Inter Press ServiceReligion – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Thu, 17 Jan 2019 16:51:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.8 We Are Sorry For The Inconvenience, But This Is A Revolution.http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/sorry-inconvenience-revolution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sorry-inconvenience-revolution http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/sorry-inconvenience-revolution/#respond Thu, 17 Jan 2019 15:22:41 +0000 Vijay Prashad http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159683 From the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research

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Kerala, 2019. Photo: Sivaprasad Parinhattummuri

By Vijay Prashad
KERALA, India, Jan 17 2019 (Tricontinental)

On 1 January, 5.5 million women formed a 620-kilometre wall across the length of the Indian state of Kerala (population 35 million). This was not like Donald Trump’s wall across the US-Mexico border, a wall of inhumanity and toxicity. The wall of these women was a wall for freedom, a wall against traditions whose purpose is to humiliate.

The immediate reason for the women’s wall was a fight over entry for women into the Sabrimala temple in southern Kerala. On 28 September 2018, the Supreme Court of India ruled that women must be allowed to enter the temple since the selective ban on women was not an ‘essential part’ of Hinduism but instead was a form of ‘religious patriarchy’.

The Left Democratic Front government in Kerala embraced the judgment and fought off a challenge on the streets from the right-wing reactionary groups – including the ruling party in India, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In October, the Chief Minister of Kerala – Pinarayi Vijayan, a leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) – gave an important speech in defence of the breaking of customs. If a tradition is a shackle, it must be broken. Vijayan gave the call for this wall to be built by women on 1 January. People from across the state responded with enthusiasm. A hundred public meetings were held in the last months of 2018 to galvanise support; 175 progressive organisations joined the campaign. At 4pm, the women stood firm. They took an oath to fight for women’s emancipation and to conserve the values of Kerala’s renaissance traditions.

K. K. Shailaja, Kerala’s health minister and a leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), stood at the head of the wall in Kasaragod in Kerala’s north. The wall ended in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala’s capital, where the last person in the chain was the Communist Party of India (Marxist) Politburo leader Brinda Karat.

The photograph above was taken by Sivaprasad Parinhattummuri. The central figure in the picture is Athira, a leader in Kerala’s left. She is currently the Malappuram District Committee member of the Democratic Youth Federation of India. She was a former Kerala State Committee member of the Student Federation of India. Athira had been imprisoned for her participation in a student struggle at Calicut University. She holds her six-month-old daughter Duliya Malhar.

Emboldened by the Wall, two women – Bindu Ammini (a lawyer who teaches at Kannur University) and Kanakadurga (who works for the Kerala Civil Supplies Corporation) – walked into the Sabrimala temple. History is on their side.

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Excerpt:

From the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research

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Acts of Terror Will Not Undermine Our Resolvehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/acts-terror-will-not-undermine-resolve/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=acts-terror-will-not-undermine-resolve http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/acts-terror-will-not-undermine-resolve/#comments Wed, 16 Jan 2019 14:29:49 +0000 Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159666 Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya.

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President Kenyatta addresses the Nation on 16 Jan 2019. “I also commend the civilians who looked after one another. For every act of evil that led to injury yesterday, there were a dozen acts of compassion, overflowing patriotism and individual courage,” Credit: KBC

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 16 2019 (IPS)

On 15 January 2019, terror struck Nairobi’s 14 Riverside Drive.

Kenya is in mourning following a senseless act on innocent and defenseless civilians by individuals preoccupied with contemptible and misplaced ideology; who hope to intimidate others through violent acts of terror. Like in their other past attempts, they have failed, and Kenya remains unbowed.

As President Kenyatta has noted in his address; “We will allow no one to derail or frustrate our progress….We have prevailed and shall always prevail over evil. Let us now go to work without fear and continue with our work of building our nation.”

Our thoughts are with all the affected and families who are experiencing the most inconsolable pain and trauma of this heinous act. The UN Country Team in Kenya stands in solidarity with the families who are suffering the most inconsolable pain and will live for a long time with the trauma of this terrible attack.

As the intelligence and security apparatus continue with investigations, our message to Kenyans remains that, we cannot give in to fear or the temptation to define the attack as a war between races or religions. That has always been the narrative that the perpetrators of terror would wish to spread.

Fortunately, they have always been on the losing side of history. The attack on 14 Riverside Drive should not deter Kenya’s resolve, but should further strengthen the country’s determination to overcome adversity and challenges that threaten its social fabric.

We applaud the work of Kenya’s security emergency rescue services and first responders, who mobilised in remarkable timeliness, demonstrated exceptional professionalism and heroism, thereby keeping the number of fatalities to a minimum. We also commend Kenyans for their heroic acts and solidarity for one another during this time.

The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in his message “has strongly condemned the terrorist attack in Nairobi and extends his condolences to the families of the victims and wishes those injured a swift recovery. The Secretary-General expresses his solidarity with the people and Government of Kenya(GoK)”.

Terrorism remains a global threat and presents a challenging test for intelligence and law enforcement agencies worldwide. No country is immune. Kenya has done remarkably well in preventing numerous other attacks.

The reality is that a multitude of stresses impact vulnerable populations around the world, leaving many disproportionately susceptible to extremist ideologies — driven by factors such as surging youth unemployment — which terror groups take advantage as a considerable reservoir for recruits. There is a need for concerted efforts to weaken the terror groups’ narrative and win the battle of ideas.

The UN remains steadfast in its support to Kenya’s development agenda, including commendable initiatives by the government based on a long view of the prevention of violent extremism in line with the UN Development Assistance Framework.

Together we can pursue smart, sustainable strategies that augment security with what the UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner describes as the triple nexus, “Achieving the 2030 Agenda and ensuring no one is left behind requires a pro-active, evidence-based and holistic approach to risk, resilience and prevention across humanitarian, development and peace effort.” This approach will be a long-term antidote to terrorism and the key to preventing violent extremism.

Already our partnership is underway with several local initiatives that are bearing fruit. Previously characterized by belligerence based on competition for resources, the border regions of Eastern Africa are slowly changing the narrative, replacing aggression with dialogue and socio-economic transformation.

A stand-out initiative is the Kenya-Ethiopia Cross Border Programme, launched in December 2015 by President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and the former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia. This initiative is supported by IGAD, the European Union and Japan and implemented by the United Nations family in Kenya and Ethiopia together with local authorities on both sides.

Such initiatives represent determination and hope. They are a declaration that the soul of those on the right side of humanity can never be destroyed or prevented from living freely by terrorists.

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Excerpt:

Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya.

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Is Love an Embarrassment?http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/is-love-an-embarrassment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=is-love-an-embarrassment http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/is-love-an-embarrassment/#respond Mon, 14 Jan 2019 15:34:00 +0000 Jan Lundius http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159616
I am no more. Once I was.
Away on yearning flames, I flew.
The delicate ash spun through the air
and sank – bright and slow
to your feet.
Do not tread too hard ‒ my heart is still alive.

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I am no more. Once I was.
Away on yearning flames, I flew.
The delicate ash spun through the air
and sank – bright and slow
to your feet.
Do not tread too hard ‒ my heart is still alive.

By Jan Lundius
STOCKHOLM / ROME, Jan 14 2019 (IPS)

I do not understand a word of Persian and cannot determine whether these lines, taken from a German translation, are a correct interpretation of Muhammad Hāfez-e-Shīrāzī´s original poem. Nevertheless, Hāfez, who lived 1315-1390 CE, was apparently one of those great writers able to provide bemused couples with points of reference after being struck by the tumultuous sensation of passionate love.

All over the world we find a wealth of poems that with tenderness and empathy express love and compassion. Several of them have been written by men to women, by women to women, and men to men. Such tenderness is easily forgotten when we are confronted with men’s cruelty towards women; their power abuse, contempt for “the weaker sex”, drunkenness and sadism, as well as men’s obsession with brutal sex and machismo and repeated claims about male reluctance to demonstrate affection. We are becoming used to consider men as warriors, playboys, or power-drunk world leaders, while offensive role models and ideologies by various media outlets are presented as guiding principles for male behaviour.

In spite of advocacy and involvement of many activist organizations, violence against women remains one of the most pervasive forms of human rights violations worldwide. It ensues in both public and private spheres and may occur at any time in a woman´s life span. Violence against women might limit their contributions to social, economic, and political development, as well as it impedes them from exercising their human rights. Gender-based violence prevails regardless of age, class, culture, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and specific geographical areas.

Since the issue of gender equality is present in both public and private spheres, affecting us all by influencing even our most intimate relationships, it is very difficult to address it in a balanced, objective and multi-faceted manner. We tend to limit problems related to gender equality to “neutral” spheres, like economic and social justice combined with a struggle to tear down barriers to equal participation, rights and possibilities for men and women. The thorny issue of human emotions is generally ignored, while men and women are bunched together as one-dimensional stereotypes.

While working with gender equality issues within development cooperation organizations, I actually never heard anyone talking seriously about love between men and women. Words like love, or compassion, were not mentioned during any of the countless meetings and gatherings I attended. If I mentioned such words in speech or writing, they were criticized, censored and obliterated. A word like compassion was for some reason considered to be “embarrassing”, “falsely emotional”, “disparaging”, or “overly sentimental”. On the contrary, words like fighting spirit and competition were welcomed. Do we not like love? Does the gender equality struggle have no need for positive role models, except for empowered, energized women, and tolerant, supportive men? Why is it often easier to recommend fighting and violent action, instead of negotiations and compromises? Patience and understanding, combined with an unselfish and benevolent concern for the good of others, i.e. love, may be considered as a prerequisite for peaceful cooperation and positive outcomes, like in the Beatles song:

Love, love, love.
There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung.
Nothing you can say, but you can learn how to play the game.
It’s easy.
There’s nothing you can make that can’t be made.
No one you can save that can’t be saved.
Nothing you can do, but you can learn how to be you in time.
It’s easy.
All you need is love, all you need is love.
All you need is love, love, love is all you need.

To me it appears as if any official discourse about harmonious, respectful love between human beings tends to be considered as somewhat embarrassing. Is it not politically correct to talk about that kind of love? In the current debate about gender equality we seldom hear the word love (not in the sense of sexual satisfaction, but as a general, overarching concept), nor words like tenderness or compassion.

Maybe it would not be harmful to point out that there are indeed good men around, not only chauvinists and abusers. Positive male role models do exist. Everywhere we find men who are supportive of, respectful and affectionate to women. I assume we have to search for expressions of that kind of love and as poets and songwriters often do – praise it.

Jan Lundius holds a PhD. on History of Religion from Lund University and has served as a development expert, researcher and advisor at SIDA, UNESCO, FAO and other international organisations.

The post Is Love an Embarrassment? appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

I am no more. Once I was.
Away on yearning flames, I flew.
The delicate ash spun through the air
and sank – bright and slow
to your feet.
Do not tread too hard ‒ my heart is still alive.

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One Hundred Years of Solitude: Memories and Genocidehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/one-hundred-years-solitude-memories-genocide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=one-hundred-years-solitude-memories-genocide http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/one-hundred-years-solitude-memories-genocide/#respond Wed, 09 Jan 2019 07:48:51 +0000 Jan Lundius http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159553 Denis Villeneuve´s film Blade Runner 2049 depicts a future where “bioengineered replicants” are used as slaves and killed if they misbehave. Replicants are manufactured and individualized as if they were real humans. They are even implanted with artificial memories, a measure intended to make them more “mental stable”, able to cope with their wretch existence […]

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By Jan Lundius
STOCKHOLM/ROME, Jan 9 2019 (IPS)

Denis Villeneuve´s film Blade Runner 2049 depicts a future where “bioengineered replicants” are used as slaves and killed if they misbehave. Replicants are manufactured and individualized as if they were real humans. They are even implanted with artificial memories, a measure intended to make them more “mental stable”, able to cope with their wretch existence as slave labourers. Dr. Ana Stelline, a character in the movie, explains how she manufactures memories:

– They all think it’s about more detail. But that’s not how memory works. We recall with our feelings. Anything real should be a mess.

