The Parliament Blog

Watch Oslo Conference on Myanmar’s Systematic Persecution of Rohingyas

The 3-day Oslo conference to stop genocide in Burma 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.

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
Email: fanon2005@gmail.com

INFO FOR THE LIVE WEBCAST from 0900 – 1730 hr (Norway time) (GMT +2)
:
Check the following sites for the web address for to watch the live webcast:

http://www.burmamuslims.org/

http://burmese.rohingyablogger.com/

http://www.maungzarni.net/

BACKGROUNDER

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[1]. 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.

[1] 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

Parliament Trustee Lewis Cardinal will chair the aboriginal people’s committee of the provincial government of Alberta Canada following the victorious election of the NDP party. Cardinal is also leading the Indigenous Task Force of the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions. Photo credit: Facebook

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.

 

 

If We Don’t Teach Peace, What Are We Teaching?

Nonviolence, peace, and justice are not utopian dreams but real and practical ways in which humans can affect the world around them.

Earlier this year, I walked into the university classroom where I teach a course in Peace Studies. Seated in a circle around the room were seniors just shy of graduating. They would soon become doctors, social workers, teachers, community organizers, executives, and leaders.

To open our semester together, I wrote a simple, three-word question on the board.

What is peace?

Silence. Stumped by this tiny question, no one spoke. They did not have an answer, and I would later discover why: It was the first time in their life a teacher had asked them to define peace.

Each year in the United States, millions of students graduate from high school and college, their diplomas certifying years spent studying the principles of science, mathematics, literature, and writing. These are the subjects we value as a society, and therefore we insist that our young people develop knowledge in these areas. Imagine if we graduated seniors who couldn’t read, or do simple math, or write basic paragraphs. Outrageous, right?

Yet these very same students will graduate without ever once studying conflict resolution. During their entire academic career, they will never be required to take a course on making peace, building community, or forgiving an enemy. The principles of violence and nonviolence will not be analyzed, the philosophy of Dr. King will not be discussed, and satyagraha—the practice of nonviolent resistance, which Gandhi called the most powerful force in the universe—will remain ignored.

We are neglecting to teach our students the most fundamental and urgent lesson: how to make peace in the world around them. And by forgetting to do so, we are promoting violence. As my friend and fellow peace educator Colman McCarthy once said, “If we don’t teach our children peace, someone else will teach them violence.”

So each day, in the classrooms where I teach middle school, high school, and college students, I work to counter the violence, spark the conscience, and liberate the thinking mind. I teach peace.

Dismantling the Violence

At the most basic level, to teach peace is to teach that violence does not have to happen.

For too long in the West, we have acted as if violence is inevitable, a natural part of the human condition that sticks to us like the skin on our back. Nonviolence is written off as an afterthought—viewed, at best, as do-nothing-passivity and, at worst, as a long-haired fantasy of Woodstock. Responding to violence with violence is seen as the only practical solution, and the result is greater violence.

But this is changing.

Hundreds of colleges and universities across the globe now offer degrees in Peace Studies, with some universities reporting enrollment size doubling in the past few years. At the heart of each program is the declaration that nonviolence, peace, and justice are not utopian dreams but real and practical ways in which humans can live and affect the world around them. Violence and its dynamics are examined alongside the history, philosophy, and principles of nonviolence. The treasure chest of stories is opened, and like some reverse-Pandora’s Box, the ideals of peace-making are unleashed onto classrooms as students study the examples of Cesar Chavez and Vandana Shiva, Dorothy Day and Daniel Berrigan, Gandhi and Gene Sharp.

From a broader perspective, this academic trend towards peace-making is part of the widespread awakening—what David Korten calls “The Great Turning”—happening in response to the problems of our time.

Those problems are many.

The United States leads the First World in the following categories: prison population, drug use, child hunger, poverty, illiteracy, teen pregnancies, firearms death, obesity, diabetes, recorded rapes, use of antidepressants, income disparity, military spending, production of hazardous waste, and the poor quality of its schools (Paul Hawken, who published this list in Blessed Unrest, also points out that the U.S. is the only country in the world besides Iraq with metal detectors in its schools).

