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Southeast Asian Buddhist-Muslim Coalition Strengthens Peace Efforts

Meeting of Buddhist and Muslim Leaders in Bangkok to establish new action on stabilizing interreligious conflicts in the South and Southeast Asian region.
Photo By The International Network of Engaged Buddhists

A coalition of Buddhist and Muslim leaders from South and South East Asia met in Bangkok on June 16th to endorse the 2006 Dusit Declaration, and to commit to act cooperatively with new proposals to stabilize inter-religious relations in the region. This coalition inspires the hope that conflict manifesting in violence, like the recent attacks in Bodhgaya, can be prevented.

Highlights of the 2006 Dusit Declaration include efforts to encourage media outlets to be more evenhanded towards both religions in their broadcasting, the expansion of unbiased religious perspectives taught in children’s classrooms, and a new emphasis on inter-religious harmony in politicians’ reforms.

The declarations made in Thailand (found in this International Buddhist-Muslim Joint Statement) focus on the potential benefits of tolerance: “We are also deeply aware that if Buddhist and Muslim communities can overcome the challenges that confront them, there is tremendous potential for the growth and development of ideas and values that may help to transform the region.”

The coalition organized by the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB), the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), and Religions for Peace (RfP) included representatives from seven countries with the allegiance of some international participants.

The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions applauds this coalition for being a model of cooperation and tolerance in the South East Asian region.

Participants included:

Burma/Myanmar

Al Haj U Aye Lwin, Muslim, Chief Convener, Islamic Center of Myanmar and a Founder of Religions for Peace Myanmar

U Myint Swe, Buddhist, President, Ratana Metta, and President of Religions for Peace Myanmar

 

Sri Lanka

Harsha Navaratne, Buddhist, Sewalanka Foundation

Dr. M.A. Mohamed Saleem, Muslim, President of Mahatma Ghandi Centre in Sri Lanka

Ven. Professor. Kotapitiye Rahula, Buddhist, Department of Pali & Buddhist Studies, University of Peradeniya; Sri Lanka Council of Religions for Peace

Ven. Dr. Divulapelesse Wimalananda thero, Buddhist, University of Peradeniya

Ven. Kalayanamitta Dhammapala, Buddhist, Wat Thong Noppakul

Ven. Balangoda Manju Sri Thero, Buddhist, Senior Buddhist Sangha for Inter-faith Peace

 

Malaysia

Dr. Chandra Muzaffar, Muslim, President, International Movement for a Just World (JUST)

Anas Zubedy, Muslim, Secretary General, JUST

Fah Yen Yin, Program Coordinator, JUST

K V Soon Vidyananda, Buddhist, Malaysia Engaged Buddhist Network

Indonesia

Muhammad Habib Chirzin, Muslim, Islamic Forum on Peace, Human Security and Development

Abdul Mu’ti, Muslim, Central Board Muhammadiyah

Wintomo Tjandra, Buddhist, Hikmahbudhi

Thailand

Sulak Sivaraksa, Buddhist, Sathirakoses-Nagapradipa Foundation

Ven. Phra Bhanu Cittadhanto, Buddhist, Wat Phra Ram IV (Kanchanobhisek)

Parichart Suwannabuppha, Buddhist, Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies, Mahidol University, Salaya,

Saroj Puaksumlee, Muslim, Leader of Bann Krua Community, Bangkok

Ratawit Ouaprachanon, Buddhist, Spirit in Education Movement

Somboon Chungprampree, Buddhist, International Network of Engaged Buddhists

Patcharee Conmanat, Buddhist, International Network of Engaged Buddhists

International

Rev. Kyoichi Sugino, Deputy Secretary General, Religions for Peace

Rev. Shin’ichi Noguchi, Niwano Peace Foundation

Russell Peterson, American Friends Service Committee

Prashant Varma, Deer Park Institute, India

Arts and Culture Bring Peace and Reconciliation To Multi-Religious and Multi-Ethnic Communities in Sri Lanka