The movie implies that memories often are fictional, created by ourselves, based on our immediate environment and thus influenced by views and manipulations of others. The author Gabriel García Márquez, was like the movie´s Dr. Stelline, a creator of dreams and memories. In all his writing remembering and forgetting are prevalent themes. His most famous novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, portrays a fictitious village called Macondo. In reality a description of García Márquez’s memories of his childhood village it becomes an archetype of all Latin American villages. He retells dreams and stories stored in the minds of Macondo´s inhabitants. García Márquez declared:

– Life is not what one lived, but what one remembers and how one remembers in order to recount it.

One Hundred Years of Solitude shows that memories are not only individual, they are collective as well, shared with an entire community. In 1983, the historian Eric Hobsbawm edited a book called The Invention of Traditions, which described how concepts of ethnicity and nationality create shared identities by endorsing, and even inventing, cultural traits that underscore the uniqueness of certain groups of people. Invented traditions and memories tend to minimize communal crimes committed by flag-waving bigots. They may even serve as a motive for genocide, i.e. “acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.”1

Genocides are generally blamed on fanatic individuals, thus covering up the fact that horrendous crimes of such magnitude cannot be committed without logistic support and massive propaganda from powerful organisations, mostly national governments, which foster xenophobia to strengthen their own power. Such is the case of each and every one of the genocides committed during the past century. Atrocities like German mass killings of Herero and Namaqua in Namibia, 1904-1908 (between 34,000 to 110,000 civilians were slaughtered),2 mass killings of Armenians in Turkey, 1914-1922 (700,000 to 1,800,000 dead, at the same time an estimated 500,000 to 900,000 Greeks and 200,000 to 750,000 Assyrians were killed), Italian mass killings in Libya, 1923-1932 (leaving 80,000 to 125,000 dead), mass killings committed by Croatian Ustaše, 1941-1945 (350,000 to 600,000 dead, while Serbian Chetniks killed 47,000 to 65,000 Croats and Bosnians), Indonesian mass killings, 1965–66 (500,000 to one million dead), Bangladesh mass killings, 1971 (300,000 to 3 million dead), Burundian mass killings, 1972-1983 (80,000 to 210,000 dead), mass killings in East Timor, 1975-1999 (85,000 to 196,000 dead), mass killings in Cambodia, 1975-1979 (14,000 to 3 million dead), mass killings of Somalian Isaaqs, 1988-1991 (50,000 to 200,000 dead), mass killings of Bosnians, 1992-1995 (8,000 to 39,000 dead), Rwandan mass killings, 1994 (500,000 to one million dead), mass killings of Iraqi Kurds, 1986-1989 (50,000 to 200,000 dead), mass killings of Congolese Bambutis, 2002-2003 (60,000 to 70,000 dead).

State sponsored killings were extreme when it comes to crimes committed in the name of National Socialism and Bolshevism (particularily in its Stalinist shape), two political systems based on control and exclusion not only of human beings, but of history and memories as well. Nazi Germany caused the death of 5 to 6 million Jews, 3 million USSR prisoners of war, more than 12 million civilians in occupied territories, and between 130,000 and 500,000 Romani people. Leaders of Stalinist Soviet Union were guilty of the Holdomor, a man-made famine killing between 2 and 7 million Ukrainians and 1,5 million dead in Kazakhstan under similar circumstances, 200,000 deaths during forced migration of Chechens, 110,000 deaths during NKVD operations in Poland and between 100,000 and 300,000 Poles killed in Volhynia and Galicia.

Few Governments like to be reminded of such atrocities. Some are even forgotten by the general public, or furiously denied by populist nationalists. For them massacred people are as worth- and featureless as out-of-order replicants were to their owners in Blade Runner 2049.

The climax of García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude is based on a true event not far from the author´s birthplace. In 1928, Colombian military opened fire on striking plantation workers, killing an unknown number. In the novel, the company’s director summons up a whirlwind washing away not only Macondo, but any recollection of the massacre. In the novel´s final scene we learn that it is a tale based on a manuscript that a mysterious visitor had left with an ancestor of one of the main characters: “Melquíades had not put events in the order of man´s conventional time, but had concentrated a century of daily episodes in such a way they coexisted in one instant.”

A beautiful picture of how our memories work. They erase some episodes, while amplifying others. The novel finishes on a tragic note. The manuscript declares that what is lost, is lost forever. The past century has left us with the weight of millions of dead. They did not learn from history. “Races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.” We will probably experience the same fate. We erect monuments over wars and heroes, but prefer to forget, or minimize, horrendous crimes committed in the name of distorted memories, a falsified history glorifying a past that never existed.

1The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. http://www.hrweb.org/legal/genocide.html
2These and other figures are based on the lowest and highest estimates found in relevant literature.

Jan Lundius holds a PhD. on History of Religion from Lund University and has served as a development expert, researcher and advisor at SIDA, UNESCO, FAO and other international organisations.

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From Mali: A Lesson in Tolerancehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/mali-lesson-tolerance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mali-lesson-tolerance http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/mali-lesson-tolerance/#respond Wed, 02 Jan 2019 07:34:34 +0000 Jan Lundius http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159451 We all adhere to generalizations. For example, while reading and speaking about Muslims and Christians, sweeping opinions might easily become prejudices, particularily if we do not know any individual behind the labels. When I some years ago was working for a Malian NGO, I met a marabout and a Christian who proved that devotees to […]

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Interviewing a marabout in a village north of Markala, Mali. Credit: Mamadou Demblele

By Jan Lundius
Stockholm/Rome, Jan 2 2019 (IPS)

We all adhere to generalizations. For example, while reading and speaking about Muslims and Christians, sweeping opinions might easily become prejudices, particularily if we do not know any individual behind the labels. When I some years ago was working for a Malian NGO, I met a marabout and a Christian who proved that devotees to different religions might find mutual support in their individual beliefs.

Marabouts serve as imams, preaching in and taking care of mosques, they are generally teachers as well. Assisted by my friend Seydou, who translated his Mandé into English, I spoke with a respected marabout. After a while I found that Seydou only provided brief summaries of what the old man said. I asked him if he really translated everything. Seydou confessed that he found that the marabout “talked a lot of nonsense”. When asked what he found specifically disconcerting Seydou answered that the marabout had stated that people were living on the moon. Since I had asked him about his opinion about fundamentalists’ views of the Qur’an I wanted Seydou to repeat my question to the marabout, while trying to translate what he said, word by word. The marabout apparently answered:

– These young hotheads interpret the Holy Qur´an as if they are living on the dark side of the moon. Residing in the moon’s cold shadow they cannot conceive the sun’s light, nor feel it´s warmth. It´s not enough to read God´s words. In my life God is my sun and joy. Words are not enough for understanding the world. Time is a strict master. It taught me to discern what is right or wrong. The Holy Qur’an is truly the word of God, through it His Messenger, may peace be upon him, transmits God´s word to all people, in all places, all the time. By providing us with the words of God the Messenger, may peace be upon him, wanted us to change for the better, not for the worse. God gave humans free will and wants us to choose what is right. God is righteous. He does not want us to choose what hurt others. Fundamentalists do not believe in any free will. They do not know what love is. They do not want people to think. They want to stop us from making free choices. Accordingly, they place themselves above God. Only God is all-knowing and all-powerful. I believe God speaks to all people through The Holy Qur´an, but through my experiences and in my dreams He talks to me.

After our meeting with the marabout, Seydou made contact with a Christian man. We met him in the village school where he was president of the school association. I had been told that he was the only Malian Christian in the district and asked why he, in a country where almost everyone was a Muslim, had become a Christian. He explained that his father had been a Muslim, but also member of a Chiwara society, a traditional initiation organisation that through traditional teachings and rituals taught Bamana youngsters social values. While studying in Markala he had out of curiosity been reading the Bible. Feeling lonely and bewildered he eventually distanced himself from the way of life in his agrarian village. Soon he identified himself with Jesus, assuming that God´s son had told people that a person must be a conscious disciple, able to choose what to believe in and not blindly follow what others tell you to think and do.

He converted to Christianity, returned to his village and began working as a teacher. However, the villagers despised him and tried to dismiss him from teaching. For a man who was not white, rich, powerful and disrespectful, it would have been impossible to leave the faith of his ancestors. The teacher must be an idiot and on top of that outright dangerous.

When I asked him for how long he had endured being the only Christian in the village, the teacher answered that he had “followed Christ” for twenty years, considering it to be his duty to transmit his faith to others, even if villagers spat behind his back. It was the marabout I had been talking to earlier who changed the Christian´s life. One evening the marabout met with him, confessing:

– I realize you are a holy man. Someone as lonely and strong as you must have a robust faith. You have struggled for your beliefs, while I was born into my position. If you would
doubt God, you don´t have to worry about losing people’s respect, they don´t revere you anyway. In contrast, if I would expose doubts and weaknesses I may lose everything I have. People don´t believe in you, but they believe in me. When I suffer hard times, I have no one to turn to. However, I trust you. You know God, just as I assume I know God. I do not know if you need me, but I need you. I know that if I brought my doubts and worries to you, you would understand me. Likewise, when you are in trouble, you may come to me.

The two men became friends. During the Friday prayers, following their fateful meeting, the marabout sent for the Christian. In front of his congregation he declared: “This is my friend. He´s a holy man. If you respect me, you respect him”. Since that time the Christian had become an integrated part of his society. I asked him:

– Are you now respected by everyone?

He smiled:

– Perhaps respected, but not entirely accepted.

Mali is a country with a vibrant, varied and ancient culture, though its fragile democracy has been threatened by coups and jihadist insurgencies. In 2013, upon the Government´s request, France intervened militarily, reconquering Islamist strongholds and in 2015 a United Nations´ monitored ceasefire was established between the Government and Tuareg separatists, though parts of the country remain tense while al-Qaeda-linked militants sporadically carry out attacks.

Jan Lundius holds a PhD. on History of Religion from Lund University and has served as a development expert, researcher and advisor at SIDA, UNESCO, FAO and other international organisations.

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The Dark Shadows of Christmashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/12/dark-shadows-christmas/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dark-shadows-christmas http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/12/dark-shadows-christmas/#respond Mon, 24 Dec 2018 08:59:26 +0000 Jan Lundius http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159434 Christmas is expected to be a peaceful celebration of the birth of Jesus. A time to express love and care for one another. Jesus preached love and compassion, but also told us to be suspicious of imposters: “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep´s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves”. Wolves […]

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By Jan Lundius
Stockholm/Rome, Dec 24 2018 (IPS)

Christmas is expected to be a peaceful celebration of the birth of Jesus. A time to express love and care for one another. Jesus preached love and compassion, but also told us to be suspicious of imposters: “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep´s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves”. Wolves are predators who disregard the suffering of their victims. A human wolf is an egomaniac ready to maim and murder, either to please himself or his master, often deluding himself by imagining he serves a higher purpose.

On the 11th of December, armed with a revolver and a knife, a man attacked visitors to Strasbourg´s Christmas Market, killing five and wounding eleven. Likewise was on the 19th of December 2016 a truck deliberately driven into a traditional Christmas market in the very centre of Berlin, killing twelve and injuring fifty-six. After he had forced him to do the killing, the perpetrator shot the truck-driver. Maybe these killers were just lone wolves, but their acts proved that even during Christmas one has to be aware of false prophets preaching hate and violence.

The Bible proclaimed that Jesus Christ would bring peace and justice to the World and so did the Holy Qu´ran, for example in its third Surah:

    Remember when the angels said: ´O Mary, God gives you glad tidings of a Word from Him. His name is Christ Jesus son of Mary, greatly honoured in this world and the next, and among those drawn nearest to God. He shall speak to mankind from the cradle, and in maturity, and shall be among the righteous.1

The Kings James Version of the Bible translates the god tidings of Jesus´s birth as: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” The villains in Strasbourg and Berlin were far from abiding to that message. As a matter of fact, even the story of Jesus´s birth constitutes a familiar tale of ruthless power abuse, persecution of the innocent and defenceless, as well as it tells us how migration becomes a last resort to avoid suffering and death.