For the peace educator, this list is no surprise. Violence spreads like a virus. Contagious by nature, it follows a spiritual law that says that violence plus violence only equals more violence. Violence can never lead to peace, and the more we respond with violence, the more violence we create.

So teaching peace means dismantling this list. One great crowbar comes simply through asking questions.

To Teach Peace is to Teach Gandhi

“Could nonviolence have stopped Hitler and the Nazis?” I ask middle school students in my U.S. history course. Having already examined the philosophy of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., the students create imaginary European nations whose mission is to develop nonviolent strategies to stop invading Nazis. After they present their plans, I tell them about the citizens of Denmark—so many of them teenagers barely older than my students—who monkeywrenched the entire Nazi plan through nonviolent noncooperation.

During our year together, these 12-year olds have surveyed the landscape of U.S. history. But where most history courses ignore the deep tradition of American nonviolence, my curriculum examines Jeremiah Evarts as well as Andrew Jackson, AJ Muste as well as Harry Truman, Henry David Thoreau as well as Teddy Roosevelt. My course features nonviolence alongside every story of violence. Students develop a long exposure to the people in our history who have resisted violence by following their conscience.

“Which is stronger: love or hate?” I ask high school students in my Democracy Studies course. We’ve already finished the biography of Gandhi, discussing at length the ideas behind satyagraha. Gandhi is the Thomas Edison of nonviolence—he switched on our understanding of this universal force more than anyone prior, and to study and teach peace is to study and teach Gandhi.

Gandhi was skilled at civil disobedience, but he was even better at promoting practical solutions. Gandhi resisted injustice by creating alternatives, what he called “constructive programmes.” His favorite was the spinning wheel, which allowed Indians to forgo British cloth while actively spinning their own.

With a nod to Gandhi’s idea, I ask my students to create their own constructive programmes. Find a problem in the world around you, I tell them, and then create its solution. Further freeing them from traditional academia, I liberate the grade book and allow them to assign themselves a grade. They dive in, and create some powerful actions.

 

  • One student handed out copies of Gene Sharp’s revolutionary (and in some countries, illegal) 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action to people on the streets.
  • One student created dialogue between two opposing groups—the mayor and some frustrated citizens.
  • One student served vegetarian pizza to the homeless community in town.
  • One student planted a garden.
  • One student began providing food and clean water to migrant workers crossing the brutal desert. She was arrested for her work.
  • One student began collecting long-distance phone cards for U.S. troops overseas.
  • One student forgave her enemy.
  • One student began to pray and meditate regularly.

Schools do not have to create a formal Peace Studies course. Just like writing or note-taking, it is an academic skill that can be infused into almost any current course.

But when schools do formalize a Peace Studies program, the door opens wider. At the university where I teach Peace Studies, students read a biography of Gandhi and then Michael Nagler’s formative The Search for a Nonviolent Future. We spend many days wrestling over the practice of forgiveness before measuring the effect inner peace has on external circumstances. Understanding the practice of war-making consumes several weeks, as we examine the media’s role in promoting war, the reasons why war gives us meaning (in the words of Chris Hedges), and also a presentation from local U.S. Army colonels.

Peace Studies does not shirk away from opposing viewpoints. It does not practice partisanship. The study of peace is radical in that all are welcome, for peace is about more than politics. I can teach for months without ever speaking about George Bush and Barack Obama or red and blue states. Peace Studies gets underneath the surface, going deeper into what it means to be human.

And that’s why so many students cram into my classroom to take these courses. Not because of me, but because they are so hungry to study peace.

“I Understand What Making Peace Is All About’’

A few years ago, a student of mine who delved as deeply into understanding peace as anyone I’ve ever taught was participating in a march for reproductive rights in Washington. Thousands were there, including the counter-protestors shouting from the barricaded sidewalk. One man in particular caught her attention.

“Bitch! Bitch! Bitch!’’ he shouted, staring right at her.