Traditional Sri Lankan harvesting dance. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

by Iromi Dharmawardhane
from Lankaweb.com

The arts and culture can be powerful catalysts in bringing about reconciliation within the hearts of individuals as well as between communities, changing who we are and how we relate to each other.  Reconciliation through the arts and other cultural mediums can occur in two ways: firstly, a victim of war may find it easier to express one’s pain – including one’s remorse – through aesthetic mediums, and secondly, artistic and cultural projects and performances which are a fruit of collaboration between individuals belonging to different communities would lead to the regaining of each other’s trust and respect, understanding each other’s different but equally painful war-time experiences, learning about what is common and valuing what is unique in each other’s cultural heritage, and at last recognizing each other’s interdependence.

The arts, whether it is through music, painting, poetry, prose, song, dance, film, photography, theater, or puppetry, can be a vehicle for truth, dialogue, and inter-cultural understanding for communities who speak different languages in nations where communal relations have been battered by the circumstances of war. Sri Lanka has seen several outstanding examples of how the arts have a great part to play in the national reconciliation process. An extraordinary concert was organized and directed by Mrs. Arunthathy Sri Ranganathan on March 6, 2012 in Sri Lanka where an orchestra comprising 100 young musicians from all districts of Sri Lanka performed in unison, playing a variety of Oriental and Western instruments. This talented and large assembly of musicians from diverse backgrounds conveyed a convincing and memorable message of “unity in diversity”.

The Aru Sri Art Theatre troupe founded by Mrs. Arunthathy Sri Ranganathan to promote inter-ethnic harmony rendered a captivating performance of the dance drama Sri Ram at the International Ramayana Festival in Bintaan, Indonesia on April 12 – 13, 2012 and in Singapore on April 14. They also presented scintillating performances of classical compositions on Hindu themes such as Bharathanatyam and the Cosmic Dance of Shiva which were performed by Sri Lankan dancers of different ethnicities and religions. The conciliatory power of the performing arts in drawing different ethnic groups together was never so vividly and vibrantly depicted. Aru Sri Art Theatre offers audiences across Sri Lanka and overseas contemporary interpretations and innovative productions of rich historical and cultural lore, while retaining the purity of the traditional performing arts. Sri Lankan theater and dance companies and associations, in this way, can organize dance symposiums to celebrate and bring together the different dance types in the Sinhalese tradition (such as Upcountry dances, Low Country dances, Sabaragamuwa dances, and folk dances) and the Tamil tradition (such as bharatanatyam, kathakali, and naddu koothu and other folk dances).

Sri Lanka held the Interfaith Music Festival (a first in Asia) in February 2012 which was organized and created by the Mother Sri Lanka Trust and The Art of Living Foundation. Children from across the island came together to perform Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, and Islamic chants and songs on one stage. The highly-praised Jaffna Music Festival was held in March 2011 where hundreds of local folk artists from all over Sri Lanka as well as international folk artists performed in Jaffna in celebration of the unique and diverse traditional musical heritage of Sri Lanka and the world. This event was organized by the Sewalanka Foundation with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Aru Sri Art Theatre, and Concerts Norway.

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A Monk’s Earthly Mission: Easing North Koreans’ Pain

South Korean Buddhist monk Venerable Pomnyun in his office at Peace Foundation in Seoul, South Korea on April 4.

by Choe Sang-Hun
from the New York Times

Seoul, South Korea. In August 1996, the Venerable Pomnyun, a Buddhist monk from South Korea, was cruising down the Yalu River between China and North Korea when he saw a boy squatting alone at the North Korean edge of the water. The boy was in rags, his gaunt face covered in dirt.

Pomnyun shouted to him, but the boy did not respond. Pomnyun’s Chinese companion explained that North Korean children were instructed never to beg from foreigners. And when Pomnyun asked if the boat could be steered closer to the child to bring help, he was reminded that they could not enter North Korean territory.

