BUILDING BRIDGES, CROSSING THEM - Preventing Future Conflicts: Bridging the Divide between Nations through Interfaith Dialogue

Speech delivered at the International Conference on Human Security, held in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia organized by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Institute of Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad's Thoughts (IPDM), Universiti Utara Malaysia from 13 to 14 June 2006.

"O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into tribes and nations, that ye may know each other (not that you may despise each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you" (Quran 49:13)

Assalamualaikum. May Peace Peace be upon you.

If Almighty God established an Interplanetary Commission to investigate this planet, they will be shocked by our sheer irresponsibility - our Key Performance Index for "Planethood" would probably be between "poor" and "dismal".

Firstly, they would find an economy driven largely by what has been called "casino capitalism", "mad" or speculative money, pornography, military hardware, gambling, puerile entertainment and various kinds of criminal activities including massive corruption. The greatest growth indicators they will find will be the "Gross Criminal Product" (GCP) and the most interested phenomenon will include some of the cradles of money civilization - tax havens and creative accounting a la ENRON, World.com and others.

Secondly, they will find a society wrecked by violence and inequity.

  • 1 person commits suicide every 40 seconds
  • 1 persons is murdered every 60 seconds
  • 1 person is killed in war every 100 seconds and most of their ways are intrastate and most who die are civilians
  • We have billions for armaments and space explorations but not the dollars and sense for basic health, education and shelter for billions of people.

Thirdly, they will find an environment so destroyed that the air, water and soil is often taking paths of no return and leading communities of living things into self destruction sometimes called "ecocide".

The Commission will find among the littered landscape of our seemingly reckless and maddening approach to global human security and sustainable human development the root of our problem, the "Father of all Failures" is our lack of vision, an abundance of greed and hypocrisy, the lust for power - a planetary leadership failure marked by violence, manipulation and waste - a culture dominated by 3 kinds of Weapons:

1. Weapons of Mass Destruction - especially the nuclear.
2. Weapons of Mass Deception - Lies and Propaganda.
3. Weapons of Mass Consumption - leading to waste and obesity, oil and alcohol, junk foods and tobacco.

What can we do? What must we do?

First is the challenge of Peace - Peace with ourselves, Peace with other people and Peace with the environment.

Secondly is the challenge of Holistic Vision - Societies which are Socially Just, Ecologically Sustainable, Politically Participatory, Economically Productive and Culturally Vibrant.

Thirdly is the Challenge of Integrity - creating a culture where there is zero tolerance for dishonesty and hypocrisy.

Are there frameworks of action, of hope? Yes, there are.

I like to share briefly some springs of hope, some sparks of action that have inspired many of us who believe in being brothers and sisters in humanity. (The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has said "All Creatures are the family of God, and God loves most who loves His family")

Firstly, there is the movement for a Culture of Peace - we call it the Taiping Peace Initiative an interesting partnership between a town called Taiping, the University Sains Malaysia and the United Nations - it has lead to a peace park, workshops, including one on Peace Journalism, have been organized and you can pick up "99 Ways to Make Peace" from the foyer. (See www.everlastingpeace.net). Next month together with Service Civil International, there will be an international peace workcamp. We must invest in youth work on peace.

Secondly, there is Peace Malaysia and the Perdana Peace Forum that are leading a movement to make war illegal (see www.peacemalaysia.com and www.perdana4peace.org )

Thirdly, there is the Malaysian Interfaith Network (MIN) which draws inspiration from the "Rukunegara" and "Vision 2020" and has been spearheading the promotion of the Golden Rule; "Treat Others like You Wish to Be Treated" and "The Global Ethic" developed from the work of the World Parliament of Religions (see www.malaysianinterfaithnetwork.net and www.globalethicpenang.net). MIN recently worked on roundtables of Integrity, on Environment and Peace. It has worked closely with the Institute Integrity Malaysia and the United Nations Development Programe.

Fourthly, there were two unprecedented multicultural community exercises in Malaysia, One was called "The Penang Story" (see. www.penangstory.net.my) where over two years every community told us its life story from the Parsees to the Jews to the diverse Malays, Indians and Chinese and others - the stereotyping of groups was transcended to a new level of shared understanding. This was lead by the Penang Heritage Trust and the Star newspaper.

The other was called the "Sustainable Penang Initiative" where over 2 years community roundatables were held to develop a grassroots bottom up vision of social justice, ecological responsibility, popular participation, economic productivity and cultural vibrancy leading to a "People's Report Card". This was lead by the Socio-Economic and Environment Research Institute (SERI) and pioneered community based indicators in Malaysia.

Fifthly, there is the quiet but important work of groups like Insaf - the Interfaith Spiritual Fellowship and the Pure Life Society now lead by the venerable Mother Mangalam which over the years have brought people of different faiths together.

Sixthly, there are humanitarian groups like Mercy Malaysia and the Global Peace Mission that have had outstanding records of service across boundaries and are world leaders in their fields.