Herod the Great (73 – 4 BCE2) was an energetic monarch, a shrewd manipulator investing in the winner of every Roman power struggle. He created a powerful secret police, torturing and killing countless opponents, among them forty-six members of the Sanhedrin, the highest political and religious body of the Jewish people. Lust for power, women and glory turned Herod into blood-thirsty despot. Fearing competition by his wife, he killed both her and their two sons, making the Roman Emperor Augustus joke that he would rather be Herod´s pig than his son (since Herod´s faith forbade him to eat pork). Judea was since 47 BCE a part of the Roman province of Syria. Herod was a Roman minion, with free reigns as long as he paid his levies.

This was the reason to why an aged carpenter named Joseph and his young wife, Maria, went from their hometown to Joseph´s place of birth, Bethlehem. For tax reasons, he had to register himself and his family there. After travelling for two days they reached their destination, but found that Bethlehem was filled with visitors and it was impossible to find lodging. To make matters worse, Maria went into labour and had to give birth to her son in a cave. Joseph had recently married Maria and by accepting her awaited child as his own he had saved her from shame and even lynching, this since the father of her child was unknown. Shortly after the delivery, the poor couple found shelter in a stable, where Mary placed her new-born son among the straw of a crib. Shepherds came to pay homage to the baby, assuming he was the Messiah, the future king so hotly longed for by many Jews. A presumption that seemed to be confirmed when a group of wealthy foreigners appeared, carrying gifts for the infant.

However, Joseph was through a dream told he had to flee the country. Herod had been reached by a rumour that a new-born child would become king and overthrow him. The power intoxicated despot ordered that all boys up to two years of age had to be slaughtered. As people often did in the past, Joseph took his dreams seriously. He convinced Mary that they had to seek protection and asylum in Egypt. It was the small, fugitive Syrian family´s luck that no Egyptian guards serving a chauvinist regime were blocking the border for refugees. If that had been the case, Jesus would have been killed and we would not have a Christianity, which some European nationalist rulers currently use as a reason to deny asylum for Syrian refugees.

When Herod ordered the murder of innocents in an effort to secure his power, or when two loners spread death and horror in Christmas markets, they did so in disregard of feelings of others, denying one of the essentials of human existence – communication, which comes from the Latin “to share”. They proved to be egomaniacs unable to appreciate the joy of sharing happiness with others, the message at the very heart of Christmas celebrations.

Since 2011, more than 5.6 million have fled Syria. 6.6 millions more are displaced inside the country, while 2.98 million are isolated in hard-to-reach areas. The war continues and hope is fading fast.3 In these days, while many of us are enjoying ourselves in the company of friends and family, sharing food and gifts, we might give some thoughts to those who like the infant Jesus and his parents are suffering poverty, persecution and fear of death.

1 The Qur´an. A new translation by Tarif Khaladi (2009) London: Penguin Classics.
2 Before Common Era. A dating system taking as departure the birth of Jesus was devised in 525 ABE. However, it was not consistent with probable dates for the birth of Jesus and not widely used until after 800 ABE.
3 https://www.unhcr.org/syria-emergency.html

Jan Lundius holds a PhD. on History of Religion from Lund University and has served as a development expert, researcher and advisor at SIDA, UNESCO, FAO and other international organisations.

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‘Respect for the other’ lies at the heart of peace education, say panelists at UN debatehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/12/respect-lies-heart-peace-education-say-panelists-un-debate/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=respect-lies-heart-peace-education-say-panelists-un-debate http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/12/respect-lies-heart-peace-education-say-panelists-un-debate/#respond Mon, 10 Dec 2018 19:35:17 +0000 Geneva Centre http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159139 Respect for the other lies at the heart of peace education and was a key thread through a debate entitled “Education for Peace in a multi-religious world”. It was held on the 2018 World Human Rights Day at the United Nations Office in Geneva. Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue and the […]

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By Geneva Centre
GENEVA, Dec 10 2018 (Geneva Centre)

Respect for the other lies at the heart of peace education and was a key thread through a debate entitled “Education for Peace in a multi-religious world”. It was held on the 2018 World Human Rights Day at the United Nations Office in Geneva.

Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue and the World Council of Churches held the debate on 10 December on the impact of peace education to promote mutual understanding and cooperative relations between people and societies.

Countering extremist narratives
The conference focused on how education for peace can engage different stakeholders to counter violent, extremist narratives, build peaceful and inclusive societies as well as to promote universally shared values upheld in diverse faiths and creeds.

Ambassador Idriss Jazairy, Executive Director of the Geneva Centre’s Board of Management, a former head of a UN specialized agency and top diplomat for Algeria opened the panel debate. He said, “Today I would say peace is in jeopardy once again.

“We are exposed to a kind of a pincer movement between populism on the one hand and extremism on the other. In those circumstances, we need to see how we can defuse this tension and give the right of way to peace. We have to do this by addressing the problem already at the school level.”

WCC General Secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fyske Tveit, said in a speech opening the debate, “The question of how faith communities can educate for peace in a world torn by war and conflict is most pressing in today’s world.”

Tveit was unable to attend the panel discussion and his speech was read by Rev. Dr Peniel Rajkumar, who heads the WCC’s Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation programme.

“It is imperative that leaders of religious communities of various kinds recognize that one of the most solemn tasks laid upon them is to pass on a vision for the pursuit of peace to those they lead, those they teach, those whose imaginations they shape and whose consciences they help to form,” said Tveit.

“Faith communities as communities of edification at various levels – formal, informal, religious and secular – have a definite role in this. What are the motivations and means for us to capitalize on the constant opportunities for religious communities to teach their members how to be peacemakers?” he asked.

‘Knowing about each other’
Professor Majeda Omar of the University of Jordan and former director of the Royal Institute for Inter-faith Studies of Jordan said, “What we need to know about is, each other’s religions and cultures.”

She noted that it is the “lack of religious knowledge,” that is the question not “the lack of religions”. Omar said, “What is needed, is not just tolerance, but mutual understanding. We have to learn how to listen to one another.”

Professor Anantanand Rambachan, Professor of Religion at St. Olaf College (US) spoke from a Hindu perspective but also quoted Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi who spoke of “the duty of every cultured man or woman to read sympathetically, the scriptures of the world. If we are to respects others’ religions, as we would have them respect our own, a friendly study of the world’s religions is a sacred duty.”

Rambachan said, “Accurate knowledge of other traditions must be complemented by the development of relationships and friendships between people of different traditions.”

After his speech, Jazairy said, “Ecumenism should encompass all the Abrahamic religions, and Hinduism.”

Monsignor Indunil Janakaratne, Undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said, “only by changing education can we can change the world”. He explained that a humanized education” can humanity lay down a pathway for “paternal humanism”.

Dialogue is essential for “your own maturity in confronting other cultures and religions” and that “as we grow, and we develop, and we mature, this dialogue is what creates peace,” said Janakaratne.

“Our goal is unity and not uniformity,” said panellist Dr Debbie Weissman, who as an “Israeli Jew”, a former president of the International Council of Christians and Jews.

Author of “Memoirs of a Hopeful Pessimist: A Life of Activism through Dialogue,” she referred to the biblical story of the creation of the human being in the image of God as “the basis of respect for the Other, which lies at the heart of peace education. Human diversity is the manifestation of God’s greatness.”

Those conducting the panel discussion included: Ms. Maria Lucia Uribe, Director of Arigatou International Geneva – Ethics Education for Children; Mr Renato Opertti, Senior Programme Specialist, IBE-UNESCO; Ms. Beris Gwynne, Founder and Managing Director of Incitare. Former Australian diplomat and aid official and NGO Executive; and Mr. Jan-Willem Bult, Head of Children & Youth Media and Chief Editor of WADADA News for Kids.

*The present press release was prepared by the World Council of Churches for dissemination and approved with some presentational adjustments by the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue.

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70 Years since the Universal Declaration on Human Rights – Hope Against Hopehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/12/70-years-since-universal-declaration-human-rights-hope-hope/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=70-years-since-universal-declaration-human-rights-hope-hope http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/12/70-years-since-universal-declaration-human-rights-hope-hope/#comments Mon, 10 Dec 2018 09:41:01 +0000 Prince Al Hassan bin Talal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159109 “Save the Children estimates that 84,701 children under five have died in Yemen from untreated cases of severe acute malnutrition between April 2015 and October 2018.” “The grim analysis of United Nations data comes as intense fighting has again erupted in Yemen’s strategic port city of Hodeidah.” Meanwhile, the UN considers Yemen the world’s biggest […]

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By HRH Prince Al Hassan bin Talal of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
GENEVA, Dec 10 2018 (IPS)

“Save the Children estimates that 84,701 children under five have died in Yemen from untreated cases of severe acute malnutrition between April 2015 and October 2018.”

“The grim analysis of United Nations data comes as intense fighting has again erupted in Yemen’s strategic port city of Hodeidah.”

Meanwhile, the UN considers Yemen the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis and warns that without an end to the fighting, the country, in which more than half the population is already at risk of famine, faces the worst famine in decades.

Such have been the headlines day after day since the start of the war in Yemen in 2015. The tragedy is that statistics, coupled with the sensationalism of news, swiftly lose their impact. We become inured to the human catastrophe unfolding before our eyes as we turn the pages of our newspapers or flick channels on our television sets in search of something less distressing (OR less demanding).

This year sees the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, proclaimed in Paris by the United Nations General Assembly on the 10th December 1948. Following the unmitigated horrors of the Second World War, it was a milestone in the history of human rights. Yet, seventy years on, the river of human history continues to be poisoned by injustice, starvation, displacement, fear, instability, uncertainties and politicised sectarian and ethnic divisions.

Today it seems we are moving further away from the concept of Universal rights, in favour of my rights, even if at the expense of yours (although the other may be you yourself), with a callous disregard for the Declaration’s two key ethical considerations: a commitment to the inherent dignity of every human being and a commitment to non-discrimination.

The schisms in the world today have become so numerous, the inequities so stark, that a universal respect for human dignity is something that must be brought back to the consciousness of the international community.

Recognition of religion and individual cultural identities are a crucial part of the mix. Unlike citizenship – the legal membership of a sovereign state or nation, identity encompasses the totality of how one construes oneself, including those dimensions that express continuity with past ancestry and future aspirations, and implies affinity with certain groups and the recognition of common ties. In brief, it demands the recognition of the totality of the self, of one’s human dignity, irrespective of background, ethnicity or financial clout. A call to be empowered to fulfil one’s potential, without kowtowing to a social construct or relinquishing any part of one’s heritage.

We need to be proactive in addressing the growing global hunger for human dignity for it goes to the very heart of human identity and the polarity / plurality divide, and without it, all the protections of the various legal human rights mechanisms become meaningless.

We have gone from a world of symmetries and political and military blocs, to a situation of fearful asymmetries and violent, armed non-state actors.

The polarity of hatred among people is corrosive, not only in the Mashreq/Levant, but across the globe. The retrenchment into smaller and smaller identities is one of the most striking paradoxes of globalisation. Binary fallacies lead nations to dead ends; to zero sum games.

Cross border themes of today, water, energy and human dignity, must be discussed at a regional level, as a creative common, rather than country by country. The neglect of these themes has meant that the West Asia area has become a breeding ground for rogue and extremist actors. The complex dynamics among the three greatest forces shaping our planet – man, nature, technology – require a whole new outlook. Yet there is no need to reinvent the wheel.

In drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, its proponents [OR the drafting committee] sought to underpin a shared ideal, a common standard for all peoples and all nations, a code of conduct of rights and responsibilities if you will.

I should like to pay tribute to my late mother-in-law, the Begum Shaista Ikramullah. When she, the first Muslim Indian (as she then was) woman to gain a PhD from the University of London, working in 1948 with Eleanor Roosevelt on the Declaration of Human Rights and Convention Against Genocide, declared:

It is imperative that there be an accepted code of civilized behaviour.

Adding later:

The ideas emphasized in the [Declaration] are far from being realized, but there is a goal which those who believe in the freedom of the human spirit can try to reach.

To date we have fallen far short. Nonetheless the UDHR, not only provided the first step towards the creation of the International Bill of Human Rights (completed 1966, came into effect 1976), but gave rise to numerous conventions and international agreements which should give us cause for hope. I would like to mention but a few.

