By Robert C. Henderson
Once again our hearts are broken by acts of senseless violence—murders driven by the cancerous madness of racism. And once again the scene is a church, where God fearing souls gathered for Bible study and worship—spiritual fellowship and love, were taken from their families and friends in the vain hope of prompting a racial holy war.
While families and friends grieve and forgive, people of good will and faith offer support and prayers, and politicians make statements, Americans would benefit from deep reflection on the underlying cause of racial division, the heavy price we pay for hate, and the rising sun of racial amity and concord slowly illuminating the darkness of our divided past.
For devastating as they are, these savage acts of violence against innocent souls can neither alter nor prevent the slowly growing acceptance of the oneness of humankind and the reordering of social life to accommodate the requirements of equality.
Throughout America, studies show that interracial cooperation is rising in virtually every aspect of social life. Interracial children are among the fastest growing populations in the country. Faith communities, work places, social organizations, and neighborhoods are all rapidly diversifying; while significant percentages of all groups are marrying people of different colors.
We weep for Charleston, but we must never lose sight of the real change gaining momentum in America: race hate is dying and race amity is our future.
To focus our reflections we offer a few excerpts from “The Vision of Race Unity—America’s Most Challenging Issue,” a statement by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States.
(The statement can be read in its entirety at www.usbahai.org)
Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. –The Baha’i Writings
Racism is the most challenging issue confronting America. A nation whose ancestry includes every people on earth, whose motto is E pluribus Unum, whose ideals of freedom under law have inspired millions throughout the world, cannot continue to harbor prejudice against any racial or ethnic group without betraying itself. Racism is an affront to human dignity, a cause of hatred and division, a disease that devastates society…
Notwithstanding the efforts already expended for its elimination, racism continues to work its evil upon this nation. Progress toward tolerance, mutual respect, and unity has been painfully slow and marked with repeated setbacks. The recent resurgence of divisive racial attitudes, the increased number of racial incidents, and the deepening despair of minorities and the poor make the need for solutions ever more pressing and urgent. To ignore the problem is to expose the country to physical, moral and spiritual danger…
Having gone through the stages of infancy and turbulent adolescence, humanity is now approaching maturity, a stage that will witness “the reconstruction and demilitarization of the whole civilized world–a world organically unified in all the essential aspects of its life.”
In no other country is the promise of organic unity more immediately demonstrable than in the United States because this country is a microcosm of the diverse populations of the earth. Yet this promise remains largely unrealized even here because of the endemic racism that, like a cancer, is corroding the vitals of the nation…
The application of the spiritual principle of the oneness of humanity to the life of the nation would necessitate and make possible vast changes in the economic status of the non-white segments of the population. Although poverty afflicts members of all races, its victims tend to be largely people of color. Prejudice and discrimination have created a disparity in standards of living, providing some with excessive economic advantage while denying others the bare necessities for leading healthy and dignified lives. Poor housing, deficient diet, inadequate health care, insufficient education are consequences of poverty that afflict African Americans, American Indians, and Hispanic Americans more than they afflict the rest of the population. The cost to society at large is heavy…
The persistent neglect by the governing bodies and the masses of the American people of the ravages of racism jeopardizes both the internal order and the national security of the country.
From the day it was born the United States embraced a set of contradictory values. The founding fathers proclaimed their devotion to the highest principles of equality and justice yet enshrined slavery in the Constitution. Slavery poisoned the mind and heart of the nation and would not be abolished without a bloody civil war that nearly destroyed the young republic. The evil consequences of slavery are still visible in this land. They continue to affect the behavior of both Black and White Americans and prevent the healing of old wounds…
Our appeal is addressed primarily to the individual American because the transformation of a whole nation ultimately depends on the initiative and change of character of the individuals who compose it. No great idea or plan of action by the government or other interested organizations can hope to succeed if the individual neglects to respond in his or her own way as personal circumstances and opportunities permit. And so we respectfully and urgently call upon our fellow Americans of whatever background to look at the racial situation with new eyes and with a new determination to lend effective support to the resolution of a problem that hinders the advance of this great republic toward the full realization of its glorious destiny…”
Robert C. Henderson is an elected member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States, the Baha’i Faith’s senior national administrative institution. Dr. Henderson also serves as a Developer and President of the Philanthropic Division of Baharicom Development Company, co-builder of the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE)/Uhurunet submarine cable system. In its planned configuration, the 17,000 km-long fiber optic cable will stretch from France to South Africa and will be operational in the first half of 2012, connecting 23 countries and providing broadband capacity grants to thousands of schools, hospitals and social development projects.