Breathing deeply, she put down her sign (it read: “Equal Rights for All”) and walked over to him, smiling softly. She put her arms around him and hugged. Then she walked back, picked up her sign and kept marching.

The story does not end here. Months later, at another march, she spotted him again. Again, she was marching, he was shouting. But their eyes locked, and in that moment, all the animosity melted away. He stopped shouting. He softened. He may have even smiled.

“It was in that moment that I understood what making peace was all about,’’ she later told me.

And that is why I teach peace.

David Cook wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. He lives with his wife and two small children in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he teaches courses on Peace Studies, Democracy Studies, and American Studies. He received his masters degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College, and his work has been featured in The Sun, Geez and truthout.org. He can be reached at david.cook@mail.com.

May 15th, 2015 at 10:18 am

Huff-Post Religion Uncovers ‘The Surprising Sacred Gathering Spaces That Are Moving Into Your Neighborhoods’

Published with permission from Huff-Post Religion. By: Jaweed Kaleem

Twice a week, every Sunday and Monday night, around a dozen New Yorkers gather in long, candle-lit studio apartment nestled between a hair salon and some warehouses in one of Brooklyn’s latest hip neighborhoods. They’re actors, singers, seminarians and new parents, and they sit in groups of six around tables in one of the simplest and most untraditional Christian worship spaces the city has to offer.

St. Lydia’s Church has no pews, no altar, no vestments, no band or choir, and little formality of any kind. Instead, church means drums and chanting, with frequent references to Jesus; breaking bread and drinking communion grape juice; and a long, three-hour homemade vegetarian dinner punctuated by Bible readings, a sermon and frequent talk of what it means to be a young spiritual seeker in Brooklyn. The pastor is ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, but the members themselves range from atheist and agnostic to evangelical, Catholic and Episcopalian.

Worship services at St. Lydia’s church in Brooklyn center around a meal prepared by attendees.

“Growing up, I was really sure in my faith in God and in going to Episcopal church — I loved the liturgy — but my sense was that I would never invite a friend of mine to this kind of worship service because it felt like there were so many barriers everywhere, from the look to the feel to the sounds of the place,” says Emily Scott, 34, who founded St. Lydia’s dinner church five years ago at a friend’s apartment (it more recently settled into its new home in Gowanus). “We try to practice the most basic form of Christianity: bread, wine — grape juice in our case — water, a meal, singing and a community relationship and connection. I preach, but so does everyone else. We learn from each other.”

As fewer Americans identify with traditional religion and more people check the “none of the above” box when asked about their faith, a host of creative, nontraditional spiritual spaces are popping up across the country. They include religious communities that worship and mingle in bowling alleys and cocktail bars, or multi-faith worship centers that intentionally group Muslims, Jews and Christians together. Houses of worship are rebranding, too, hiring architects to design new campuses to appeal to the future faithful.

Traditional churches still dominate the American landscape, but what religious space looks like is undergoing a subtle, gradual shift, with some of the most celebrated new religious communities arising in cities and college towns. The church steeple in the American town square hasn’t gone, but it’s got some company.

“The declining participation of young people in formal religion has led to there being a pressure on elders — and young leaders themselves — to try new things,” said Duke University sociologist Mark Chaves, author of the National Congregations Study, which in its latest 2012 survey found that 9.3 percent of American congregations met in a building other than a church, mosque, synagogue or school — a 1.5 percent increase over 14 years. “There has always been some innovation happening in American religion, of course, but people are trying new things these days.”

Here are a few of the ways the future of faith is playing out in religious spaces.

Read the full article on Huffington Post >

May 12th, 2015 at 3:02 pm

The World’s Religions Bring Compassion to Nepal

Nepalese survivors stand strong as village recovers with aid from the UK Department for International Development. Photo credit: UK DFID.

By Parliament Staff

The Parliament of the World’s Religions stands in awe over the collaborations of faith communities in helping the people of Nepal. Our prayers are with the nation now and always.