Of personal interest is the 1948 Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide which was worked on and signed by the late Begum Ikramullah. She strongly supported the work of Professor Raphael Lemkin who lost 24 members of his family in the Holocaust. Raphael Lemkin defined genocide as “a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves“.

Some years later, the Helsinki Final Act (1975) “provided a basis for creating conditions favourable to peace in Europe and made human rights a common value to be respected by all nations in a world which was divided into East and West camps in that period”. It gave rise to the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly, a non-governmental organisation of people in Europe, dedicated to the promotion of fundamental rights and freedoms, peace, democracy and pluralism and to our own Middle East Citizens’ Assembly.

More recently I had the honour to serve on the Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor, whose fundamental purpose was to empower those living in poverty through increased protections and rights – thereby addressing simultaneously, exclusion, loss of dignity, and the link between poverty and lack of access to the law.

The basic premise of its report (published in 2008) was that the law should work for everyone, and included as a key underpinning, state/governmental investment in the conditions of labour.

Despite these positive steps, the three main challenges identified by the Independent Commission on International Humanitarian Issues (ICIHI): man against man, man against nature and man-made disasters, summarised in the title of our report: Winning the Human Race? continue to prevail (OR there is much much more to be done.)

In a world where nearly one person is forcibly displaced every two seconds as a result of conflict or persecution, and where 85% of the worlds’ displaced are being hosted by developing countries, ill-equipped to do so, of which Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, Jordan and Lebanon are in the forefront and in which 15% of all mankind live in areas somewhat euphemistically described as ‘fragile states’, the moral lobby that is still strong across the world must act in cohesion. Together we must ensure that equal citizenship rights and human dignity are at the forefront of all development efforts. Further that the shift towards viewing human dignity as an individual, and not collective attribute, is realised.

This means placing human welfare firmly and definitively, at the centre of national and international policy-making.

We continue to hear of a security order or an economic order, neither of which have succeeded in creating a Universal order from which all of humanity benefits. In the face of this disharmonious logic, it is time for an humanitarian order based on the moral and ethical participation of the peoples of the world, as well as an intimate understanding of human nature.

We have, in the reports mentioned above and in other projects, a well-honed tool box of critical issues and agendas which should form the multi-stakeholder platform of our commitment to the universal ideals we all cherish. As with the UDHR, these reports are a clarion call to action – it is up to us to ensure they also represent a continuation of imaginative thinking for a universally beneficial creative process.

It is time to take off the blinkers of thinking only of ourselves – of our tribe and of our nation against all others – and consider how much can be achieved by drawing on the whole pool of our talents and resources to address common concerns on the basis of our shared humanity. We need an inclusive approach to meeting challenges, one that accounts for both the natural and the human environment. Only thus can we attain the desired organic unity between man and nature and the ethics of universal responsibility. This may sound idealistic; it is, but whether we are talking about water scarcity, food security, poverty, education, the ability for everyone to fulfil their potential, we need to focus on human dignity both in its ontological dimension by virtue of our very humanity and in its operative dimension as enhanced by our self-accomplishment.

We were not put on this earth to go forth and multiply, desecrate and destroy, but to bring life as well as hope for future generations.

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Geneva Centre Executive Director: We must unmask the greatest scam of the century through the promotion of equal citizenship rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/geneva-centre-executive-director-must-unmask-greatest-scam-century-promotion-equal-citizenship-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=geneva-centre-executive-director-must-unmask-greatest-scam-century-promotion-equal-citizenship-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/geneva-centre-executive-director-must-unmask-greatest-scam-century-promotion-equal-citizenship-rights/#respond Thu, 01 Nov 2018 08:20:49 +0000 Geneva Centre http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158467 Security cannot be achieved by reactivating the armament race and an environment of tension and division, the Executive Director of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, Ambassador Idriss Jazairy, said during the “A New Human Concept of Security” conference organized by the European Centre for Peace and Development in Belgrade. “We […]

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By Geneva Centre
GENEVA, Nov 1 2018 (Geneva Centre)

Security cannot be achieved by reactivating the armament race and an environment of tension and division, the Executive Director of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, Ambassador Idriss Jazairy, said during the “A New Human Concept of Security” conference organized by the European Centre for Peace and Development in Belgrade.

“We live in troubled and uncertain times. Our era is defined by an environment of tension and division. It is compounded by the manipulation and hijacking of religions, creeds and value systems. For what purpose? For accessing power through violence in some parts of the world or through counter-factual political scheming in other parts,” Ambassador Jazairy underlined in his presentation.

In this regard, the Geneva Centre’s Executive Director highlighted the need to address ominous threats and divisive narratives descending on modern societies in Arab and Western societies alike. The rise of violent extremism on the one hand and of militant forms of nationalism and populism on the other represent a threat to multicultural societies, human well-being as well as world peace and stability.

Exclusion and marginalization of people as witnessed in several countries – he noted – fuel xenophobia, bigotry and racism. Proliferation of crises and conflict have the potential to divide societies and to foster hatred, intolerance and animosity between peoples regardless of cultural and religious origins.

In this connection, the Geneva Centre’s Executive Director said that the “dismal situation undermines the foundations of contemporary society. Outbreaks of endogenous and exogenous violence occur whether physical or verbal in different regions of the world.”

This has given rise to a “pincer movement of two extremes expressed through violent extremism and xenophobic populism.” The “greatest scam of the century”, highlighted Ambassador Jazairy, “is the misuse of universal inclusive values shared by all religions and value-systems to serve the opposite goals of discrimination and exclusion.”

To “unmask this scam”, the Geneva Centre’s Executive Director underlined that the promotion of equal citizenship rights is the silver-bullet. It will eliminate the fear of the Other and prevent potential social and/or religious tension or conflict that prevail within multicultural societies and across diverse nations.

Most of today’s international conflicts are grafted on internal upheavals which themselves spring from the denial of equal citizenship rights. If we can defuse an exacerbation of internal dissent through dialogue and conflict resolution, the temptation for foreign interference will be reduced pari passu. Thus conflict will be circumscribed and peace will be given a chance,” he said.

In addition, Ambassador Jazairy appealed to international decision-makers to sign and endorse the 2018 World Conference declaration entitled “Moving Towards Greater Spiritual Convergence Worldwide in Support of Equal Citizenship Rights” that has been endorsed by more than 50 international opinion-makers. The latter was adopted at the 25 June 2018 World Conference entitled “Religions, Creeds and Value-Systems: Joining Forces to Enhance Equal Citizenship Rights” held at the United Nations Office at Geneva under the Patronage of HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

He said the World Conference Declaration offers an inspiring ideal of world citizenship that responds to citizens’ aspiration to a sense of belonging which will “foster their unity in diversity.” “A sense of belonging and sharing that extends to the nation and beyond to the world community,” he concluded.

ECPD conference responds to appeal by Executive Director of the Geneva Centre. Adopts a resolution endorsing the World Conference outcome Declaration

The participants present at the ECPD conference on “A New Human Concept of Security” unanimously adopted a resolution welcoming and endorsing the World Conference outcome Declaration entitled “Moving Towards Greater Spiritual Convergence Worldwide in Support of Equal Citizenship Rights.”

Through the unanimous adoption of the resolution, the participants call on all States to respect the Declaration and to support the implementation of its provisions. The resolution read as follows:

To: the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue,

We the participants of the XIV International Conference on A New Concept of Human Security, 26/10/2018, Belgrade of the ECPD, University for Peace established by the UN, choose to add our support to the outcome Declaration: ‘Moving Towards Greater Spiritual Convergence Worldwide in Support of Equal Citizenship Rights’ (General, 25/6/2018) that emanated from the World Conference (Geneva, Palais des Nations, 25/6/2018) on ‘Religions, Creeds and Value Systems: Joining Forces to Enhance Equal Citizenship Rights,’

We do so,

• “In recognition of the inherent dignity and of equal and inalienable rights of the members of the human family which is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world and;
• “Within a framework of philosophy, global citizenship and the golden means that spreads equal citizenship rights (ECR) as a gateway to world peace.

“Furthermore, we support its suggested follow-up actions of a periodic holding of World Summit, the setting-up of an International Task-Force on ECR and to include a relevant item in the Universal Periodic Review.

“Agreed by all participants/Signed by Dan Wallace, Roberto Savio, Jeffrey Levett and Negoslav Ostojic.”

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Are you a believer?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/10/are-you-a-believer/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=are-you-a-believer http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/10/are-you-a-believer/#respond Fri, 12 Oct 2018 12:17:21 +0000 Heike Kuhn http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158126 Heike Kuhn is Head of Division - Human rights; gender equality; inclusion of persons with disabilities at the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Germany

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Do you believe in God, Allah, Elohim, or do you think that religion is “the opium of the people” as Karl Marx called it in his work “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right”? Either way, whatever religion you belong to, believe in, practice or do not practice, it is always your personal choice. To be precise: it is a human right.

Chapel, Bukarest Airport

By Heike Kuhn
Cologne Area, Germany, Oct 12 2018 (IPS)

Do you believe in God, Allah, Elohim, or do you think that religion is “the opium of the people” as Karl Marx called it in his work “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right”? Either way, whatever religion you belong to, believe in, practice or do not practice, it is always your personal choice. To be precise: it is a human right.

On December 10, 1948, nearly 70 years ago, freedom of religion and belief was anchored in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 18 proclaims 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 and observance.”

At the end of July 2018, I had the honour of being invited to the first “Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom”, held at the US State Department in Washington. The motivation for holding the meeting was that the ideal of religious freedom is felt to be under increasing attack in many countries.

Roughly 80 percent of the world’s population experience severe limitations of this right, in the form of persecution, repression or discrimination. Defending this fundamental right was the clear focus of the conference, which was attended by more than 80 nations. In a press release prior to the Conference, State Secretary Mike Pompeo even stated that he sees a deep connection between religious freedom as a fundamental human right and economic benefits for countries that respect religious freedom.

The ideal of religious freedom is felt to be under increasing attack in many countries. Roughly 80 percent of the world’s population experience severe limitations of this right, in the form of persecution, repression or discrimination.

Why was it such an honour for me to be there? There were two reasons. Firstly, I was there to accompany and assist Germany’s new Commissioner for Global Freedom of Religion, Markus Gruebel, who only took on the post in April 2018. In my daily work, it is my duty to protect and advocate for human rights. Secondly, in my private life, I am an elected Protestant church elder in my village.

So the “two hearts” beating in my chest were most excited about this business trip. Arriving early in the morning at Frankfurt Airport, I had planned to start my journey by visiting the prayer room. However, when checking in, my ticket showed the sign “SSSS”, singling me out for stringent screening by the US immigration authorities. A sign? What did it mean? This way, I started my sincere prayers even earlier than I had originally planned, before I had even got through security. For your information, I passed through without any problems – Hallelujah!

The next two days at the conference in Washington were full of speeches by high-ranking officials, official meetings, receptions, luncheons and fruitful conversations. The closing session took place at the famous Holocaust Museum, granting the stage to a 1941-born survivor of the Budapest Ghetto. You can read about these official parts of the conference in press releases.

What is worth sharing from my point of view is how impressive the interventions of many nations were, showcasing their commitment to religious freedom in their countries. And, above all, fascinating and fruitful conversations took place between the representatives of various religions – Rabbis, Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, survivors of religious minority groups who are currently threatened, like the Yazidis and the Uyghurs. All this helped to promote interfaith dialogue.

Despite participants coming from different cultural and religious backgrounds, a strong sense of common ground could be observed, a spirit of deep understanding that most humans have a need to practice a religion and acknowledgement that there is much more that unites us than divides us. Tolerance and respect for others, irrespective of religion or belief, is the way forward. Pursuing one’s faith can be a great force for action, always within the limits of doing no harm to others and not violating their rights and freedoms. This means that we have to find a way to listen and talk to each other – taking all nations on board.

I see building bridges as our joint task, today, tomorrow and next week – as women and men, everywhere. I do admit: I am a believer, as were many of the other participants and as are many people worldwide. However, belief remains a most private choice.

