-- I have never been interested in religion or spirituality before, but I found myself tuning in to all sorts of on-line religion and spirituality related forums “in search of something.”
President Erdogan’s “reconversion” of the Hagia Sophia, into a mosque is a very Trumpian move, making a populist gesture to his base evoking shared misconceptions of history, reckless of its actual diplomatic and economic cost.
Another episode of the spectacular show that could be called The Greatest Story Ever Told: The Saga of the Trump Presidency
, scripted and acted by Trump himself, took place on 1st of June.
COVID-19 has spread to many nations around the world, and has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. In the global south, the COVID-19 pandemic has stretched the available medical and health resources, triggered economic shocks, and caused social upheavals and insecurity in many countries and localities.
The exigencies of combatting the coronavirus pandemic on a war-footing -- Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced a nationwide stay-at-home lockdown for 21 days to break the chain of transmission -- has certainly deflected attention from equally pressing challenges confronting India. The nation’s capital witnessed horrific communal violence when the US President was visiting India, triggering international outrage, including from the South. The economy also deserves attention as growth has been decelerating since 2016-17. With the virus shock, the pace of expansion will contract as the economy shuts down and slides into recession.
I was able to take office as the secretary general to the largest global interfaith organization – Religions for Peace - with interreligious councils (IRCs) composed of senior-most religious leaders representing their religious institutions, in 90 countries, and 6 regional IRCs, a week before we had to ask all employees to work from home, in compliance with New York State law.
As a growing public health crisis becomes increasingly urgent, prominent global actors and institutions, including the United Nations, are confronted by the realisation that all hands on deck are required to address the cross-cutting challenges faced by our world today.
One of the interesting perks of being a brown South Asian, travelling anywhere in the world, is the special attention you get from various official quarters. Getting a visa anywhere in the northern hemisphere, for instance, is like winning a lottery and could even count as a status symbol. Prior to such a windfall, if it at all occurs, it will mean filling out pages of a form that can ultimately be published as a booklet of your family’s ancestry and a mini biography of yourself. The unique complexities of being someone from the subcontinent makes the whole process a delightful conundrum—if, for example, your father was born during British rule and lived through the Partition, the independence of India and Pakistan, and then that of Bangladesh, how do you answer “Where is your father from?” Should it be British India, India, Pakistan, or Bangladesh, or all of the above?
In a world shaken by so many problems, it is difficult to look at 2020 and not make some kind of holistic analysis. While enormous progress has been made on many fronts, it is clear that the tide has turned, and we are now entering – or have already entered – a new low point in the history of humankind..
On October 11, the Norwegian Nobel Prize Committee
announced that this year´s Peace Prize
is awarded to Ethiopia´s prime minister Abiy Ahmed: “For his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea.”1
Let us hope that Abiy remains a worthy Peace Prize
winner and that warfare and human suffering on the Horn of Africa will finally come to an end.
The prevalence of online hate poses challenges to everyone, first and foremost the marginalised individuals who are its principal targets. Unfortunately, States and companies are failing to prevent ‘hate speech’ from becoming the next ‘fake news’, an ambiguous and politicised term subject to governmental abuse and company discretion.
In a 1974 article, Woody Allen poked fun at biblical stories presenting ludicrous paraphrases of The Book of Job
, Abraham´s intended sacrifice of his son Isaac, as well as The Book of Proverbs
. One of Allen´s invented proverbs was: “The wicked at heart probably know something”, thus implementing that the “pure of heart”, i.e. credulous people, know nothing. 1
The proliferation of political crises and armed conflicts in every corner of the world does not exclude religious groups, which unfortunately also contribute to animosities, intolerance and hatred. The Middle East has been on the hit-list of violet extremist groups for decades. One telling example is Syria where clashes have on occasion taken religious or denominational overtones, fracturing Syrian society for decades to come. They have given rise to sectarian divisions along ethnic and religious lines in a country where inter-religious harmony once prevailed. We observe a similar situation in Iraq. In Myanmar, government security forces unleased a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing and hatred against the Muslim Rohingya population. The military crackdown on the Rohingya community has significantly aggravated inter-communal violence in the country. And in the Central African Republic, armed militant groups sloganizing misrepresentations of Islam and Christianity, commit abuses and human rights violations on each other on a daily basis.
As I often do, I recently discussed the Syrian Civil War with a friend of Lebanese origin. He is far from supporting the Syrian regime, which occupied his country of origin between 1989-2008. My friend assumes the Syrian government was behind the assassination of Lebanon´s prime minister Bachir Gemayel, who in 1982 together with 26 others were blown to pieces by a bomb planted at the headquarters of the Lebanese Forces
. He also suspects Syria was behind the death of former prime minister Rafik Harari, who in 2005 was killed in a car bomb explosion. However, this does not make my friend an admirer of Israel or the U.S., which together with Russia, Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia meddle in Syria´s bloody internal strife. It is an almost impossible task to disentangle the mess of warring fractions guided by corrupt politicians, religious fanatics, liberal politicians, bandits, Mafiosi and/or foreign commercial and strategical stakeholders.
On a cold night in December 2012, a ghastly crime was committed in New Delhi which stunned the world. Six men dragged helpless Nirbhaya-a 23-year-old female physiotherapy intern- to the back of the bus and raped her one by one. As she kept fighting off her assailants by biting them, one of the attackers inserted a rusted rod in her private part, ripping her genital organs and insides apart. She died a few days later. One of the accused died in police custody in the Tihar Jail
. The juvenile was convicted of rape and murder and given the maximum sentence of three years' imprisonment in a reform facility, and subsequently released. The Supreme Court awarded the death penalty but legal complications have prevented its execution.
The migrant and refugee crisis has become a serious test for the unity of Europe as a political project. The inflow of destitute migrants and refugees has tested Europe’s political unity to an unprecedented extent. With a long-term solution to the migrant and refugee crisis nowhere in sight, the adverse impact of the current situation has the potential to unfold further and to give rise to a broader crisis with long-term implications, affecting Europe and the MENA region alike.
Sometime in the summer of 1974, I was leaning against the gunwale of the ferry between Calais and Dover, watching the moonlight streaming dark waters. When I turned to the left I found that a Chinese lady also looked out over the calm sea. What she told me changed my world view.
Education constitutes an important building block to enhance inter-faith dialogue, cultural exchange between ethnic and linguistic groups, counter violent extremist narratives and promote peaceful and inclusive societies. The founder of Modern India, Mahatma Gandhi, once said:
On 10 July 2019 I was honored to moderate a meeting with women’s groups for the UN Secretary General Mr. Antonio Guterres, whose aim was to better diagnose the role of women in the prevention or instigation of violent extremism.
Societies must work together to build more tolerance, solidarity and peace within and between nations, said the Executive Director of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, Ambassador Idriss Jazairy, during the 19 June international conference on "From Interfaith, Inter-Civilizational Cooperation to Human Solidarity
.” He emphasized that all such societies are built on shared aspirations and not shared ethnicity.
Following the 19 June international conference on “From the Interfaith and Inter-Civilizational Cooperation to Human Security
” held in Vienna, the Executive Director of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue Ambassador Idriss Jazairy concluded his visit to Austria with a series of meetings with government officials and decision makers.