In the aftermath of the devastating April 25th, 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Nepal, faith communities are stepping up to coordinate relief efforts. Stories emerging on the first days of recovery illustrate the possibility of human compassion on a mass scale.

Nepalese member of the Parliament’s Ambassador program, Dadhiram Khanal, reports by e-mail that his community is safe after one week without electricity. Over the past few days, Khanal and his family have been collecting relief funds through Alliance for Peace, Education and Development (APED) around the country and elsewhere.

News of faith communities uniting demonstrate how widespread the service of religion can be in times of disaster; Kathamandu’s Buddhist nuns are gaining international attention for employing ‘kung-fu’ to salvage monastic grounds, while Vatican Radio reports that Nepal’s religions are “united for earthquake victims” and exemplifying interfaith values:

The Venerable Renchen, representative of the Buddhist community, and Manohar Prasad Sah of the ‎Hindu community said: ‘We are doing our best, and when religions come together they can meet ‎the basic needs of the people. Solidarity, peace and charity are concepts shared by all.

Love and Assistance Pours in from Global Faith Neighbors

Providing meals to those unable to secure food and water continues pose a significant challenge. To aid earthquake victims, Sikh leaders from The Golden Temple in Amritsar, India are distributing one hundred thousand food packets. Taiwan’s Buddhist leaders have donated food, blankets, and other items to those displaced by the disaster. Meanwhile, Singapore masjids are collecting money to send to Nepal and Iran’s Red Crescent Society is sending 40 tons of relief supplies including tents, blankets, dishware, and moquette to the region. Lutheran World Relief, Adventist Development and Relief Agency, Catholic Relief Services, and Gospel for Asia have sent volunteers to assist crews on the ground in Nepal while World Jewish Relief has announced an emergency appeal campaign for survivors.

The United States government has already pledged $10 million in relief. Nonprofit organizations like Save the Children, The American Red Cross, and others continue their appeal for more donations to send to the region.

At this stage of response, workers of municipal agencies are attempting to recover as many ancient sacred artifacts as possible from the rubble of leveled temples and World Heritage sites in the region, NPR reports.

The disaster is garnering global support, with both faith-based and secular organizations making major strides in providing aid for survivors. The outpouring of monetary donations, relief supplies, and on-the-ground rescue volunteers demonstrates the compassion embedded in all faiths. These efforts represent only the initial steps in providing necessary relief to Nepalese communities, giving a glimpse at what the coming months will hold as the nation moves forward in rebuilding after the tragedy.

Parliament Communications Staff Nafia Khan contributed to this article. 

May 5th, 2015 at 10:41 am

New Pre-Parliament Event Hosts Invited to Apply for Free May Giveaway

Final2 Parliament 2015 logo with theme.png

PRE-PARLIAMENT GIVEAWAY IN MAY

Pre-Parliament Event Host Approved in May are Now Eligible to Raffle One

FREE REGISTRATION

to the world’s premier interfaith event

the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City!

Attract Guests to your Pre-Parliament Event by sharing that Parliament registration:

  • Is valued up to $475 USD

  • Includes Access to All Parliament Programming and Plenaries, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Dozens of Luminaries Championing Interfaith around the World

  • May qualify for free homestay in Salt Lake City per financial requirements

  • Is a life-changing experience providing critical training, as well as culturally enriching programming and movement building networking with 10,000 people from 50 faith communities and 80 countries

  • Grants access to the Inaugural Women’s Assembly for Global Advancement, the first platform on a global scale to raise the voices of women in the interfaith movement

Seed a Fundraiser for Your Interfaith Organization

The Parliament encourages hosts* who are qualified 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations or student/university groups promoting interfaith community, peace, justice or sustainability efforts to raffle the complimentary registration as a small fundraiser for your event (up to $10 per ticket).

*Individuals hosting private events are asked to donate raffle proceeds from free registration to support your local interfaith community organization.

One complimentary registration will be honored for each event which is submitted and approved by the Pre-Parliament Coordinator by May 31, 2015, and are scheduled to be held by July 30, 2015.

What to do?

