussen religie en gewelddadig conflict. Zijn conclusie is verrassend. Religie speelt maar een zwakke rol in burgeroorlogen. Religie is noch een belangrijke oorzaak noch een bepalende factor in politiek geweld. Bepalende factoren in burgeroorlogen zijn veleer het type regime, de invloed van repressie en separatisme.

Jonathan Fox researched the relation between religion and violent conflict. His conclusion: religion only plays a minor role in civil wars. Religion is neither an important cause nor a determining factor in political violence. Determining factors in civil wars are the type of regime, the influence of repression, and separatism.

Volgens IKV Pax Christi speelden in vele conflicten van de afgelopen decennia religie en religieuze leiders een belangrijke rol. ‘Soms spelen religieuze factoren bij de start van conflicten een rol, maar vaker worden ze door politieke en religieuze leiders als het ware ingezet ter legitimatie van bepaalde standpunten of ter legitimatie van geweld. Een beter begrip van de rol van religie bij het ontstaan van conflicten, bij de ontwikkeling van conflicten en bij het oplossen van conflicten is vangroot belang voor een adequate vredesstrategie.’

Religion and religious leaders played important roles in many conflicts of the recent past, according to IKV Pax Christi. ‘Sometimes religious factors play a role at the start of a conflict, but often they are used by political and religieus leaders to legitimate certain points of view or violence. Better understanding of the role of religion in the initial stage of conflicts, during conflict development and at the final stage of conflicts is of great importance for an adequate peace strategy.’

De Zwitserse theoloog Hans Küng zegt: ‘Geen vrede onder de volkeren zonder vrede tussen de godsdiensten. Geen vrede tussen de godsdiensten zonder dialoog tussen de godsdiensten. Geen dialoog tussen de godsdiensten zonder onderzoek naar de fundamenten van de godsdiensten.’

The Swiss theologian Hans Küng says: ‘No peace amongst peoples without peace amongst religions. No peace amongst religions without dialogue amongst religions. No dialogue amongst religions without research into the fundamental aspects of religions.’

Religieuze leiders moeten beseffen dat zij grote verantwoordelijkheid dragen en zich bij ieder conflict uitspreken over het eventuele religieuze aandeel daarin. Zij zijn verplicht hun stem te laten horen en alle religieuze geweld te veroordelen. Religies beroepen zich altijd op de liefde, laten ze die dan verspreiden. En zeker moeten religies onderling ophouden elkaar te bestoken met ‘de waarheid’. Anderzijds brengen religies immers, volgens project Thomas, ‘steeds ook een sterke ethische en spirituele boodschap die de liefde voor de naaste opentrekt tot liefde voor de vreemdeling, ja zelfs voor de vijand, en die vraagt om vrede door vergeving en verzoening, tot zevenmaal zeventig maal toe.’

Religious leaders must realise their great responsibility and must speak at every conflict about possible religious involvement. They are obliged to voice their opinion and condemn all religious violence. Religions always talk about love, well, let them spread this. Religions should stop to fight amongst each other while claiming to have ‘the truth’. Religions also present a strong ethical and spiritual message about loving your neighbour as well as the stranger, and even your enemy, and this requires peace from forgiveness and reconciliation to the count of seven times seventy.’

This column just reminded me of the letter written in 2002 by the Universal House of Justice to the world’s religious leaders, especially paragraphs 15 and 16:

The implications for today are summed up by Bahá’u’lláh in words written over a century ago and widely disseminated in the intervening decades:

There can be no doubt whatever that the peoples of the world, of whatever race or religion, derive their inspiration from one heavenly Source, and are the subjects of one God. The difference between the ordinances under which they abide should be attributed to the varying requirements and exigencies of the age in which they were revealed. All of them, except a few which are the outcome of human perversity, were ordained of God, and are a reflection of His Will and Purpose. Arise and, armed with the power of faith, shatter to pieces the gods of your vain imaginings, the sowers of dissension amongst you. Cleave unto that which draweth you together and uniteth you.

Such an appeal does not call for abandonment of faith in the fundamental verities of any of the world’s great belief systems. Far otherwise. Faith has its own imperative and is its own justification. What others believe — or do not believe — cannot be the authority in any individual conscience worthy of the name. What the above words do unequivocally urge is renunciation of all those claims to exclusivity or finality that, in winding their roots around the life of the spirit, have been the greatest single factor in suffocating impulses to unity and in promoting hatred and violence.

Phew, deep stuff…… What do you think?

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AIDS & junior youth

Yesterday was World AIDS Day. This year’s theme was: ‘Lead – Empower – Deliver‘. The umbrella theme for 2007-08, Leadership, provides an opportunity to highlight both the political leadership needed to fulfill commitments that have been made in the response to AIDS – particularly the promise of universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support by 2010 – and celebrating the leadership that has been witnessed at all levels of society.

The UK theme for this year was: ‘Respect & Protect‘. ‘Respect & Protect’ is inclusive and highlights the responsibility everyone has to transform attitudes to HIV and encourage actions that stop its spread.

I know it sounds a bit strange, but the 2008 theme ‘Lead – Empower – Deliver‘ reminds me very much of the spiritual empowerment programme for junior youth that Baha’i communities all over the world are using.

Aren’t those 3 words what we would like every junior youth to be?

Be a leader amongst their peers,

Be empowered, and

Be able to deliver (serve your local community).