“Never before had I realized the meaning of a border so painfully until that day,” said Pomnyun, 59. “Never before had I felt so acutely that Korea is a divided nation.”

The encounter led him to establish one of the first relief campaigns for North Korean refugees and to take on an unlikely role for a Buddhist monk. Today, rather than leading a secluded life of quiet contemplation, he is a well-known commentator on North Korea, his online newsletter an important source of information smuggled out of the isolated country.

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Bishops and Extractive Industries: A Human Face of Mining

Katherine Marshall

by Katherine Marshall
from the Huffington Post

In far flung corners of the world, religious leaders are protesting against mining companies and projects. What are their complaints? In Guatemala, they argue that gold mining poisons the water table, in Chad that painfully negotiated revenues that promised to ease the pain of poverty are nowhere in sight, in Ecuador that oil drilling devastates the landscape, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Nigeria that mining feeds devastating conflicts, in Ghana that mining in forest reserves threatens animal and plant species, in India that it strips indigenous people of their land rights, and in Peru that it pollutes lakes and rivers. The litany goes on and on but the underlying story told is one of broken promises, of powerful companies for whom profit is their God, and of a wounded planet whose land resources are despoiled with little to show, harming the people who live nearby.

It’s not that the church leaders are fighting a futile battle to stop all mining. As a statement of Catholic Bishops from Latin America who met last July in Chaclacayo, Peru began, “the church recognizes the importance of the extractive industries, the service they can provide to mankind and the economies of the world, and the progress they contribute to society as a whole.” But, there is a long list of “buts.” The bishops’ bottom line is that they see an irrational exploitation that leaves a trail of destruction, even death, throughout Latin America.

At the Washington National Cathedral an unlikely gathering of bishops, preachers, and advocates met on April 24 to explore how they might join forces both to draw attention to the harm that bad mining practices wreak on people and land, and to point to practical, positive ways to move forward. The prime movers behind the effort are the Bank Information Center, its indomitable leader, Chad Dobson and Father Seamus Finn, whose work with the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility has focused for years on nudging and cajoling companies towards responsibility in their corporate practice. Two large faith inspired organizations, Catholic Relief Services and Tearfund, have long campaigned for responsible mining and support the new coalition.

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Global Peace Initiative of Women Convenes Environmental Conference in Kenya

UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner with some of the women religious leaders at the conference Religious and community leaders meet to discuss solutions for sustainable development.

from the United Nations Environmental Programme

Nairobi (Kenya) 2 March 2012. The Global Peace Initiative of Women (GPIW), a non-governmental organization of contemplative leaders based in the United States, held today an environmental conference at the headquarters of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi.

The meeting, entitled Awakening the Healing Heart, focused on how civil society, especially women and religious leaders, can mobilize awareness and action to protect the environment and promote sustainable development.

The challenges facing the environment today has created a new urgency within faith communities to build a global consciousness around sustainable development. An international delegation from the GPIW conference will form part of the inter-faith component attending the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in Brazil in June 2012.

The meeting brought together over 300 women religious and community leaders, environmentalists and advocates from 28 countries and from all the major faith traditions, including among others H.H. Shinso Ito, head priest of Shinnyo-en, Japan; Reverand Dr. Celestin Musekura, founder of African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries, Rwanda/USA; Ms. Wang Yongchen, founder of Green Earth Volunteers, China and Dr. Sakeena Yacoobi, founder of the Afghan Institute of Learning.

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International Religious and Cultural Leaders Convene in Kiev for Interfaith Forum

Ukrainian Member of Parliament and President of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee Oleksandr Feldman and hip hop star Shyne speak with the media at the Global Winds of Change conference in Kiev.

by  Jewish Press Staff
from The Jewish Press.com

(KIEV, UKRAINE) – Amidst a period of widespread social and political changes which have swept the globe in recent months, a delegation of top religious leaders from the Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and Buddhist faiths met in Kiev over April 25-26 to discuss the developing role of religion during these dramatic times.