 To participate in the May Giveaway, first submit your event for approval by emailing preparliament@parliamentofreligions.org before May 31, 2015.

To qualify for one complimentary 2015 Parliament registration, your event should host a minimum of ten guests who become new subscribers to the Parliament’s e-newsletter, InterfaithNow. Pre-Parliament event guests should subscribe to the Parliament email updates and newsletter at your event.

The Parliament does not sell the personal information of our registrants or subscribers to any other entities. Access to personal information without obtaining advanced written consent is prohibited by the Parliament.

Once your event concludes, submit photos of the event and the name of your chosen winner to Pre-Parliament staff. The Parliament will register the winner by phone once all steps are validated and approved!

For events of 75 attendees or more, follow the same guidelines for TWO free Parliament registrations!

Promotion Rules: Your friends and networks already subscribed and registered as 2015 Parliament Attendees will not qualify in the May Pre-Parliament Promotion. The Parliament will automatically enter 2015 Parliament registrants for exciting Parliament contests coming this summer! Complimentary Registrations may not be sold at any financial gain and are eligible only to raffle winners of approved pre-Parliament events. Hosts who attempt to sell pre-Parliament promotional registration will forfeit participation in the May giveaway.

We Look Forward to Seeing You and Your Community at the 2015 Parliament in Salt Lake this October 15 – 19 to Reclaim the Heart of Our Humanity!

The Power of Love and Compassion to Stop the Violence and Start the Healing

By Jon Ramer 

Shared with permission of CompassionGames.org

Baltimore’s riots this week have highlighted the growing unrest and injustices across America. Many are being forced to rethink assumptions we’ve made about race, power, civility, and compassion.  We seem to have forgotten concepts like fairness and justice as a nation. Without this moral compass to guide us, what’s left?

As video after video surfaces of young black males being brutally treated by police, it makes us wonder if racial discrimination and police brutality can now be tolerated in our society. Empathizing with the police and continuing to ignore the root causes of these problems is all too easy. Mainstream media seems to cater to our worst fears and instincts by amplifying the inexcusable behavior of a few.

From the New York Times:

The Rev. Jamal Bryant, delivering the eulogy of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, spoke of the plight of poor, young black men like Mr. Gray, living “confined to a box” made up of poor education, lack of job opportunities and racial stereotypes — “the box of thinking all black men are thugs and athletes and rappers.”

“He had to have been asking himself: ‘What am I going to do with my life?’” Mr. Bryant said. “He had to feel at age 25 like the walls were closing in on him.”

As his voice rose to a shout, and the cheering congregation rose to its feet, Mr. Bryant said that black people must take control of their lives and force the police and government to change.

“This is not the time for us as a people to be sitting on a corner drinking malt liquor. This is not the time for us to be playing lottery,” he said.

“Get your black self up and change this city,” he said. “I don’t know how you can be black in America and be silent. With everything we’ve been through, ain’t no way in the world you can sit here and be silent in the face of injustice.”

What a powerful call to justice. However, it isn’t just a call to African-Americans. If we see ourselves as one multi-cultural society we need a collective action that will lead to effective change. What is society’s role in providing a way out of the poverty, hopelessness and despair that these young men seem to be stuck in?

The pathway out used to be as simple as getting a good education and hard work that might ultimately earn you a fair shot at the American dream. But with the rise in the cost of education and the lack of decent paying jobs, this no longer seems like a winning strategy.  We need to do better as a society, even if it’s more difficult. We need to relearn how to respect our differences and work together: to address these challenges with effective policies, solutions, and on the ground actions that change lives.

The Power of Compassion and Our Interrelatedness

According to Navajo Medicine Woman Patricia Anne Davis,  “the word ‘compassion’ can best be translated into English using the word ‘proxy’, meaning that another person can experience another person’s experience because we are all related by our inherent divinity given to each person equally. It is an all-inclusive experience where there is unity in the natural order and everyone is interconnected.”

We are interconnected to the youth and to the police. Can we find compassion for the police officers who are upholding the law and for the black youth who have the cards unfairly stacked against them?