When it comes to climate change, Pope Francis and many other world religious leaders are cut from the same cloth.
When Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio became pope in 2013, the new pontiff took the name Francis in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi, the 13th-century preacher known for a great love of animals and nature. So maybe it’s no surprise that yesterday Pope Francis delivered the Roman Catholic Church’s first-ever encyclical on the environment—most notably, on climate change.
“The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all,” he wrote.
Catholics regard encyclicals, or official papal letters, as authoritative teachings on a particular subject. They’re meant to instruct as well to inspire action among the flock. And Francis’ flock is big—1.2 billion strong—but he’s hoping to prompt people of all creeds, at all levels of society, to join in the battle against climate change. World leaders will convene in Paris in December at the United Nations climate conference to hash out their countries’ carbon-reduction pledges.
Pope Francis will be in Paris, too, fighting for the actions he deems morally necessary to care for our “one single human family.” On that note, he is not the only faith leader who’s got climate on the mind. Here’s what the world’s other major religions have to say about the subject.
ISLAM (1.6 BILLION FOLLOWERS)
Environmental consciousness first took root in Islam in the 1970s, with many “green Muslims” turning to passages in the Koran that discussed the sacredness of nature. It wasn’t until 2009, however, that Sheikh Ali Gomaa, the Gran Mufti of Egypt—nicknamed the “Green Mufti”—announced a seven-year plan to make Islam more environmentally friendly. “Pollution and global warming pose an even greater threat than war, and the fight to preserve the environment could be the most positive way of bringing humanity together,” he said. Gomaa’s plan focused on Medina, Saudi Arabia, the religion’s second-holiest city, and included commitments to renewable energy and climate change education.
Despite these and other efforts by activists across the Muslim world, the voice of Islamic leaders has been conspicuously absent from the global dialogue on the issue. This is particularly troubling to some members of the faith since many traditionally Islamic countries are particularly prone to the impacts of climate change, such as drought and sea-level rise.
HINDUISM (1 BILLION)
As in Islam, Hindu scriptures allude strongly and often to the connection between humans and nature. These texts form the foundation of the Hindu Declaration on Climate Change, presented at a 2009 meeting of the Parliament of World Religions. In the statement, the authors accept that “centuries of rapacious exploitation of the planet have caught up with us” and state clearly that a radical change in our relationship to the planet is necessary for survival. The declaration also recognizes that “it may be too late to avert drastic climate change” and encourages compassionate responses to “such calamitous challenges as population displacement, food and water shortage, catastrophic weather, and rampant disease.”
PROTESTANTISM (814 MILLION)
Evangelical Protestants: Much of the non-Catholic Christian focus on climate change has centered on denial—global warming, they say, is a natural process brought about by God, not humans. Indeed, when public figures make spectacles of those beliefs (looking at you, Senator Inhofe), they’re hard to ignore.
One group of evangelicals known as the Cornwall Alliance is responsible for fueling much of such misinformation. “There is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming,” it stated in an official declaration in 2009. In April, the alliance responded directly to news of the upcoming encyclical with an open letter to Pope Francis outlining why “it is both unwise and unjust to adopt policies requiring reduced use of fossil fuels for energy” and encouraging the pope to “advise the world’s leaders to reject them.”
About 35 to 45 percent of all evangelicals, however, are not members of the denial choir. Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, for example, doesn’t find that her faith conflicts with the facts about human-induced global warming. “The Bible is actually very clear that there are consequences for making bad choices. Sow the seeds, bear the fruit. Climate change is the consequence of making some bad choices,” she says in a 2012 onEarth article about her efforts to reach out to her religious community. Associations like the Evangelical Climate Initiative and the National Association of Evangelicals* have also accepted that climate change is anthropogenic, and in 2013 more than 200 evangelical scientists released a letter calling on Congress to address climate change. “Our nation has entrusted you with political power; we plead with you to lead on this issue and enact policies this year that will protect our climate and help us all to be better stewards of Creation,” they wrote.
Mainline Protestants: Meanwhile, many other protestant denominations have made serious commitments to combating climate change, and the United Church of Christ leads the way. It issued a resolution in 2007 admitting “Christian complicity in the damage human beings have caused to the earth’s climate system,” and in 2013, it became the first U.S. denomination to divest from fossil fuels. Episcopalians, Anglicans, and Presbyterians have all addressed the global challenges of climate change. And in 2008, prominent leaders in the Southern Baptist Church, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States with 16 million adherents, challenged the denomination’s official stance by declaring that “humans must be proactive and take responsibility for our contributions to climate change—big and small.”