What is fundamental is that we are all human beings and should be accorded the same dignity of freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Respecting human rights is the duty of all governments – on all continents and in all regions. It is worth bearing in mind that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, signed in 2015 in New York, also puts the dignity of each individual at the core of its extremely important text. For me personally, a German female Protestant, I feel empowered by my religion and by being free to practice it – every day and everywhere. And I am most thankful for it. Hallelujah!

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Excerpt:

Heike Kuhn is Head of Division - Human rights; gender equality; inclusion of persons with disabilities at the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Germany

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Muslim Allies In the Fight Against Extremismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/muslim-allies-fight-extremism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=muslim-allies-fight-extremism http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/muslim-allies-fight-extremism/#respond Fri, 28 Sep 2018 14:26:33 +0000 Abe Radkin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157856 Abe Radkin is International Coordinator of the Global Hope Coalition.

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Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb took credit for bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Algiers in December 2007, an act that claimed the lives of 17 U.N. personnel. Credit: UN Photo / Evan Schneider

By Abe Radkin
NEW YORK, Sep 28 2018 (IPS)

With the rise of violent extremism worldwide has come the stereotyping of an entire religion. In many countries and across many borders, Muslims have been vilified for events they are just as outraged at.

Yet instead of working together to foster a common understanding and mutual respect, we have seen otherwise liberal countries shut their borders and suppress culture. At a time of extreme intolerance, it is increasingly important that we recognize the importance of working together toward shared global interests of peace and prosperity.

As an increasing number of Muslim-majority nations take a stand against extremism practiced in the name of their faith, people around the world are working across borders to promote cross-cultural understanding and tolerance.

At a time when so much of what we hear is about the ill in the world, we have a duty to celebrate the critical work that happens every day to ensure the “battle of ideas” in the global fight against extremism is not lost to those who preach violence rather than peace.

This is the work of the Global Hope Coalition, which shines a light on both the governments and the everyday heroes standing up to violence and intolerance in their countries and around the world—and those who are joining with them in the fight. At this year’s annual dinner they recognize those who have taken a stand against extremists invoking religion for the purposes of perpetrating terror.

Take for example Niger, a majority Muslim country, which is increasingly at the center of a vast struggle for power in Africa’s Sahel region. After the retreat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Niger has seen a massive uptick in extremist threats as the Sahel region has become an active theater for ISIS and jihadi terrorists.

Niger’s government under the leadership of President Mahamadou Issoufou has been an outspoken critic of violent extremism in the name of Islam and has advocated a tolerant and peaceful vision of the religion. The country has worked hard to build regional alliances against terrorist groups in the Sahel region.

At a time of great challenge, when many would retrench, Niger has worked to strengthen the rule of law and the country’s constitutional institutions, while respecting the separation of powers. Perhaps most heartening was the more than $23 billion from donor countries pledged to Niger at a two-day “Niger Renaissance Conference” in Paris in December 2017.

Niger is not alone.

Muslim-majority countries are standing up to extremists and proving the actions of a select few do not define an entire religion. But the global community’s response has been inadequate. Largely fueled by stereotypes created and driven by ISIS and al-Qaeda, Muslims have been demonized, attacked, and shut out of a number of otherwise tolerant nations.

Many global efforts to lift up anti-extremism efforts have been nebulously structured at best and ineffectual at worst. And crucially, some wealthier western countries have failed to be shining beacons of tolerance and prosperity whose principles they were founded upon and have instead hid behind thinly veiled xenophobia. All that while continuing to expect fealty from Muslim allies.

This cowardice is not the answer – in any part of the world. Instead of turning a blind eye to good faith efforts to stand up to common enemies, the global community must rally around them like they did for Niger in 2017.

That’s why governments and heads of state are only one piece of the equation. Equally important, but far less public, are the thousands upon thousands of individuals in towns and cities throughout the world working every day to stand up to extremism, fight intolerance, and work towards peace in their communities.

Just as the international community must rally around natural allies in this fight, so too must it uplift and encourage the everyday heroes and on-the-ground change makers – like, for instance, this year’s Global Hope Heroes Sherin Khankan and Omer Al-Turabi. Khankan, a female imam and daughter of a Syrian refugee, has led the creation of a women-led mosque in Copenhagen to promote a tolerant, peaceful Islam true to its original precepts.

Al-Turabi is a prominent Sudanese author and academic who has become a leading voice among younger generations in the Arab world seeking peace and a liberal future for their countries.

Both Khankan and Al-Turabi have faced tremendous obstacles to their efforts – yet both have been unwavering in their efforts to win the battle for hearts and minds. There are countless more like them, and that is why Global Hope’s work is so important. By providing resources and valuable organization and networking opportunities to heroes just like these, progress can – and will – take shape.

The UN General Assembly gives us an annual opportunity to reflect on what can be accomplished by thoughtful and meaningful multilateral action. This year, under existential threats to our way of life and a global order built on cooperation, the takeaway couldn’t be clearer: We must choose peace, and we must stand with those who fight for it.

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Excerpt:

Abe Radkin is International Coordinator of the Global Hope Coalition.

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Church and Conflict in South Sudanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/church-conflict-south-sudan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=church-conflict-south-sudan http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/church-conflict-south-sudan/#respond Tue, 03 Jul 2018 08:53:06 +0000 James Jeffrey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156517 Throughout fifty years of struggles, South Sudan’s different churches have remained one of the country’s few stable institutions, and in their workings toward peace, have displayed a level of inter-religious cooperation rarely seen in the world.  Priests and pastors from numerous denominations brought humanitarian relief to civilians during South Sudan’s long wars for independence — […]

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South Sudanese Christians celebrate Christmas mass at El Fasher church in North Darfur. South Sudan's different churches have remained one of the country's few stable institutions. Credit: UN Photo/Olivier Chassot

By James Jeffrey
JUBA, Jul 3 2018 (IPS)

Throughout fifty years of struggles, South Sudan’s different churches have remained one of the country’s few stable institutions, and in their workings toward peace, have displayed a level of inter-religious cooperation rarely seen in the world. 

Priests and pastors from numerous denominations brought humanitarian relief to civilians during South Sudan’s long wars for independence — often considered a fight for religious freedom for the mostly Christian south — from the hard-line Islamist government to the north in Khartoum, Sudan.

Amid destruction and failed politics, church leaders emerged as the only players left standing with any credibility and national recognition, enabling them to effectively lobby the international community to support the southern cause while also brokering peace between communities torn apart by war and ethnic strife.

However, they have been less able to influence politicians and generals in South Sudan’s latest civil war raging since 2013, which began just two years after gaining independence from Sudan. Last week, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and rebels, led by his former vice president Riek Machar, signed a peace agreement to bring about a ceasefire. But Reuters reported that fighting broke out again on Sunday, killing 18 civilians. “The blood of the tribe has become thicker than the blood of the Christ," Episcopal Bishop Enock Tombe.

“The new outbreak of war caught the Church unprepared,” says John Ashworth, referring to the five-year civil war. Ashworth has worked in South Sudan, including advising its churches, for more than 30 years. “While the Church played a major role in protecting people and mobilising humanitarian support, and in mediating local peace and reconciliation processes, it took quite a while to rebuild the capacity to implement national level initiatives.”

Although Islam has dominated the region for centuries, Christian roots in Sudan and South Sudan go back to the 5th century. Missionaries were active in the 1800s, mainly from the Anglican, Presbyterian, Catholic and Coptic churches.

Though there are conflicting reports about South Sudan’s exact religious composition, Christianity is the dominant religion, with a 2012 Pew Research Centre report estimating that around 60 percent are Christian, 33 percent followers of African traditional religions, six percent Muslim and the rest unaffiliated.

In the face of shared adversity, South Sudan’s Christian churches embraced an ecumenical approach to establish the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC), which spearheaded the churches’ joint efforts that proved heavily influential in the 2005 peace deal that ended Africa’s longest-running civil war.

The SSCC continued its involvement in the process that led to the January 2011 referendum on independence, in which an overwhelming majority of South Sudanese voted to secede and become Africa’s first new country since Eritrea split from Ethiopia in 1993. South Sudan formally gained independence from Sudan on Jul. 9, 2011.

But all those achievements began to unravel in 2013 when government troops began massacring ethnic Nuer in the capital, Juba. Afterwards, the national army, called the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), split along ethnic lines during a violent uprising, pitting ethnic Dinka loyal to Kiir against Nuer led by Macher.

Both sides committed atrocities, while the narrative of fighting for religious freedom was manipulated for political advantage. The SPLA has painted themselves as Christian liberators — atrocities notwithstanding — their propaganda referring to the churchgoing Kiir as the “Joshua” who took South Sudan to the promised land of independence.

“The blood of the tribe has become thicker than the blood of the Christ,” Episcopal Bishop Enock Tombe remarked in 2014.

But the church has been caught up in the divisive fallout too. 

“The current war has divided people along ethnic lines — the church is not immune to these divisions,” says Carol Berger, an anthropologist who specialises in South Sudan.

In a speech in April, South Sudan’s vice president James Wani Igga accused priests of promoting violence.

“While individual clergy may have their own political sympathies, and while pastors on the ground continue to empathise with their local flock, the churches as bodies have remained united in calling and for an end to the killing, a peaceful resolution through dialogue, peace and reconciliation — in some cases at great personal risk,” Ashworth says.

Some have accused the church of inaction during the latest civil war. Ashworth suggests that after the 2005 peace agreement the SSCC “took a breather to rebuild and repair,” with the 2013 outbreak of war catching them unprepared and less capable. Subsequently it has taken church leaders longer than expected to rebuild capacity, but now the SSCC is taking action to make up for lost ground.

It has begun by choosing a new Secretary General, says Philip Winter, a South Sudan specialist who has long been engaged in its peace processes. He notes how the SSCC was called upon by the warring parties negotiating in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, to help them get over their differences — something the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) failed to do as a mediator.

Following the talks in Ethiopia in June, both warring sides signed a peace agreement in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, a week later.

“The SSCC recognised that is was perhaps not as effective as the most recent conflict required,” Winter says. “So they are once more playing an important, if discreet, role.” 

The SSCC’s renewed impetus includes implementing a national Action Plan for Peace (APP), which recognises the need for a long-term peace process to resolve not only the current conflict but also the unresolved effects of previous conflicts which are contributing causes of the current conflict. The SSCC says the APP may continue for 10 or 20 years.

At this stage of the plan, the SSCC hopes to see a visit to the country by Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church. Earlier this year a delegation of Christian leaders from South Sudan met the Pope and urged him to visit.

“We gave the situation of the Church in South Sudan, that the people are hungry for peace, and they expect the Pope to visit them,” the Bishop Emeritus of Tori, Paride Taban, a member of the delegation, told media after meeting the Pope. “He [the Pope] encourages us not to fear. We are not alone, he is with us, and he will surely come.”

The bishop spoke at the Rome headquarters of Sant’Egidio, a peace and humanitarian group that is trying to help peace efforts in South Sudan. The group played a crucial role in the 2015 papal visit to another war-torn country, the Central African Republic, and was instrumental in the signing of the Mozambique peace accords in 1992. 

The Pope previously postponed a planned 2017 South Sudan trip with Justin Welby, the head of the Anglican Church. Most media assumed that decision was based on the country being too dangerous to visit. But Welby told media the visit was postponed to ensure it would have the maximum impact in helping to establish peace. However, with the current, tentative ceasefire, the pope may visit to consolidate peace.

“You’re playing a heavyweight card and you have to get the timing right,” he said. “You don’t waste a card like that on anything that is not going to work.”

Others, however, remain deeply sceptical of how the Pope could visit.

“I see no way that the Pope could visit South Sudan,” says Berger. “The capital of Juba is a sad and troubled place these days. People have left for their villages, or neighbouring countries. Shops and hotels have closed. The town is heavily militarised and there is hunger everywhere.”

Whether the Pope would have a lasting impact, if he comes, remains to be seen. But current events indicate why the SSCC think it worth his trying, as the world’s youngest state remains afflicted by war and famine, and mired in an almost constant state of humanitarian crisis.     

“More exhortations to the antagonists to stop fighting are largely a waste of breath,” Winter says.