The challenges we face are personal and spiritual as well as economic, cultural and political. Compassionate action can build this bridge. The role of compassion is not only vital in our lives, it is a key to understanding the circumstances of every perspective and finding a way forward that is just and can heal the rifts in our communities.

In Detroit, Michigan a team called #MetroDetroit participated in the Compassion Games “Love This Place! Serve the Earth Week” Coopetition from April 18 through April 26.

We recently wrote a news post about the organizer of the team Reverend Jim Lee of Renaissance Unity Church titled “Love The Hell Out of Metro Detroit: From the Blame – Shame Game to the Compassion Games.”

metrodetroit2Lee is “rewiring the cellular memory to a place of forgiveness so his city can thrive – so the beloved community can emerge.” Rev. Lee wants to be very clear, “Forgiveness is not about forgetting the past. It doesn’t change what happened. What changes is the interpretation and perception with a new quality, a new tone can emerge to heal us today, so we can move on to the beloved community.”

Lee believes that his community can revitalize and empower itself by bringing the power of love and compassion to bear on their everyday life. Lee says he wants to “Love our way through the pain. Let’s make the pain the lesson, not the reason.”

The #MetroDetroit team committed to participate in the Love This Place! Story Mapping challenge and set out to identify many of the places in Detroit that they cherish and love. The goal was to heighten appreciation of their physical environment, their sense of social cohesion, and their experience of safety and peace within their neighborhoods.

We are happy to report that team #MetroDetroit posted more photo stories than any other city in the world!  Congratulations #MetroDetroit!  You can see all the story photos here.metrodetroit3

We can learn so much from this remarkable team and their accomplishments. We can come together to make just and lasting change by building cultures of compassion and kindness. There are over 300 cities around the world that have embarked on compassionate city campaigns. As people of this remarkable time – filled with great challenges and surprising opportunities – what do we choose?

The Compassion Games supports communities committed to creating cultures that are safer, kinder, and better places to live. You can find out more here www.compassiongames.org Game on!

Jon Eliot Ramer is an American entrepreneur, civic leader, inventor, and musician. He is co-founder of several technology companies including Ramer and Associates, ELF Technologies, Inc., (whose main solution, Serengeti, was purchased by Thomson Reuters) and Smart Channels. The designer and co-founder of several Deep Social Networks, he is the former Executive Director of the Interra Project, and a co-founder of Ideal Network, a group-buying social enterprise that donates a percentage of every purchase to a non-profit or school. Ideal Network is a certified B-Corp that was recognized as “Best in the World for Community” in 2012 by B-Labs. He is also the designer and co-founder of Compassionate Action Network International, a 501(c)(3) organization based in Seattle, that led the effort to make the city the first in the world to affirm Karen Armstrong‘s Charter for Compassion. Most recently, Ramer conceived of and produced the “Compassion Games: Survival of the Kindest.” 

May 4th, 2015 at 9:14 am

Homelessness: How Can We Help?

By Parliament Staff

Homelessness remains a pressing issue in America. According to the most recent data available, at least 100 million people around the globe are considered homeless. More than 3.5 million people residing in the United States are homeless and 25% are under the age of 18. Whereas homelessness is rooted in poverty in countries like India, Nigeria, and France, the U.S. has seen an increase in homelessness due to a variety of factors. They include – but are not limited to – veterans returning from armed conflict overseas, the 2007 housing crisis which left thousands of families without homes, and those suffering from mental illness without access to housing and necessary treatment.

Homeless prevention legislation in America has yielded mixed results. Cook County (IL) Sheriff Tom Dart halted foreclosure-based evictions during the winter of 2008 to protect rent-paying tenants, consequently compounding problems by making lenders less likely to extend loan payments to the most vulnerable.

In Salt Lake City, Utah, an alternative method was employed. The city provided its chronically homeless individuals with housing and counseling, saving the state an average of $8,000 per homeless person. By utilizing this program model, homelessness in Salt Lake decreased by 72% between 2005 to 2014.