BUDDHISM (488 MILLION)
You know that climate change is a serious issue if the Dalai Lama is deeming it more pressing than Tibetan independence. In a 2011 conversation with the U.S. ambassador to India, the religious leader said that “melting glaciers, deforestation, and increasingly polluted water from mining projects” were problems that couldn’t wait.
Before that, as part of a scientifically grounded 2009 Buddhist declaration on climate change citing the “ecological consequences of our collective karma,” the Dalai Lama endorsed the 350-parts-per-million target for carbon emissions. More recently, in 2014, he addressed the dire need for climate action: “The worst possible aspect of climate change is that it will be irreversible and irrevocable. Therefore, there is the urgency to do whatever we can to protect the environment while we can.”
ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY (300 MILLION)
Similar to the Green Mufti, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the spiritual leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church since 1991, has earned the title of “Green Patriarch” for his dedication to environmental matters.
In 2002, Bartholomew, alongside the late Pope John Paul II, addressed the issue of environmental ethics and has since repeatedly spoken about the need to protect the environment. Last year, he delivered a message at the U.N. Interfaith Summit on Climate Change about embracing the urgency of the problem. “Each believer and each leader, each field and each discipline, each institution and each individual must be touched by the call to change our greedy ways and destructive habits.”
SIKHISM (27 MILLION)
Close to 80 percent of all Sikhs live in the Punjab region of India, an area already deeply affected by climate change. Punjab is the country’s breadbasket, and extreme drought is threatening farmers, not to mention the entire agricultural system. With this in mind, prominent Sikh leaders joined forces in 2009 to create EcoSikh, a group dedicated to “promoting care for the environment.” That year, a month before climate talks in Copenhagen, the group partnered with the United Nations and other faith groups and announced a five-year plan to help curb climate change.
Last September, EcoSikh issued an official statement on climate change, the first of its kind from a Sikh organization. “It is abundantly clear that our action had caused great damage to the atmosphere and is projected to cause even more damage if left unhandled,” it declared. “As Sikhs, we appeal to lawmakers, faith leaders, and citizens of the world to take concrete action toward reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment. As Sikhs we pledge to take concrete actions ourselves. We have a responsibility to follow our Gurus’ teachings and protect the vulnerable.”
JUDAISM (14 MILLION)
Many Jewish groups and individuals have been addressing environmental issues for years, but they have only started making official statements and calls to action on climate change in the past several years. In 2009, Commission on Social Action to the Union for Reform Judaism issued a resolution on the “unprecedented challenge of climate change due to greenhouse gas emissions” and need for urgent action.
But as the Forward reports, the People’s Climate March in September is what first catalyzed many Jewish groups—including Conservative, Renewal, and Reconstructionist—to support the event that called on leaders to come to a strong international agreement on climate change. The Orthodox movement has been a bit more reluctant, however. Its top organizations, the Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America, steered clear of the march, worrying it could get “politically hijacked.”
BAHA’I (7 MILLION)
The Baha’i faith centers on principles like unity, justice, equality, and altruism, and its teachings promote the agreement of science and religion. It is fitting, then, that the Baha’i International Community has been publicly addressing global warming for years. In a 2008 statement, the group highlighted the need for individual, community, national, and international responses to climate change, and in 2009 presented (along with EcoSikh) a seven-year action plan to confront the issue.
Last year, Peter Adriance, the representative for sustainable development for the Baha’is of the United States, spoke out in support of the Obama administration’s new rules limiting carbon pollution from power plants. “More than purely an environmental issue, the setting of carbon standards is an issue of fairness, equity, and justice,” he said. “My hope is that our generation will be able to leave the world directed toward a better future than the one toward which we are currently headed, a world in which all people will be able to lead safe, productive, and healthy lives.”
In 2013, the World Bank Group endorsed the dual goals of ending extreme poverty by 2030 and boosting the incomes of the bottom 40% around the world. Extreme poverty is already on the decline: In 1990, 36% of the world’s population were living in extreme poverty compared with just 18% in 2010, a 50% reduction. This would appear to bring the end of extremem poverty within reach. However, recognizing that it can’t achieve this goal alone, the World Bank has reached out to religious leaders, organization, and activists to help endorse this goal and ensure the project’s success.
On February 18, 2015, WBG President, Dr. Jim Yong Kim convened a large group of religious leaders to discuss these goals and create sustainable plans for the future. In preparation, a group of interfaith leaders drafted “Ending Extreme Poverty: A Moral and Spiritual Imperative,” a statement addressing the imperative for religious traditions to end extreme poverty.