Seventhly, more university centres for studying peace are coming up and the most significant the Regional South East Asia Conflict Studies Network (SEACSN), is based in Penang at the Universiti Sains Malaysia which has done some remarkable groundwork on "Peaceful Values" and "Positive Peace" in Malaysia and has an inventory of experience from every major conflict in this region including networks of scholars who can play a key role in linking stakeholders into a constructive mode. Recently, together with Citizens International, USM hosted a dialogue on the conflict in southern Thailand (See www.citizensinternational.org). Also under consideration is a joint UNESCO Chair for Peace Studies with the University of Songkla.

Eighthly, the International Movement for a Just World (JUST) has instituted a campaign for a UN Convention on the Protection of Places of Worship.

Internationally, I would like to share 5 experiences

One is the World Social Forum - There are always Faith Groups interacting and one of the best documents I would like to shares in the Declaration of the Peoples Forum -"Another World Possible" that came out of the World Social Forum in Mumbai, India in 2004.

Secondly there is the Global Parliament of Religions which brought out one of the most - important documents in modern times - the "Declaration Toward a Global Ethic". In essence, it says "No Peace among the nations without peace among religions; No Peace among the religions without dialogue between the religions; No Dialogue between the religions without global standards; and No Survival of our globe without a global ethic".

Thirdly, in August this year Kyoto will be hosting the 8th World Assembly of Religions for Peace - the theme this year is "Confronting Violence & Advancing Shared Security". The moderator is His Royal Highness Prince El Hassan bin Talal, of Jordon. He calls for a "Shared Security" that can unite us all.

The words of the Secretary General of the Conference Dr. W Vendcey are special.

"The world's religions are the deepest living memories if what it means to be a human being". Each religion - in its own way - calls its believers to "care". Care calls us to act!
In Religions for Peace, the worlds religious communities come together to identify shares cares. Then they take Action together. Together, the religious communities are doing what no one of them could do alone: mediating violent conflicts, building peace and working in the frontlines of poverty and disease.
They are then building action partnerships across every sector of Society".

There are special sessions for Youth and Women.

Fourthly, the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), it has a wonderful document on Faith and Nature called "The Ohito declaration on Religions, Land and Conservation and some excellent publications.

Fifthly, all of us have to work together for a stronger United Nations system that work for human security. As someone once said it may not take us to haven, but it may save us from hell!

So Where Do We Go?

There is much that is bad but there are also inspirational initiatives. What is abundantly clear is that there is much to be done and it is serious business.
There is so much negativeness - to use the "Shock and Awe" language or pyrotechnics there are 3 kinds of "plosions":-

First the "implosions" - Anger building on anger!
Second "the explosions" - Hate building on hate!
Third the "displosions" - the breaking down of the spirit of community of caring, of shared humanness.

Malaysia has much to offer in a world that is prone to denial and destruction. There lessons are we need to be constructive, proactive and thinking long distance!

I have five suggestions:-

Let us firstly, become a world leader on Dialogue between Faiths and set up a World Forum regularly for that which will focus on action through partnership - much like the Langkawi Business Dialogues. I propose this be called "The Hadhari Dialogue" taking the cue from the Prime Ministers launch of Hadhari Islam or Civilization Islam.

Our diversity, our "open houses" and openness as a nation that a truly Asia and truly Global make is a model United Nations. Let us play that role as a follow up to our leadership of the OIC and NAM. It should be a multi stake holder event and focused on what our religion and spirituality can do for Equity, Ecology and Integrity for example.

Secondly, let us set up in Malaysia a World Peace Centre that promises, protects and supports the ideas of peace and justice, compassion and mercy and teaches "walking the talk" on Peace.

Thirdly, we can have programmes for all faiths taking action together on United Nation's Days on for example on Environment, Biodiversity, Peace, Women, Children and Human Rights. (See www.daysofaction.net for "ideas" and www.peacespeaks.net for inspiration).

Fourthly, let us also work to restore the UN and Multilaterism as a force for Good Global Governance taking the cue from the UN Charter which begins with "We the Peoples …"

Fifthly, let us become better listeners! The Chinese word for it is "Ting" and it is made up of three characters - the ear, the eye and the heart! It is this kind of listening that promotes civilised debate and more importantly, to dialogue.

Islam means to me Peace and Justice, Compassion and mercy, listening and learning, creativity and integrity. It means to me a submission to a wholeness, a completeness and a comprehensiveness for all of humanity.

Yet sadly, one of the greatest obstacles is the denigration and demonisation of Islam that seem the desperate strategy of the super rogues of the world and those who speak of human rights and yet engage massively in torture and state terrorism. Let us people of all faith challenge show that by peaceful means by caring for all humanity, for that is the essence of Islam, and the essence is of people of real faith in humanity, justice and peace.

I would like to end with a poem "Remember We Are One" that I wrote for a book "Prayers for a Thousand Years" :-

We Are One

We all drink from one water
We all breathe from one air
We rise from one ocean
And we live under one sky

We are one

The new born baby cries the same
The laughter of children is universal
Everyone's blood is red
And our hearts beat the same song

We are one

We are all bothers and sisters
Only one family, only one earth
Together we live
And together we die

We are one

We are one

Peace be on you
Brothers and Sisters
Peace be on you.

Thank You




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