In other states, some governments are criminalizing the homeless by passing reactive legislation. The cost of enforcing the criminalization of homelessness costs more than housing the homeless. The practice spars public outcry because it is ultimately worsening the situation. This is why community groups and interfaith leaders are stepping in to help fill the gaps.

Interfaith groups have provided social services to assist the homeless through food banks and food drives, soup kitchens, shelters, and even counseling and rehabilitation. In order to address the issue proactively,  interfaith groups are now also working to prevent homelessness. An interfaith group in St. Petersburg, Florida is finally able to launch a rotating shelter for homeless families after establishing the program within the last several years. In Fayetteville, North Carolina, community leaders held a forum between the homeless community and residents that want to help them. By opening the dialogue in this manner, both homeless advocates and those they serve have a voice.

Without discussion and brainstorming, problems like homelessness cannot be successfully addressed. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs donated $3 million to Interfaith Community Services to further the organization’s mission of erasing veteran homelessness. Right now, an Interfaith Resource Center is planning the construction of a year-round overnight shelter for the homeless in Columbia, Missouri. Additionally, a couple in Athens, Georgia is hosting a week of fun activities and learning opportunities to help raise funds for Interfaith Hospitality Network Athens, a nonprofit organization that assists the homeless.

Helping the homeless remains a major priority for faith communities. Although homelessness may continue to be a problem in the future, the call to “live compassionately,” as Karen Armstrong says, means one should remain uncomfortable so long as his or her fellow brother or sister is suffering. Interfaith cooperation can achieve a sharp reduction in homelessness if communities continue to think and act together. All faith traditions are called to serve the needy in their doctrines and teachings. Presently, tracking homelessness remains a challenge for agencies and governments. But with the assistance of faith communities’ cooperation, effective and innovative models for eradicating homelessness can be implemented.

Parliament interns Shani Belshaw, Nafia Khan, and Daniel Wolff contributed to this article.

April 24th, 2015 at 2:08 pm

Reflections from Rosebud Reservation

By: Parliament Amabassador Aamir Hussain. Originally published on Huffington Post

This past week, I joined 11 other medical students from the University of Chicago in volunteering at a Lakota Native American reservation in Rosebud, South Dakota. We spent some of our time volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, and some time shadowing physicians at the local Indian Health Service (IHS) hospital. This experience was a great opportunity to not only learn about health care challenges on reservations, but also to reflect on the intersections between religion, service, and medicine.

Aside from astronomically high rates of chronic conditions such as Type II Diabetes, obesity, depression, and alcoholism, patients at the IHS clinic often lack access to cancer screenings because the small facility does not have the resources to provide those services. As a result, it is not uncommon for treatable conditions to cause life-threatening complications. I was shocked to learn that some patients suffered from tuberculosis, a disease that I thought had been mostly eliminated from the United States. Finally, patients routinely resort to using the emergency room often need to be air-evacuated to other hospitals for minor complaints that cannot be addressed on the reservation.

However, there were also several positive aspects of the IHS. First, The primary care doctors I shadowed were able to spend lots of time with her patients, talking through diagnoses and medications at length. Second, the reservation community was very close-knit, and physicians (even those who lived outside the reservation) were well-acquainted with Lakota traditions and had a strong desire to be part of the local culture. Finally, although the IHS is woefully under-funded (annual health spending per person for the overall U.S. population is over $9000, in comparison to about $2400 per person in the IHS), it is still a single-payer system that guarantees coverage to all Native Americans with documented membership in a federally-recognized tribe. Although IHS insurance may be less effective outside IHS facilities, this federal program ensures that virtually everyone on the reservation is insured.

While learning about Lakota history, I was intrigued by the changing roles of religious groups over time. Until the mid-20th century, many Western churches saw the Native Americans as “savages,” and many priests sought to “educate” the Lakota in such a way that they would forget their old ways and completely adopt Western customs. Fortunately, there now seems to be more mutual understanding between different spiritual traditions. Christian institutions provide a large number of social services, and serve as community centers for various activities. Churches and religious leaders now run many charities, including the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity. However, many Lakota traditions such as sweat lodges, vision quests, and Sun Dances are also practiced, and some reservation residents observe Christianity alongside the traditional Lakota religion.