As part of our commitment to fulfill the moral and spiritual imperative for ending extreme poverty, the Parliament has added its name to a list of 35 guiding institutions who have endorsed the World Bank’s call. To build upon the momentum of faith communities and individuals partnering on this effort, the Parliament encourages all communities and individuals working on economic justice issues to sign on. Your endorsement of this imperative will be included to the global list of like-minded people who are committed to achieving this goal.
Mitakuye Oyasin (all my relations),
On this June 21st, 2015 we as the Spiritual People, from the guidance of Great Spirit, will light our sacred fire of 20 years.
My heart is heavy as I share my feelings with each and every one of you; it feels as though humanity has gone too far. It was shown in a dream long ago, that we would come to a time in this global community, when we would have to unite at our Sacred Sites once again to bring back healing. Many Nations would stand shoulder to shoulder in the Sacred Hoop. The future of our children’s health and wellbeing is dependent on our efforts. They need every person’s prayer from the Global Community.
We are sincerely asking prayers for the People that are spiritually disconnected who are making decisions that only last in their life time of survival for profit off Mother Earth. Mother Earth is the source of life, not a resource. Many Sacred Sites have been abused and controlled by People who do not know Spirit.
In our prophecies when earth and climate change begins to disrupt the natural cycle of survival and life, the animals would warn with their sacred color white. This will be a sign of what is called the Crossroads; either be faced with chaos, disasters and witness tears from our relatives eyes or we can unite spiritually in this Global Community – All Nations, All Faiths, One Prayer.
We must regain the respect and honor back for the Sacred Sites and Sacred Places of worship. Long ago, wars left these places and people of prayer alone, today they are being destroyed. I know that many People feel the same as I do.
This has been a long journey of many tests and hardship at times. If it were not for the People that believed in spirit of the white animals we would have never come this far. We ran and rode horse back carrying that sacred message for the health and well being of Mother Earth and all her creation. We did our best. I would like to acknowledge all those who heard the call and sponsored the event of June 21st to grow on their continent and honor their local Sacred Site.
This year many will travel again to their sacred places. In Ashland, Oregon, we will honor my Hunka (adopted) Father Dave Chief for instructing RED (Red Earth Descendants) to pray since 1996 at their Sacred Site. I ask the Global community to pray with us, whether it is a church, temple, synagogue, mosque or where ever the spirit may guide to pray with us on this day.
In a sacred hoop of life where there is no ending and beginning,
Onipiktec’a (that we shall live),
Nac’a (Traditional Leader -Chief) Arvol Looking Horse, 19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle
Chief Arvol Looking Horse is a Lakota Indian spiritual leader. Chief Looking Horse will be leading World Peace and Prayer Day celebrations June 18-21 in Ashland, OR. World Peace and Prayer Day/Honoring Sacred Sites Day has been a 20-year tradition that promotes co-existence among all peoples and nations. The motto “All Nations, All Faiths, One Prayer” has been the vital part in the solution of healing this ailing Mother Earth. Whether it is at a Natural site, a Church, a Mosque, a Temple or a Synagogue, we need all People who truly understand their faith and responsibility for our future generations’ well being to help heal.
Inviting Grassroots Interfaith Organizations to Grow with the Parliament
Let’s Strengthen Our Movement Together.
The Parliament of the World’s Religions will be awarding several grants to interfaith organizations in the United States, ranging from USD $5,000 to $30,000 on a competitive basis.
Priority will be given to initiatives seeking to expand their communication reach and connecting with guiding institutions (media, government, etc.), as well as initiatives seeking to counter hate and prejudice while fostering empathy and compassion.
Awards will be announced after July 1, 2015.
Apply by June 20 to stake your claim in funding your grassroots interfaith movement!
The Parliament of the World’s Religions Awards Three of Burma’s Leading Monks at Norway’s Nobel Institute
Three Buddhist monks returned home to Burma last week from the Nobel Institute with World Harmony Awards, presented by the Parliament of the World’s Religions.
Former Prime Minister of Norway Kjell Magne Bondevik of the Christian Democratic Party joined Imam Malik Mujahid, Chair of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, in awarding the monks at the opening of the Oslo Conference to Stop the Systematic Persecution of Burma’s Rohingya.
“These extraordinary monks challenge the widespread perception that all Buddhist monks clamor for violence against the Rohingyas,” Mujahid said presenting the awards to His Holiness Rev. Seindita, His Holiness Rev. Withudda, and His Holiness Rev. Zawtikka.
The World Harmony Awards recognized acts of “fostering compassion, kindness, and harmony among faith communities in Myanmar,” where more than one thousand Rohingya Muslims survived violence by being protected inside of Buddhist monasteries.