It reminds me of something Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, wrote:

“He urges you to make up your minds to do great, great deeds for the Faith; the condition of the world is steadily growing worse, and your generation must provide the saints, heroes, martyrs and administrators of future years. With dedication and will power you can rise to great heights!”

And the Universal House of Justice, in its Ridvan message of 2000, said the following about junior youth:

“Among the young ones in the community are those known as junior youth, who fall between the ages of, say, 12 and 15. They represent a special group with special needs as they are somewhat in between childhood and youth when many changes are occurring within them. Creative attention must be devoted to involving them in programmes of activity that will engage their interests, mold their capacities for teaching and service, and involve them in social interaction with older youth. The employment of the arts in various forms can be of great value in such activity.”

I’ve just started a junior youth group with a friend, so we’re completely in learning mode for this core activity. All good fun so far and they are busy thinking of a name for their group and what service means to them.

Mali and its treasures – Mali en haar schatten

Last Thursday I ‘travelled’ back to Mali, listening to amazing ngoni (traditional West African lute – the origin of the American banjo) music by Bassekou Kouyate & Amy Sacko, eating lovely Malian food, and discovering a member of the Coulibaly family (= my Malian family, it was the surname I choose while living there in 1995-97). All this due to a fantatsic event organised by the Mali Development Group and the Malian Community Council, supported by the Malian Embassy in Belgium. I will blog separately about Malian music because it’s worth it.

We listened to presentations about Fair Trade, Oxfam’s experiences, the power of Malian musicians, and environmental & climate change implications. I had an incredible good time because it brought back so many good memories of working in Mali in an agricultural project. While talking to Michael from the UK Fair Trade Foundation I was very pleased to hear a large amount of cotton grown in the Kita region (western Mali) is Fair Trade. In 1995, the CMDT (Malian cotton company) was just moving into the Kita region and we were very concerned about its effects on soils and land use.

It was lovely to hear that women farmers also involved in the growing of Fair Trade cotton and thus benefitting from the higher price for Fair Trade cotton. The following extract is from the UK Fair Trade website section on cotton (emphasis is mine):

Traditionally, women were not included in decision-making, but Fairtrade standards require the involvement of women at every level. The percentage of female farmer members remains low, but the slow process of adjustment is bearing fruit. Women are represented on the Board of each co-operative and, in Dougourakoroni, the statutes require that the appointed treasurer is a woman.

In Batimakana, another member co-operative of UC-CPC de Djidian, few of the women went to school, but 27 are now taking literacy classes. Women could only start to grow cotton because of the introduction of Fairtrade and previously were not invited to meetings, whereas now they speak up and their opinions are heard.

Before, the women were not invited, not asked, not consulted. We were sad. We are pleased now we are included at the same level as the men. We know that men can’t do everything without us. Women are valued now.” – Binto Dambile, Board member, UC-CPC de Djidian.

Besides the good news about Fair Trade products, I was really pleased to hear that the Malian president Amadou Toumani Toure emphasizes the importance of agricultural development for his country’s future. Now, how many presidents do you know wanting that sector to develop most in their country?? And by the way, did you know that he is not a member of any politcial party?

His comments reminded me of the work I did earlier in May 2008 as a member of the Baha’i International Community’s delegation during the 16th session of the Commission on Sustainable Development. The Baha’i Writings strongly emphasize the importance of agriculture:

Bahá’u’lláh states that “Special regard must be paid to agriculture.” He characterizes it as an activity which is “conducive to the advancement of mankind and to the reconstruction of the world”.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá asserts that the fundamental basis of the community is agriculture,- -tillage of the soil…. He describes agriculture as “a noble science” whose practice is an “act of worship”, and He encourages both women and men to engage in “agricultural sciences”. He indicates that should an individual “become proficient in this field, he will become a means of providing for the comfort of untold numbers of people”.

In relation to the economic and social development of the nations, the Universal House of Justice underlines the importance of “agriculture and the preservation of the ecological balance of the world”.
(Compilations, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 81)

Unfortunatly, world prices for cotton have fallen dramatically this year and many Malian farmers are abandoning the crop and thus a useful cash crop which helps to pay school fees, medicine etc. Other Fair Trade crops produced in Mali are fonio, karite (or shea nut), and mango, mainly grown in the regions of Sikasso and Kita. Very interesting, especially when you know that the karite tree, which is used to produce (shea nut) butter, is a women’s crop!

While I was working in Mali, cotton was the main export product. Nowadays, gold accounts for 75% of export revenue, followed by cotton and tourism. The Malian Minister of Culture & Tourism gave a very interesting talk, highlighting the importance of employment in the tourism sector, the increasing number of music festivals, and the improvements in road access and air travel.

Did you know that Mali has 4 UNESCO World Heritage Sites? Worth checking them out: Timbuktu, Djenne, the Tomb of Askia (near Gao), and the  Dogon Country.

I told several people about the work of the Nosrat Foundation. This Foundation was founded in 2000 by teh Baha’is of Mali to establish primary schools & junior youth programmes. This year the programme is also expanding into Senegal.

I also discussed the SAT programme after a comment about young people not being motivated to be farmers and wanting to leave the rural areas. The SAT programme is used successfully in South and Central America. An African version of the programme is now being tested and adapted in Zambia and neighbouring countries. I’d love to see this secondary education programme being used in French-speaking West Africa, but I suppose I’ll have to be patient.

Later this week I’ll write another blog about Lucy Duran’s talk about Malian musicians because that music and those amazing musicians deserve their own space/blog entry.