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HE Amr Moussa: “It is our common responsibility to harness the collective energy of religions, creeds and value systems”http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/amr-moussa-common-responsibility-harness-collective-energy-religions-creeds-value-systems/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=amr-moussa-common-responsibility-harness-collective-energy-religions-creeds-value-systems http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/amr-moussa-common-responsibility-harness-collective-energy-religions-creeds-value-systems/#respond Thu, 28 Jun 2018 19:56:05 +0000 Geneva Centre http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156455 On 25 June 2018, the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue organized a World Conference on the theme of “Religions, Creeds and Value Systems: Joining Forces to Enhance Equal Citizenship Rights” at the United Nations Office at Geneva in collaboration with the International Catholic Migration Commission, the Arab Thought Forum, the World […]

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By Geneva Centre
GENEVA, Jun 28 2018 (Geneva Centre)

On 25 June 2018, the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue organized a World Conference on the theme of “Religions, Creeds and Value Systems: Joining Forces to Enhance Equal Citizenship Rights” at the United Nations Office at Geneva in collaboration with the International Catholic Migration Commission, the Arab Thought Forum, the World Council of Churches, the World Council of Religious Leaders, Bridges to Common Ground and the European Centre for Peace and Development.

The World Conference – held under the patronage of His Royal Highness Prince El Hassan bin Talal of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan – was addressed by more than 35 world-renowned religious, political and lay leaders from the major regions of the world.

In his statement, HE Amr Moussa – former Foreign Minister of Egypt and former Secretary General of the Arab League – called for ‘dialogue with honesty’ between religions leaders and politicians so as to address today’s challenges related to the enjoyment of equal citizenship rights.

According to HE Moussa, political trends and negative connotations, related to the biases of different parties, impede efficient policy-making. Identifying solutions to enhance the effective enjoyment of equal citizenship rights should be based on the spirit of good faith, cooperation and interactive dialogue between various parties. He said:

The issue of crisis of religions is suffering from the currents and under-currents going in different ways, or at cross-purposes. Currents are clearly working together trying to find a way out of the crisis we have. Under-currents are perhaps encouraging or financing the negative activities that are producing the problem. The problem is not in the streets between simple people or between the Quran, the Bible and Torah or between any other philosophies: the problem is between the practitioners.

That’s why we need dialogue with honesty because the situation is really going from bad to worse: the lack of truth, honesty and not reaching the people at grassroots level.”

HE Moussa concluded his statement underlining that it is “our common responsibility to harness the collective energy of religions, creeds and value systems” to promote their authentic meanings and address the instrumentalisation of religions. “All human beings belong to one family,” he asserted.

—-ENDS—-


About the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

The Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, an organization with special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, is a think tank dedicated to the promotion of human rights through cross-cultural, religious and civilizational dialogue between the Global North and Global South, and through training of the upcoming generations of stakeholders in the Arab region. Its aim is to act as a platform for dialogue between a variety of stakeholders involved in the promotion and protection of human rights.

CONTACTS MEDIA:

Blerim Mustafa
Junior project and communications officer
Email: bmustafa@gchragd.org
Phone number: +41 (0) 22 748 27 95

Teodora Popa
Project officer
Email: tpopa@gchragd.org
Phone number: +41 (0) 22 748 27 86

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Wider Views for More Equal Societieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/wider-views-equal-societies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=wider-views-equal-societies http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/wider-views-equal-societies/#comments Wed, 02 May 2018 01:08:45 +0000 Oscar A. Garcia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155570 Inequalities are on the rise. Since 1980, 1% of the richest people have received double income than the 50% of the poorest. After several years of decline, hunger is also on the rise. The report on the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World estimates that the number of chronically undernourished people in […]

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By Oscar A. Garcia*
ROME, May 2 2018 (IPS)

Inequalities are on the rise. Since 1980, 1% of the richest people have received double income than the 50% of the poorest. After several years of decline, hunger is also on the rise. The report on the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World estimates that the number of chronically undernourished people in the world increased from 777 million in 2015 to 815 million in 2016. If we go deeper into the analysis we observe that three-quarters of the world’s extremely poor and food-insecure people live in rural areas.

Oscar A. Garcia

Poorest and excluded

Along the path to economic growth, millions of people are excluded. They are individuals who belong to groups that are discriminated against and excluded within their own societies. This discrimination may be on grounds of religion, ethnicity, gender and/or disability. Inequalities are multi-dimensional, multi-layered and cumulative; untangling such complexities is a challenge we must act on. Without understanding the root causes of inequalities, we cannot remove the inequalities themselves, along with the immense barriers they create and which prevent the world’s poorest – those at the “bottom of the pyramid” – from thriving. Without transforming the restrictions that reinforce the deep-seated causes of chronic poverty, substantial progress is unlikely.

Comprehensive analysis to enlighten the path

The discourse needs to shift its focus to the structural issues of inequality, whether economic, political or social. Why is it that tens of millions of people are without clean water? Why is it that poor women do not have access to land? Why is that millions are without food and adequate living conditions? The answers and the realities go far deeper than the issue of poverty alone, and we must arrive at the last corner of those realities and the spaces where people are discriminated against.

Countering inequalities requires robust evidence and more disaggregated data. It also requires going beyond traditional approaches. We need to improve our analytical frameworks, ask the right evaluation questions, talk to poor people and understand their needs, based on which a revitalized development agenda on inequality will emerge. High levels of inequalities can be brought down if we are able to create redistributive policies geared toward shared prosperity, social justice, and democracy for all people.

These and other issues will be discussed at the International Conference “Rural Inequalities: Evaluating approaches to overcome disparities“, organized by the Independent Office of Evaluation of IFAD, and held on 2-3 May in Rome.

*Oscar A. Garcia, is Director of the Independent Office of Evaluation of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, IFAD, a specialized agency of the United Nations.

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The Nowhere People: Rohingyas in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/nowhere-people-rohingyas-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nowhere-people-rohingyas-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/nowhere-people-rohingyas-india/#respond Wed, 25 Apr 2018 00:04:26 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155451 A devastating fire in a shanty at Kalindi Kunj, a New Delhi suburb, that gutted the homes of 226 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, including 100 women and 50 children, has trained a spotlight on India’s ad hoc policy on international migrants. Already persecuted in their country of origin, Rohingyas — the largest stateless population in […]

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Rohingya refugees in India face discrimination and threats of deportation back to Myanmar. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Rohingya refugees in India face discrimination and threats of deportation back to Myanmar. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Apr 25 2018 (IPS)

A devastating fire in a shanty at Kalindi Kunj, a New Delhi suburb, that gutted the homes of 226 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, including 100 women and 50 children, has trained a spotlight on India’s ad hoc policy on international migrants.

Already persecuted in their country of origin, Rohingyas — the largest stateless population in the world at three million — have found shelter across vast swathes of Asia including in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand and Malaysia. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), there are more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh alone, who now face the onset of the monsoon season in flimsy shelters."As a big regional player, the refugee crisis presents India with a unique opportunity to set an example and work out a long-term resolution to this humanitarian crisis." --Dr. Ranjan Biswas

Demographers note that the Rohingyas’ displacement, while on a particularly dramatic scale, is illustrative of a larger global trend. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the world is witnessing the highest level of displacement on record with 22.5 million refugees, over half of them under 18, languishing in different parts of the world in search of a normal life.

Often referred to as the boat people – because they journey in packed boats to escape their homeland — around 40,000 Rohingyas have trickled into India over the past three years to cities like New Delhi, Jaipur, Hyderabad and Jammu where their population is the largest. Some had settled in the Kalindi Kunj camp that was set up in 2012 by a non-profit on a 150-odd square metre plot that it owns.

The camp’s occupants worked as daily wage labourers or were employed with private companies. A few even ran kirana (grocery) kiosks near the camp. Most of these refugees had landed in Delhi after failed stints in Rohingya camps in Bangladesh or Jammu (a northern Indian city), where they were repeatedly targeted by radical Hindu groups.

Nurudddin, 56, who lost all his belongings and papers in the Kalindi Kunj fire, told IPS that he has been living like a vagabond since he fled Myanmar with his wife and four children in 2016. “We left Myanmar to go to Bangladesh but we faced a lot of hardships there too. I couldn’t get a job, there was no proper food or accommodation. We arrived in Delhi last year with a lot of hope but so far things haven’t been going too well here either,” said the frail man with a grey beard.

Following the Kalindi Kunj fire, and public complaints about the government’s neglect of Rohingya camps, the Supreme Court intervened. On April 9, the apex court asked the Centre to file a comprehensive status report in four weeks on the civic amenities at two Rohingya camps in Delhi and Haryana, following allegations that basic facilities like drinking water and toilets were missing from these settlements.

Senior Supreme Court lawyer, Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the Rohingyas told the court that the refugees were being subjected to discrimination with regard to basic amenities. However, this was refuted by Additional Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta who, appearing for the Centre said there was no discrimination against the Rohingyas. The court will again take up the matter on May 9.

A Rohingya campsite in New Delhi. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

A Rohingya campsite in New Delhi. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

The Rohingya issue entered mainstream public discourse last August when the ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party government abruptly asked the country’s 29 states to identify illegal immigrants for deportation –  including, the guidance said, Rohingya Muslims who had fled Myanmar.

“As per available estimates there are around 40,000 Rohingyas living illegally in the country,” India’s junior home minister Kiren Rijiju then told Parliament: “The government has issued detailed instructions for deportation of illegal foreign nationals including Rohingyas.”

In its affidavit filed before the Supreme Court, the Centre claimed that Rohingya refugees posed a “serious national security threat” and that their deportation was in the “larger interest” of the country. It also asked the court to “decline its interference” in the matter.

The Centre’s decision to deport the Rohingyas attracted domestic as well as global opprobrium. “It is both unprecedented and impractical,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, told Scroll.in. “It is unprecedented because India has never been unwelcoming of refugees, let alone conducting such mass deportation,” she said. “And I would call it impractical because where would they [the Indian government] send these people? They have no passports and the Myanmar government is not going to accept them as legitimate citizens.”

Some critics also pointed out that the Rohingyas were being targeted by the ruling Hindu Bhartiya Janata Party government because they were Muslims, an allegation the Centre has refuted.

Parallels have also been drawn with refugees from other countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan who have comfortably made India their home over the years. However, to keep a strict vigil against the Rohingyas’ influx, the Indian government has specially stationed 6,000 soldiers on the India-Bangladesh border.

Activists say that despite thousands of refugees and asylum seekers (204,600 in 2011 as per the Central government) already living in India, refugees’ rights are a grey area. An overarching feeling is that refugees pose a security threat and create demographic imbalances. A domestic legal framework to extend basic rights to refugees is also missing.

Since the government’s crackdown, Rohingya groups have been lobbying to thwart their deportation to their native land. In a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court of India titled Mohammed Salimullah vs Union of India (Writ Petition no. 793 of 2017), they have demanded that they be allowed to stay on in India.

However, the government has contented that the plea of the petitioner is untenable, on grounds that India is not a signatory to the UN Convention of 1951. The convention relates to the status of refugees, and the Protocol of 1967, under the principle of non-refoulement. This principle states that refugees will not be deported to a country where they face threat of persecution. The matter is now in the Supreme Court of India which is saddled with the onerous task of balancing national security with the human rights of the refugees.

However, as Shubha Goswami, a senior advocate with the High Court points out, while India may not have signed the refugee convention, it is still co-signatory to many other important international conventions like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which includes the principle of non-refoulement, and it is legally binding that India provide for the Rohingyas.

There’s growing public opinion as well that the government should embrace and empower these hapless people.

“Rather than resent their presence, India should accept the Rohingyas as it has other migrants,” elaborates Dr. Ranjan Biswas, ex-professor sociology, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. “As a big regional player, the refugee crisis presents India with a unique opportunity to set an example and work out a long-term resolution to this humanitarian crisis which will usher in peace and stability in the region.”

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Removing Hate from Sermonshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/removing-hate-sermons/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=removing-hate-sermons http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/removing-hate-sermons/#comments Wed, 28 Mar 2018 14:14:30 +0000 Rafia Zakaria http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155085 It has been nearly 10 years since an angry mob raged through the streets of Gojra in the early morning hours of Aug 1, 2009. The trouble had begun the day before, Friday, when certain xenophobic clerics had incited Muslim villagers, citing rumours about the desecration of religious verses. On that grim day, around 10 […]

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By Rafia Zakaria
Mar 28 2018 (Dawn, Pakistan)

It has been nearly 10 years since an angry mob raged through the streets of Gojra in the early morning hours of Aug 1, 2009. The trouble had begun the day before, Friday, when certain xenophobic clerics had incited Muslim villagers, citing rumours about the desecration of religious verses. On that grim day, around 10 Christians were burned alive.