Rev. Seindita proclaimed, “they will have to kill me first,” before allowing aggressors to harm the Rohingya masses.
In his remarks, Mujahid said that the three honorees personify the Golden Rule- describing it as both the maxim of the interfaith movement, and also the beacon of all peace and justice movements.
“The Buddha proclaimed that we must love and care for all creatures. The Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him, said that none of you are truly believers unless you wish for another what you wish for yourself. These teachings are at the heart of all our faiths, where the beauty of religion is rooted.”
He continued, “While fear, anger and hate rises in America and communities around the world, people of compassion are rising to demonstrate neighborly loving relationships. We must become our brother’s keeper.”
The Parliament was a co-sponsor of the meetings held at the prestigious Norwegian Nobel Institute and Voksenaasen Conference Center in Oslo, Norway.
Participants from 16 different countries, including Rohingya activists, Buddhist monks, Christian clergy, and Muslim leaders from Myanmar converged with genocide scholars to adopt a statement pressing for immediate international action.
The two-day conference concluded with an additional call to action from seven Nobel Peace Laureates, describing the plight of the Rohingya as nothing less than a genocide.
The Parliament plans to further highlight the bravery of interfaith activists challenging genocide in the region in a plenary focusing on war, violence and hate speech at the 2015 Parliament this October in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Background information on the conference: The conference was co-organized and co-sponsored by the following organizations. However, the communiqué was adopted by the attendees of the conference without any approach to the respective organizations.
Justice for All, Burma Task Force USA; Parliament of the World’s Religions; Refugees International (USA); International State Crime Initiative (ISCI) Queen Mary University of London; Harvard Global Equality Initiative (HGEI); Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI).
Imam Malik Mujahid, Chair of the Parliament of the World’s Religions served as Co-Chair
Links to transcripts and images
The Oslo Conference statement can be accessed by visiting BurmaMuslims.org.
Link to the official transcripts of the recorded messages including that of Archbishop Tutu and George Soros
Link to their video recordings
Links to some of the news coverage:
PARLIAMENT STATEMENT ON THE ETERNAL WORLD TELEVISION NETWORK’S
ATTACK ON POPE FRANCIS FOR HIS UPCOMING ENCYCLICAL ON CLIMATE
The recent attack on Pope Francis’s integrity and credibility regarding climate change and integral ecology during a recent broadcast on the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) is deeply disturbing. The Pope’s imminent encyclical on climate change and integral ecology, from all indications, will be rooted in fundamental Catholic understandings about creation that go back for centuries. In addition, he has consulted with a wide array of scientific and moral experts through the Pontifical Academies of Science and Social Sciences. The charge that he is being “duped” on the issue of climate change is entirely without foundation.
As an interreligious organization the Parliament does not involve itself in the internal affairs of particular religious and spiritual communities. But we are convinced that the climate change issue transcends particularistic religious boundaries and we see Pope Francis as serving all humanity and the entirety of creation through this forthcoming encyclical. Hence we stand with Pope Francis in his global effort on climate change.
POLICE AND JUDICIAL ABUSE OF LAW AND FREEDOM: a Public Statement by the Parliament of the World’s Religions
POLICE AND JUDICIAL ABUSE OF LAW AND FREEDOM
A Public Statement by the Parliament of the World’s Religions
Recent and recurring events across the United States that have raised questions about the role and responsibilities of the police and judicial officials and the permissible latitude of their actions within the law should be cause for serious reflection, including religious reflection, on how both order and freedom must be honored in contemporary society.
Law as an operative principle and expression of order serves an essential role in both sacred and secular realms, just as freedom plays a key function on behalf of change in these spheres. In both religious and civic life, order and freedom have a universal character, which assumes an equality of application. The breaking of law and the abuse of freedom invite disruption and even disintegration in the lives of individuals and societies.
Those entrusted with the provision of law enforcement and the protection of freedom, therefore, play extraordinarily important functions for human beings and in human communities. The duties assigned to judicial and police officers include not just the enforcement of the law but also the provisions for public safety, the promotion of peace, and the protection of individual and group rights. In carrying out these fundamental functions and often times dangerous duties, these public servants deserve respect and compliance.
But public agents of law and freedom cannot themselves engage in the violation of laws or the excesses of freedom and still expect to receive respect and compliance. These public agents cannot be permitted to be exceptions to the provisions of laws and freedoms that apply universally to those they are called to serve. More importantly, such violations and excesses by public agents of law and freedom have disastrous consequences for the social order, for the common good, and for human flourishing in its many forms.