Indeed, I was struck by the contrast between hopelessness and optimism on the reservation. On one hand, unemployment is well over 70 percent, the life expectancy can be less than 50 years, suicide rates are extremely high, and families are often trapped in cyclical poverty. On the other hand, reservation residents speak fondly of Sinte Gleska, an accredited Lakota university that provides a wide array of degrees, and cheer for their young students who have won full scholarships to major national universities like Stanford and Dartmouth. Others express hope for the in-progress Crazy Horse Memorial, and how it can someday stand as a symbol of the unvanquished Native American spirit for generations to come.

Through my conversations with the people of Rosebud, I was constantly reminded of a verse from the Quran that speaks of resilience: “Verily, with every difficulty there [comes] relief” (Quran 94:6). Throughout my life as practicing Muslim, I always took this verse for granted; whenever I struggled with something, I found comfort in the fact that relief would eventually come. However, this past week has shown me that for many people, hardship can often be followed by an even greater hardship. Finding any “relief” can be very difficult, and it can be tough to persevere when faced with such overwhelming odds.

I have been inspired by the various people I have met on this short trip, from the recent high school graduate who strives to learn at least “one new fact” every day and someday teach English abroad, to the tireless educator at Sinte Gleska University who motivates her students to follow their dreams, to the hospital worker who speaks fluent Lakota with local elders, keeping an ancient language alive.

These friends I made, and many others, illustrate my religion’s core tenets of humility, service, resilience, and community engagement. As a result, I have become more motivated to reflect on my own practice of Islam, and will strive to exhibit those virtues throughout my medical career.

Before we left to return to Chicago, our Rosebud host told us, “It doesn’t matter if you never return here. Just promise me this: never forget us, and never forget what you learned here.”

That is a promise I intend to keep.

April 24th, 2015 at 2:02 pm

Join the Parliament and Salt Lake Officials Saturday for a Preview of the Biggest Global Interfaith Event Coming to Utah this October

The unforgettable, life-changing Parliament event is bringing the global interfaith community to Utah, and we’re coming to meet you this weekend!

Join the Parliament, the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable and your neighbors in attending a free to the public interactive preview event of the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions this Saturday, April 25 from 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. at the Salt Palace Convention Center.

The afternoon program will feature opportunities to engage in global dialogue as well as performances and prayers from representatives of Salt Lake faith and indigenous communities. Enthusiastic remarks from officials and media personalities will say why Utah supports the Parliament! RSVP to reserve your spot at utah.parliamentofreligions.org.

At the Podium:

  • Utah Officials Including Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, Governor Herbert’s Representative Pamela Atkinson
  • Emcees Carole Mikita of KSL and Robert Kirby of Salt Lake Tribune
  • Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable Leaders Incl. Bishop Rev. France Davis, Bishop Hiyashi
  • The International Board of Trustees of the Parliament of the World’s Religions
  • Salt Lake Representatives of Parliament’s Women’s, Indigenous and Youth Initiatives
  • Utah ticket-holders and interested participants of the 2015 Parliament

The Interactive Preview of the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions April 25, 2015 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. will be held in the Salt Palace Convention Center, Room 255. Come and get to know Utah’s interfaith community leaders, public officials and media personalities as we present a public preview of the world’s premier interfaith event, the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Exclusive opportunities to volunteer and register for the October event at a 40 percent discount will be available on site. 

This October, we hope you will be with us as Utah’s communities of faith join in showcasing their commitments to a more compassionate world alongside global luminaries and Nobel Peace Laureates like the Dalai Lama and Costa Rica’s two-time President, Oscar Arias. Utahns will significantly number among 10,000 participants from 80 countries and 50 Faith traditions sharing practices.

Come find out what the global interfaith movement is all about! Space for Saturday’s Program can be reserved here at Utah.ParliamentOfReligions.org.