Rafia Zakaria

Rafia Zakaria

The television news footage showed houses on fire, burnt furniture scattered on the streets. Gunshots still rang out through the air; it appeared that people were shooting at each other from the rooftops.

Later on, when the dead and injured were counted, when the politicians woke up and began to offer their thoughts and prayers, the tragic toll, besides the number of dead and injured, would become apparent: a community devastated by the anger of a mob motivated by hate.

There have been other incidents of hate and of sectarian violence since Gojra. And like Gojra, some have begun on Friday afternoons, after a preacher harbouring extremist views has riled up the fervour and sensitivities of the crowd before him. There have been times when such angry mobs have killed; or, if they have not, they have demanded murder or defended murderers.

Those who use freedom to abridge and destroy the freedom of others must not be permitted to do so.

For a very long time, there has been no accountability, no real means of connecting the men who are accused of preaching hate to a congregation of faithfuls to the incensed mobs that then march out into the streets. It has been assumed that the men standing at the pulpit, delivering the sermons, can do no wrong, can say no wrong, are disconnected from the rising levels of animosity and hatred that is, tragically, on the increase in many parts of the country.

Until this March, it did seem that little would change when it came to sermons inciting hatred and delivered by a section of clerics. On March 2 this year, the government, specifically the interior ministry, announced that it was considering 44 subjects that would be considered permissible topics for Friday sermons. The plan would be disseminated among the 1003 mosques in the Islamabad area as a pilot project.

According to officials of the National Counter Terrorism Authority, or Nacta, which collaborated to create the project, the plan has been developed after looking at similar plans implemented in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In all of those countries, appropriate themes have been given to clerics who prepare their Friday sermons in accordance with the directives.

On March 25, the committee overseeing the plan announced that it would be implemented and that the government would, in fact, be issuing a list of permissible themes to be addressed at the Friday sermon.

While many clerics in Islamabad have expectedly opposed the plan, insisting that the religious institutions and mosques in the city are controlled by the Auqaf department and not the capital’s administration, the committee that has decided to implement the plan contains representatives from both the Auqaf department and the administration.

The monitoring of the sermons (to ensure that clerics are complying with the approved themes) will be carried out by the Auqaf department, the capital administration and the Special Branch of the Islamabad Police.

In the days and weeks to come there are likely to be many obstacles to this sort of directive.

Over the years, while many other facets of Pakistani life have been circumscribed — made subject to diktats and directives, just laws and sometimes unjust laws, the whims of military rulers, the eccentricities of democratic rulers — the clergy has faced none. Some clerics who purport to represent the majority of Pakistanis have taken it upon themselves to issue directives and incite extremism.

The involvement of Nacta illustrates this — in hundreds, possibly even thousands, of mosques, clerics urge support for extremist thought, even violence, whilst ignoring the reality that thousands of Pakistanis have died as a result of violent tactics.

For too long, hate-filled clerics have remained above the law, able to operate with impunity.

Freedom is a great thing, particularly in relation to faith. However, in this case, the freedom accorded to clerics has been used to abridge the freedom of so many Pakistanis to practise their own faith and in their own way. Those who use freedom to abridge and destroy the freedom of others must not be permitted to do so; they can only be seen as the enemies of freedom itself, and they must not be allowed to misuse their authority in religious matters.

This monitoring and theme-implementation project will, at its inception, only be operative in Islamabad. The Special Branch has the capacity to implement the plan and monitor it. Close monitoring is essential to ensure that mosque leaders see that this is not a symbolic move.

In terms of the programme’s implementation in the rest of the country, there will be a need to enhance the monitoring abilities of the police. In this age of closed-circuit television, however, actual people may not be necessary to identify those who are not complying with the interior ministry’s approved themes. The directive could simply require that all mosques submit a text of the Friday sermon in written form prior to delivery and a recording following it.

The regulation of Friday sermons and the development of a code of conduct that ensures that our religious institutions are not abused or made into hotbeds of inciting hatred is crucial to the welfare of Pakistan. A mosque is a place for prayer and reverence, and the monitoring and regulation of Friday sermons will ensure that it can continue to be sacred and respected.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.
rafia.zakaria@gmail.com

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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For the First Time, Buddhist Prelate in State Delegationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/first-time-buddhist-prelate-state-delegation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=first-time-buddhist-prelate-state-delegation http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/first-time-buddhist-prelate-state-delegation/#respond Sun, 25 Mar 2018 15:51:51 +0000 Sunday Times http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155096 Sri Lanka’s foreign policy initiatives have gone one notch higher with the inclusion of a member of the Buddhist clergy in a delegation for top level talks between President Maithripala Sirisena and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. This is the first time in seven decades that a cleric has been included in an official delegation […]

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By From the Sunday Times, Sri Lanka
Mar 25 2018 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)

Sri Lanka’s foreign policy initiatives have gone one notch higher with the inclusion of a member of the Buddhist clergy in a delegation for top level talks between President Maithripala Sirisena and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

This is the first time in seven decades that a cleric has been included in an official delegation by a head of state or head of government, said a Foreign Ministry official who did not wish to be named. He is Ven. Ulapane Sumangala Thera.

Ven. Sumangala Thera does not hold any official Government position but is an activist against corruption and drug abuse. He is the chief incumbent of the Dharmayathana Temple in Narahenpita. He also serves in the 30 member council of Buddhist intellectual leaders named by President Sirisena.

This story was originally published by The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka

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The Expanding Phenomenon of Religious and Nationalist Extremismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/expanding-phenomenon-religious-nationalist-extremism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=expanding-phenomenon-religious-nationalist-extremism http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/expanding-phenomenon-religious-nationalist-extremism/#respond Thu, 15 Mar 2018 07:12:11 +0000 Brig Gen Shahedul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154845 The attack on Dr Zafar Iqbal on March 3, only proves that religiously motivated extremism of the violent type, whether manifested in individual or group actions, continues to find its practitioners in society. And we are at a loss to determine how best to combat them effectively. The scourge is not a new phenomenon, nor […]

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By Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan ndc, psc (Retd)
Mar 15 2018 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The attack on Dr Zafar Iqbal on March 3, only proves that religiously motivated extremism of the violent type, whether manifested in individual or group actions, continues to find its practitioners in society. And we are at a loss to determine how best to combat them effectively. The scourge is not a new phenomenon, nor unique to our country, but it has gained in salience in recent times.

SOURCE: THE BRISTOL CABLE

It would be appropriate at this point to dwell briefly on the rise of religious/nationalist extremism in order to put the issue in a broader perspective of the region.

The current spate of this phenomenon is not the exclusive preserve of the Islamists. There are other hues of this exclusivist ideology. Some term it as rabid nationalism or nativism. What has been happening without our knowledge while we have been occupied with tackling Muslim extremists is the growth of extreme nationalist fervour of another kind on both sides of our borders. Even more worrisome is that, while in Bangladesh we can take comfort in the fact that the Islamic groups here have not been allowed to morph into a politically significant force, because of the secular psyche of the majority Bengalis, in both India and Myanmar—India in particular—the liberal and secular way of life is being gradually overtaken by another form of extremism where people in saffron are calling the shots. It cannot be lost on the discerning liberals that extremists in one country take comfort in the rise of their kind in neighbouring countries. That, they think, not only justifies but reinforces their existence. In Myanmar too the “Buddhist bin Ladens” have garnered enough strength to influence the ruling junta. Government sponsorship of these groups is very evident in the fact that when political dissent of any kind is prohibited in Myanmar, thousands of Buddhist monks openly flaunt their pathological dislike for a particular ethnic group boldly, proclaiming that any supporter of the Rohingya is their enemy. These demonstrations, when the Myanmar military is engaged in Rohingya pogrom, are significant.

But let us shift focus to our own country.

The attack on Dr Iqbal, apparently by a single individual, mimics the “lone wolf” syndrome. But in this particular case it is difficult to say with certainty if he was actually acting entirely on his own convictions. If that be so what motivated him to attempt to take another man’s life and declare him “anti-Muslim”? One wonders if he has read any of Dr Iqbal’s writings or heard his speeches seriously enough to make his conclusion. And even if the narratives did not agree with his views, can he really seek recourse to as extreme an action like killing a man? This is the fundamental question that confronts our society, and it must be tackled immediately. But, can whatever strategy that we might devise, if we are able to put together a cogent workable plan at all, really see an end to the phenomenon completely?

The question is prompted by the fact that combating violence, is not quite the same as fighting violence motivated by ideas rooted in misperceptions and distortions of truth, and projecting narratives from the scriptures totally out of context.

Ideological extremism has the uncanny capacity of self-perpetuation, fed by minds that are at best ill-educated. An uneducated or even half-educated mind is malleable particularly when religion, or misinterpretation of it, to be more exact, is used as the means to bend the mind. And that is more so in the case of individuals who may not belong to any particular extremist or jihadi organisation but is self-radicalised, motivated by what one comes across in the various media platforms and the activities of the violent radical organisations or individuals inside and outside his country. And in the age of the IT, propagation of thoughts, most often distorted to influence the minds of people like Faizur, has become so much simpler. No wonder the internet and the online platforms have added another new dimension to warfare to the already existing three. In addition to land, air and sea, the strategic planners have to factor in the online battle in their plans.

Some experts totally discount the notion of the “lone wolf”. They opine that anyone who is stimulated by any group to resort to violence in the society, makes him or her a part of the group, at least ideologically if not organically. But be what the nature of that link may, that individuals and groups use religion to infuse violence in the society for a political end is enough reason for us to address the issue seriously, particularly how we approach the issue of religion in the context of the phenomenon that we are seeking to neutralise.

The two issues we have to contend with in this regard is the distortion of religion by extremist groups to instigate others to perpetrate violence, and individuals who become the arbiter and the judge, jury and executioner, basing his verdict, as in this case where Dr Zafar Iqbal was declared anti-Muslim by his attacker, on his own interpretation of Islam due to his poor knowledge about the religion.

The question is how we position ourselves best to face this situation. This relates to religion, and one feels that there ought to be open discourse on such matters which should not be restricted to the confines of the mosques or places of worship, or the four walls of one’s home, but be a matter of discourse in other social forums also. We need more of open discussions on it, not less.

Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan, ndc, psc (Retd) is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Panel Debate During the 37th Regular Session of the 2018 UN Human Rights Council: The Headscarf Represents a Source of Commonality Between Islam, Christianity and Judaismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/panel-debate-37th-regular-session-2018-un-human-rights-council-headscarf-represents-source-commonality-islam-christianity-judaism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=panel-debate-37th-regular-session-2018-un-human-rights-council-headscarf-represents-source-commonality-islam-christianity-judaism http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/panel-debate-37th-regular-session-2018-un-human-rights-council-headscarf-represents-source-commonality-islam-christianity-judaism/#respond Fri, 23 Feb 2018 20:39:58 +0000 Geneva Centre http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154475 Renowned experts representing the Islamic, Christian and Jewish traditions concluded that the headscarf is a source of commonality between the three main Abrahamic religions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism. The joint call to action was made during a panel debate organized by the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (hereinafter “the Geneva Centre”) […]

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By Geneva Centre
GENEVA, Feb 23 2018 (Geneva Centre)

Renowned experts representing the Islamic, Christian and Jewish traditions concluded that the headscarf is a source of commonality between the three main Abrahamic religions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism. The joint call to action was made during a panel debate organized by the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (hereinafter “the Geneva Centre”) and the Permanent Mission of People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria to UN Geneva on 23 February 2018 – on the margins of the 37th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council (26 February to 23 March 2018 ) – at the United Nations Office in Geneva on the theme of “Veiling/Unveiling: The Headscarf in Christianity, Islam and Judaism.”