The recent events of this kind in the United States must be addressed by both religious and civic communities. This is especially the case when the violation of laws and the excesses of freedom by public agents continue to be directed against members of groups who have historically been subject to abuse by overt actions or neglect.
Besides the growing number of individual incidents of injury and death by police officers against persons of color, a recent media report told of a million and a half African American men who were missing in the United States because of early deaths and incarceration.
The Parliament of the World’s Religions decries this condition of abuse and neglect across the world and in the United States. The Parliament calls on people of faith and conscience everywhere to join together in interfaith movements committed to the universal and equal protection of just laws and human freedoms and to a non-violent mobilization for justice, compassion, and peace.
The Parliament of the World’s Religions invites the interfaith community around the world tune in Tuesday, May 26, 2015 beginning 3am USA EST for the live stream of the Oslo Conference to stop genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Burma/Myanmar.
Government officials, media, and scholars will spend 3 days together May 26 – 28 at the Nobel Institute converging with pastors, imams, and monks. The time-sensitive conference aims to lift international attention toward solving the increasing persecution and suffering of the stateless Muslims who are ethnically linked to the Rakhine Burmese state.
Messages of support will air from a growing bloc of concerned world leaders and Nobel Laureates including philanthropist George Soros, Desmond Tutu, Mairead Maguire, and political heads from neighboring nations Malaysia and East Timor. These humanitarian calls for justice will implore the global community to understand the persecution of Rohingyas in the style and scale of other recent genocides.
Parliament Chair Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid will inaugurate the conference he hopes will empower the global interfaith community to help save Rohingya lives and prevent genocide.
“As hate, anger and fear is rising around the world, it is important that people of compassion feel the pain of peaceful Rohingyas who have become stateless and homeless in their own ancestral land,” said Mujahid, Co-Chair of the Conference and chair of the Parliament of the World’s Religions.
Click to Watch: the Live Streaming begins 26th May 2015 U.S.A.: EST: 3:00 AM
About the Rohingya Crisis for Media and Global Viewers
The Norwegian Nobel Institute &
Voksenaasen Conference Center in Oslo
End Myanmar’s systematic persecution, deprivation and destruction of the Rohingyas. George Soros, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Mairead Maguire, José Ramos-Horta and Dr Mahathir Mohammad will join the call to be made by genocide scholars, human rights researchers and activists at the Oslo Conference on May 26.
The conference will push for an end to Myanmar’s “slow genocide” in the Western commercial, diplomatic and military engagement with the SE Asian country.
Oslo, Norway: Over the last 10 days, the world has watched with horror and disbelief the news reports about mostly Rohingyas from Myanmar drifting in over-crowded vessels in the Andaman Sea, half-starved, disease-stricken and dying.
On 26 May, a high-profile international conference will be held at the Norwegian Nobel Institute and Voksenaasen to bring the Norwegian and EU publics closer to the reality of the Rohingyas. This Muslim minority in Myanmar (Burma) has been so systematically persecuted that they would rather risk lives – including those of their infants and children – than die a slow, collective death.
George Soros, the iconic billionaire and philanthropist, is among the international figures who will offer solidarity and compassion for the Rohingyas. He will join the call for an immediate end to Myanmar’s official policy of discrimination, persecution and destruction of over one million Rohingyas an ethnic group in Western Myanmar. In his pre-recorded address prepared for the conference, Soros states that he too was a Rohingya. “In January, when I visited Burma for the 4th time, I made a short visit to Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State in order to see for myself the situation on the ground… a section of Sittwe called Aung Mingalar, a part of the city that can only be called a ghetto. (There) I heard the echoes of my childhood. You see, in 1944, as a Jew in Budapest, I too was a Rohingya. Much like the Jewish ghettos set up by Nazis around Eastern Europe during World War II, Aung Mingalar has become the involuntary home to thousands of families who once had access to health care, education, and employment. Now, they are forced to remain segregated in a state of abject deprivation. The parallels to the Nazi genocide are alarming,” Soros says.
At the conference, a team of researchers from the International State Crime Initiative, Queen Mary University of London will be presenting their latest findings. In a recent article in The Independent (20 May), the lead researcher Penny Green writes: “The Rohingya have now faced what genocide scholar Daniel Feirestein describes as ‘systematic weakening’, the genocidal stage prior to annihilation. Those who do not flee suffer destitution, malnutrition and starvation, severe physical and mental illness, restrictions on movement, education, marriage, childbirth, livelihood and the ever present threat of violence and corruption.”
Such acts compelled former UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar (2008-14), the Argentine legal expert Tomas Ojea Quintana, to observe at the London School of Economics a year ago that in the case of the Rohingyas, “genocidal acts” have been committed by Myanmar. Quintana will be sharing his perspectives in Oslo.
