by Katherine Marshall
from Huffington Post
The United Nations General Assembly began on February 11 to debate Syria’s prolonged and bitter tragedy of killing, after the Security Council, next door, failed miserably to find enough agreement among the world’s dominant nations to act. United Nations idealists believe that the General Assembly, as a body representing all the world’s nations, has the responsibility and the capacity to protect the vulnerable. Sadly such idealism is generally in scant supply these day and so these General Assembly debates have an aura of symbolism as the tanks mass in Syria.
On February 7 in the same General Assembly Hall a very different group gathered in a very different spirit. It was inspired by what some might call an even more idealistic cause: interfaith harmony. For the first time World Interfaith Harmony Week was celebrated at the United Nations. Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Muslim imams, Christian bishops, Shinto priests, Jewish rabbis, and many others came there to celebrate and reflect on their deep belief that, while religious diversity is part of humanity’s very essence, people can live in peace and harmony. The morning event did change the generally dour tone of the Hall as music echoed, children read inspirational passages, and speaker after speaker spoke to the ideals of common cause and the common good. It concluded with representatives of different religions symbolizing their common, shared care for the earth as each watered a tree.
World Interfaith Harmony week, for those who gathered to celebrate, marked a hard won achievement. In October 2010 the General Assembly passed, unanimously, a Resolution declaring the first week in February each year as World Interfaith Harmony Week. In proposing it, King Abdullah of Jordon harked back to the initiative of Muslim leaders who reached out to Christians in a 2007 letter entitled “A Common Word”. The King urged that: “It is .. essential to resist forces of division that spread misunderstanding and mistrust, especially among peoples of different religions…Humanity everywhere is bound together, not only by mutual interests, but by shared commandments to love God and neighbor; to love the good and neighbor.” The aim is thus to work through interfaith dialogue and common action to counter the idea and reality of a clash of civilizations.