The objective of the panel debate was to deconstruct existing myths regarding the use of the headscarf and its politicization in modern societies. It likewise aimed to explore the role of the headscarf as a source of unity and communality between different cultures and religions worldwide.

The moderator of the panel debate – the Geneva Centre’s Executive Director Ambassador Idriss Jazairy – observed that the objective of the debate and of the exhibition is to address stereotypical views on the use of the veil and “reveal the headscarf as a connecting thread and an element of convergence in Christianity, Islam and Judaism. The headscarf represents commonality, rather than discord; it should connect and build bridges between cultures, rather than divide. It has played an important role in defining identities in all three Abrahamic religions.”

The Geneva Centre’s Executive Director added in his statement that the use of the so-called “veil” must not become the subject of politicization and deny women their personal freedom of choice regarding the use of the headscarf. He said that “denying women their right to wear or not to wear the headscarf” violates Article 18 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. “Imposing it on women or prohibiting it by law represent a violation of their basic rights. The only way to defend women’s rights and to promote the advancement of their status is to respect their right to choose,“ said the Geneva Centre’s Executive Director.

During Ambassador Jazairy’s presentation, a video was projected to the audience in which showed the act of the Australian Senator Pauline Hanson in August 2017 to request the Attorney-General George Brandis to ban the use of the Islamic burqa in Australia. In this regard, the Executive Director of the Geneva Centre stated that this “display of Islamophobia and cultural insensitiveness” was an “illustration of the ways in which the Islamic headscarf is being manipulated for political ends.” The reply of the Australian Attorney-General – he said – condemning the “mockery of religious garments in the Australian Parliament” as he objected was a “symbol of Statesmanship,” according to Ambassador Jazairy.

The Deputy Permanent Representative of the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria Mr. Toufik Djouama said that a “degrading image about the Islamic headscarf” is being cultivated by numerous groups that believe in the “clash of civilizations.” The use of the veil – he said – is “a personal choice” taken by Muslim women. “Others see it as an attachment to their identity and cultural heritage. Others see it just as a traditional dress or a symbol of decency,” added the Deputy Permanent Representative in his statement.

In order to address prevailing stereotypes about the use of the headscarf, Mr. Djouama observed that promoting “dialogue, mutual understanding, respect of human rights and diversity” must remain key priorities for governments, civil society organizations and academia. The freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief in public – he concluded – as stipulated in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights must allow women to decide themselves whether to wear or not to wear the headscarf.

The use of the headscarf is a common tradition of humanity and a source of liberation for Muslim women

In her statement, Ms. Elisabeth Reichen-Amsler – the Director of the section “Church and society” within the Evangelical Reformed Church of the Neuchâtel Canton (EREN) – remarked that the use of the headscarf cannot be considered as solely belonging to Islam – as often presented in public discourse – as its roots can be traced back to ancient cultures in Mesopotamia, Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire and the birth of Christianity. “The obligation for married women to wear the headscarf was already mentioned in an ancient law written in 1120 B.C. by an Assyrian king,” said Ms. Reichen-Amsler.

In the letter of Paul of Tarsus to the Corinthians in Genesis 2:21 – she added – women were obliged to wear the headscarf. This obligation lasted for approximately 1900 years in Christianity. It was only during the 1960s that women were no longer obliged to wear the headscarf for religious purposes. This explains the different interpretations of Islam, Judaism and Christianity regarding the use of the headscarf.

She remarked as a Christian in her statement that “our multiculturalism can be a source of insecurity for some.” This can however trigger people’s interest in the Other – it was noted – but also in their own roots so as to compare differences and similarities between cultures and religions. Ms. Reichen-Amsler concluded that it is important to bridge gaps that exist between traditional and modern cultures and to “reflect on how we can respect each other while maintaining our individual freedom.”

Dr. Malika Hamidi – author of the book “Muslim feminism – why not?” – highlighted in her statement that feminist and secular movements in France had objected to the wearing of Islamic headscarves by Muslim women as it allegedly violated the right to their liberty and dignity. However, Dr. Hamidi remarked that numerous women in political and secular movements have recalled that there is “no contradiction between the headscarf and freedom” and “between the dignity and respectability of women.”

In this context, feminist movements in French-speaking Europe – she said – remain “shaken” by the fact that some Muslim women hold the view that the headscarf has “liberated them in their relationship with men and European societies.” “The fact that women are wearing headscarves, within the limits determined by Islam may allow them to gain more respect but represents a vector of social, political and cultural participation which is strongly questioned in the West,” she remarked.

Dr. Hamidi concluded her statement underlining that the headscarf is considered by a sizeable proportion of Muslim women as a condition for “feminist liberation” and as “a mode of existence and a way of being” which should allow Muslim women to have a voice in modern societies.

Dr. Valérie Rhein – an expert on theology holding a PhD in Judaism at the Institute of Jewish Studies, University of Bern – stated that the use of the headscarf is an ancient tradition of Judaism. It was a custom – she said – “for a Jewish bride to veil her face before the marriage ceremony” as this practice is mentioned in Genesis 24 of the Bible which describes the first encounter between Isaac and Rebekah.

She added that the Talmudic law – rooted in the concept of Zniut/Modesty – also required women to cover their hair after marriage as it symbolizes belonging to “observant Judaism” and of being married. It was also incumbent on men to wear a headgear (kippah) as it symbolises a “sign of respect” and a “relationship towards God.” She concluded her statement saying that the “more commandments a person has to fulfil, the better,” underlining that the use of the headscarf would be “considered a privilege.”

Addressing prejudice and intolerance must remain on the agenda of decision-makers

Following the intervention of the panellists, the moderator opened the floor to the audience. The counsellor for human rights of the Permanent Mission of Australia – Mr. Kevin Playford – welcomed the Centre’s comments on Australia and underlined that the “veil can often be misunderstood” as a symbol of religious expression. The act of the Australian Senator Pauline Hanson to wear a burqa in the Australian Parliament – he said – does not represent the true values of Australia. Her acts were meant to “marginalize the Muslim community” in Australia and were strongly condemned throughout the Australian society. “Australia is a country of rich multiculturalism and religious diversity and a tolerant and inclusive society,” stated Mr. Playford where one in four inhabitants were born overseas and one in two were either born abroad or had parents coming from overseas.

The Ambassador of the Permanent Delegation of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) H. E. Nassima Baghli asked the panellists to express their views on the restrictions on secularity in relation to the expression of people’s religious beliefs. Dr. Rhein said that different religious groups “must work together and fight for their rights” in order to address factors impeding their right to express their religious beliefs. Ms. Reichen-Amsler added in her statement that Switzerland is based on the ideal of inclusive secularity and not on secularism. “Everyone must be included because of their specificities” – she said – in order to allow members of society to live in peace.

H. E. Ambassador George Papadatos – the Head of European Public Law Organization’s delegation in Geneva – stated that the main triggering factors behind Islamophobia and the politicization of the use of the headscarf are ignorance and prejudice. Ignorance – he underlined – could be erased by disseminating information whereas prejudice requires a multifaceted approach to deal with its root-causes. In reaction to Ambassador Papadatos’ statement, Dr. Hamidi stated that access to education was hampered by not permitting girls to attend school while wearing a headscarf in some advanced countries. However, education had priority over concern of girl students to comply with tradition in terms of headwear.

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“No Time to Waste” in Ending FGMhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/no-time-waste-ending-fgm/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-time-waste-ending-fgm http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/no-time-waste-ending-fgm/#comments Wed, 07 Feb 2018 16:17:11 +0000 Will Higginbotham and Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154216 More than 200 million women around the world have experienced some kind of female genital mutilation (FGM) and more could be at risk, a UN agency said. Though the practice has declined in prevalence globally, alarming new figures from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) predict that any progress could be off-set as a further […]

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FGM is a taboo and complicated topic in Liberia and it is dangerous for women to speak out about it. Credit: Travis Lupick / IPS

By Will Higginbotham and Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 7 2018 (IPS)

More than 200 million women around the world have experienced some kind of female genital mutilation (FGM) and more could be at risk, a UN agency said.

Though the practice has declined in prevalence globally, alarming new figures from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) predict that any progress could be off-set as a further 68 million girls face the risk of FGM by 2030.

The statistics from the UN were unveiled today as the world marks the 15th International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

“The new figures mean that this practice is threatening the life and wellbeing of more girls and women than initially estimated,” the Coordinator of the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Program on FGM, Nafissatou Diop, told IPS.

“You and I and everybody and the girl next door can be affected,” she continued.

FGM – sometimes called female circumcision or being ‘cut’ — is often practiced for religious, personal, cultural, and coming of age purposes. According to the UN, most cases are inflicted upon girls from infancy to the age of 15.

The increase in ‘at risk of FGM’ cases is partly due to population growth in countries where FGM is common – namely in parts of northern and western Africa, the Middle East and pockets of Asia.

In Egypt alone, more than 90 parent of women have undergone the practice.

Both UNICEF and UNFPA denounce FGM, calling it a “violation of human rights’ and a “cruel practice” that inflicts emotional harm and preys on the most vulnerable in society.

“It is unconscionable that 68 million girls should be added to the 200 million women and girls in the world today who have already endured female genital mutilation,” they said.

Life-Changing Harm

FGM can cause lifelong trauma, including urinary and vaginal problems, increased risk of childbirth complications, and psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and low self-esteem.

Liesl Gerntholtz, Executive Director of the Women’s Right Division at Human Rights Watch, told IPS that the predicted 68 million FGM cases was “unacceptable”.

“It’s a fundamental human rights violation that can ruin girls’ lives,” she said. “So often these girls don’t have a say – at infancy and childhood, how can you?

“There is no health benefit to women being cut, so you tend to see it in those societies that don’t have high levels of gender equality…This practice is rooted in gender inequality,” she added.

FGM = Gender Inequality

Gerntholtz highlighted that in order to tackle the practice, the international community needs to look at not just the specific act of FGM, but at the broader issue of entrenched gender inequality.

“As an international community, we can fight FGM not only by supporting FGM-specific initiatives, but also by looking holistically at the gender inequality in these regions, so investing in programs that support girl’s rights, girls’ education, community education on these things – that’s also key.”

UNFPA’s Executive Director Natalia Kanem echoed similar sentiments, saying that the world already knows what it needs to do to overcome FGM.

“We know what works, targeted investments that changing social norms, practices and lives,” Kanem said

“Where social norms are confronted villages by village…when there is access to health, education and legal services…where girls and women are protected and empowered to make their voices heard.”

Change has particularly come from the community level.

Fourteen-year-old Latifatou Compaoré became an advocate for ending the practice after learning of her mother’s experience with FGM.

“She told me that one of the girls who had been cut the same day as her had experienced serious problems and died following a haemorrhage that no one had taken care of,” Compaoré told UNFPA.

“When she became a mom, she made the commitment that if she had girls, she would never cut them. And she kept her word,” she continued.

In countries where UNICEF and UNFPA work, some 18,000 communities have publicly disavowed the practice and many African countries have moved to implement legislation outlawing it.

For instance, in 2016 after Kenya banned FGM, FGM rates fell from 32 percent to 21 percent.

Accelerated Action Needed

But legislation and verbal commitments are not enough, according to UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

“Without concerted, accelerated action, we could see a further 68 million girls could be subjected to this harmful practice,” he cautioned.

Diop similarly called for more efforts in allocating financial and human resources.

The goal of curbing FGM is highlighted in the globally adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Its inclusion was praised because it was seen as an acknowledgement of the far-reaching consequences that FGM has – consequences that go beyond the individual to include social and economic repercussions for entire communities.

“Sustainable development cannot be achieved without full respect for the human rights of women and girls,” Guterres said in a statement.

The Secretary-General called upon governments to enact and enforce laws that protect the rights of girls and women and prevent FGM.

He also announced a new UN global initiative called the Spotlight Initiative which aims to create strong partnerships to end all forms of violence against women and girls.

“With the dignity, health and well-being of millions of girls at stake, there is no time to waste,” he said. “Together, we can and must end this harmful practice.”

*Marked annually on 6 February, the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation aims to strengthen momentum towards ending the practice which is globally recognized as a violation of the human rights of girls and women as well as perpetuates deep-rooted inequality between the sexes.

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