Nobel Peace Laureate, the Archbishop Emeritus Desmond M. Tutu of South Africa, will also address the Oslo conference. He places the responsibility for the Rohingyas’ plight squarely on the Myanmar government. While the government has characterized this as sectarian or communal violence and sought to absolve itself of responsibility, Tutu says there is evidence that anti-Rohingya sentiment has been carefully cultivated by the government itself. “I would be more inclined to heed the warnings of eminent scholars and researchers including Amartya Sen, the Nobel laureate in economics, who say this is a deliberately false narrative to camouflage the slow genocide being committed against the Rohingya people,” Tutu says.
Bishop Tutu will make an impassioned call in Oslo: “As lovers of peace … we have a responsibility to persuade our international and regional aid and grant-making institutions, including the European Union, to adopt a common position making funding the development of Myanmar conditional on the restoration of citizenship, nationality, and basic human rights to the Rohingya.”
The 3-day conference is sponsored by the Oxford University Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), the Harvard University Global Equality Initiative, Parliament of the World’s Religions, Burma Task Force USA, Justice for All, Refugees International, and the International State Crime Initiative at Queen Mary University of London.
Among the Norwegian participants are former Prime Minister of Norway Kjell Magne Bondevik and Morten Høglund, The State Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway.
The Oslo conference is the culmination of a series of conferences – the two previous ones were held at the London School of Economics and Harvard University in 2014 – designed to call attention to the plight of Rohingyas and their decades-long persecution by successive governments in Myanmar.
“As a Buddhist and an ethnic Burmese, I am devastated and ashamed that my own country of birth has been committing mass atrocities that can only be described as a genocide, as spelled out by the 1948 Geneva Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide,” says Dr Maung Zarni, exiled scholar and activist. “The UN and Western democratic governments failed Cambodians, Rwandans, Bosnian Serbs and Tamils previously. They are now failing the Rohingyas. Once again, these entities are ignoring an unfolding genocide. It is outrageous that they are mis-framing the Rohingya issue as a “migration” problem, a “communal conflict” or a “humanitarian crisis”. This is because calling Myanmar’s genocide a genocide will disrupt their “business as usual” approach with the Burmese military and ex-military leaders,” he observed.
“As hate, anger and fear is rising around the world, it is important that people of compassion feel the pain of peaceful Rohingyas who have become stateless and homeless in their own ancestral land”, said Imam Malik Mujahid, Co-Chair of the Conference and chair of the Parliament of the World’s Religions.
Press Contact: Dr Maung Zarni
UK Mobile: +44 (0)771 047 3322
INFO FOR THE LIVE WEBCAST from 0900 – 1730 hr (Norway time) (GMT +2)
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The Rohingyas are a borderland people who have indigenous roots in the pre-nation state border region along the present day borders of Bangladesh and Western Burma or Myanmar. Their long-standing roots in Myanmar’s Rakhine region run contrary to Myanmar’s official denial and the Burmese public perception. There are an estimated at 1.33 million in Myanmar, and an estimated 1 million in diasporas (in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Australia, Japan, Europe and US.) Their ethnic identity has been fluid over the centuries – just like any other ethnic community in the heartland or border regions of Myanmar. In relation to today’s Rohingya identity, it is notable that British Colonial censuses, colonial anthropological accounts and other colonial official records are typically characterized by categories and groupings that were anchored in the prevailing European racism and pseudoscientific understanding of ‘races’, thus their use to deny or discredit Rohingya identity today is highly problematic. The Rohingyas as any ethnic community have the right to self-identify under international law, as was officially pointed out by the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon at the ASEAN Summit in Naypyidaw in November 2014. Importantly, successive Burmese governments after independence from Britain in 1948, both the parliamentary government of Prime Minister U Nu and the military governments of General Ne Win – had officially recognized the Rohingyas as one of the constitutive and indigenous national races of the Union of Burma. The official ethnic identity was chosen by the Rohingya leaders themselves and conferred official recognition by the Burmese governments – as evidenced in the fact that the Rohingyas were allocated thrice-weekly Rohingya language radio program on the sole national radio broadcasting station until 1964, allowed to form associations bearing the name ‘Rohingya’, represent their own community in the national Parliament, allotted a separate entry in the official Myanmar language Encyclopedia published by the Government in 1964, and to have a Special District in Northern Arakan or Rakhine State – known as Mayu District – where the population has always been predominantly Rohingya.
Noteworthy is the fact that both the radicals among the Rohingya Muslims and the nationalists among Rakhine Buddhists took up arms and clamored for secession from the Union of Burma, upon independence from Britain. Confronted with the rebellion on two ethnic fronts, Burmese military and the central government of PM U Nu played divide-and-rule vis-à-vis both Rohingyas and the Rakhine throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Rohingyas armed revolt died down as the result of lack of popular support both amongst the Rohingyas themselves and on the part of the then East Pakistan (before Bangladesh). The central government of Burma made concessions to the Rohingya’s demands including the official recognition of the group – both its identity and its native-ness to the pre-nation-state western borderlands of Burma. Rakhine nationalism – a direct product of the Rakhine’s status as a people colonized by the central Burmese kingdoms – remains strong, continuing to vie for greater autonomy, a fair and equitable share of resources and revenues from the hydro-carbon rich and militarily and commercially strategic Rakhine coastal region.
The official persecution of Rohingyas began in earnest in the late 1970s when the Burmese military leadership – once a multi-ethnic and non-discriminatory – turned anti-Christian and, more potently – anti-Muslim. The Armed Forces of Burma or Myanmar has pursued its un-written, but common policy of ‘purifying’ or ‘cleansing’ the military, especially of higher echelon and strategic positions, of Muslims and Christians. The military leaders openly came to view non-Buddhists, mixed ethnic communities or individuals as ‘untrustworthy’ as evidenced by the special address by General Ne Win to the 1982 Citizenship Act drafting committee in the fall of 1981. The Rohingyas have both historical and cultural ties with what was known as East Bengal (latterly part of East Pakistan and since 1973 Bangladesh) and are the only Myanmar Muslim community with a single geographic concentration along the 170-mile stretch of the Bangladesh-Myanmar borders. As such, the military has, since 1970s, come to perceive them as a “potential threat to national security”. Since then, the Myanmar military has adopted the pre-emptive strategy of characterizing the Rohingya presence in Rakhine State as ‘illegal migration’ of Bengalis from neighbouring Bangladesh. This is the narrative the Burmese national public has been deliberately exposed to over the past 40 years and has become the justification for the systematic destruction of the Rohingya as a group.
The Buddhist majority’s largely anti-Muslim sentiment and the historical animosities between Rakhine and Rohingya that peaked during the years of World War II, have been mobilized by the military and policy makers to support and facilitate the destruction of the Rohingya by the State. Anti-Muslim and other forms of xenophobia are deep-rooted with the Burmese society. Particularly, there is pervasive popular racism towards other Muslim communities. However, only the Rohingyas as a distinct ethnic group have been singled out for systematic, sustained and most severe forms of state-directed repression and annihilation.
 In fact, in his now published, formerly ‘top secret’ lecture to the National Defense College in early 1990s, ex-General Khin Nyunt, then Chief of Military Intelligence and the 3rd ranking general, had stated the Muslims from Rakhine state were fleeing across over to Bangladesh, in other words, there was only out-flowing of Muslims from Rakhine to Bangladesh, not the other way around.
Parliament Indigenous Task Force Chair to Lead Alberta, Canada Aboriginal Committee for New Government
The Parliament congratulates Board Trustee Lewis Cardinal on his appointment to Chair the Aboriginal Committee for the Provincial government of Alberta, Canada following a victorious election of the NDP party.
Cardinal tells the Parliament he is “so excited to help bring the ideas and strengths of the indigenous peoples of Alberta together more prominently into government.”
Advocating for the rights of First Nations in Edmonton, CA and beyond has long been Cardinal’s passion both professionally and at the Parliament, where he is currently chairing the 2015 Parliament Indigenous Task Force.
Predicting a rise in aborginal voter turnout across Canada, Cardinal shared his insight with the Edmonton Journal before the election that tapping into the concerns of indigenous peoples common to Canada’s general public would be a main driver for an increase in aboriginal voters visiting the polls. Further, more aboriginal names on the ballot helped inspire a greater interest.
The Parliament is encouraged that greater opportunity for aboriginal communities is increasing not just within the political system, but within civil society as well.
Lewis Cardinal has spent most of his professional life in public service. As a communicator and educator, he has dedicated his work to creating and maintaining connections and relationships that cross cultural divides. His long track record of public service includes his involvement with many, many, Human Rights and Social Advocacy Boards. Lewis is also the owner of Cardinal Strategic Communications, a consulting company that specializes in Education, Governance, and Communications. He recently received Canada’s highest Aboriginal recognition award the National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Public Service, as well as receiving the Distinguished Alumni Award from Grant Mac Ewan University, the Anti-Racism Award from the Centre for Race and Culture, and the Alberta Centennial Medal for his work in Human Rights and Diversity.