With phenomenon such as the ‘Arab Spring’ and flaring economic crises pushing global affairs into new realms, many observers are questioning the position that religion holds in effecting these changes. To address this pressing issue, the Kiev Interfaith Forum, supported by the Ukrainian Jewish Committee and the Institute of Human Rights and Prevention of Extremism and Xenophobia, presented the outlooks of some of the world’s most distinguished clerical and cultural leaders within the framework of a conference titled Global Winds of Change: Religions’ Role in Today’s World & the Challenges in Democracies and Secular Societies.

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Catholic Couple Embark on Interfaith “Pilgrimage,” Circle World on Religious Tolerance Quest

by Gillian Flaccus
from the Huffington Post

CLAREMONT, Calif. — Frederic and Anne-Laure Pascal are devout Roman Catholics who built their lives around their religion. When she lost her job last year, the young couple decided on an unlikely expression of their religious commitment: a worldwide “interfaith pilgrimage” to places where peace has won out over dueling dogmas.

Since October, the French couple has visited 11 nations from Iraq to Malaysia in an odyssey to find people of all creeds who have dedicated their lives to overcoming religious intolerance in some of the world’s most divided and war-torn corners.

The husband-and-wife team blogs about their adventures – and their own soul-searching – and takes short video clips for the project they’ve dubbed the Faithbook Tour.

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Faith Leaders embark on Interfaith Mission for Peace and Understanding

from JTA.org

WASHINGTON (JTA) — A group of U.S. Jewish, Christian and Muslim faith leaders briefed lawmakers on their tour of Indonesia, Jordan and Israel.

The six-day trip on the role of religion in advancing Middle East peace was led by Rabbi Sid Schwarz and included 12 religious leaders from the United States and 12 religious leaders from Indonesia. It was organized by the Interfaith Mission for Peace and Understanding.

On Wednesday, the group briefed the U.S. House of Representatives Indonesia Caucus, which is co-chaired by Reps. Jim McDermott (R-Wash.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who were in attendance.

Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the community’s public policy umbrella, highlighted the importance of the partnership between the U.S. and Indonesia.

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Youth Lead the Way to Interfaith Action for Development

By Harsha Sharma and Frank Fredericks
From Huffington Post

A child dies every 45 seconds from malaria, a preventable and treatable disease, but what can I do about it?

As young interfaith activists, a Hindu Brit and a Christian American, we’ve been challenged in demonstrating how life in our communities, whether London or New York, can connect to global development efforts.

Making the case for youth in interfaith alone has been a difficult enough challenge. Up until the past decade, youth were little more than a sideshow at interfaith events led by a greying generation. This isn’t to say that religious leaders aren’t important. They are in fact vital to interfaith work. But when religious violence is most often perpetrated by the youth, we should invest our efforts equally in mobilizing them in action.

Yet, interfaith work can entail more than just working towards “peace.” With some of the Millennium Development Goals such as maternal health hardly any closer to achievement than when they started, it’s becoming increasingly clear that tackling issues of global health and poverty won’t be possible without effectively engaging faith communities, particularly the youth.

Effectively engaging religious youth also requires reframing how development organizations view them. Rather than viewing religious youth as a target of such projects, more can be done to view them as an asset to such efforts. This has been a guiding principle for World Faith, which has been mobilizing religious youth locally in the developing world for four years.

For example, Nigeria’s 78 million youth are often identified as actors in violence, leaving hundreds dead in religious clashes. Yet, while the British Council finds that Nigeria needs 25 million jobs over the next 10 years to slow the trend of violence, the youth are often left out of both peace and development efforts. We see this as a global trend, and it’s time to not only engage youth in development, but to value religious youth as an asset in development. Religion plays a critical role in this paradigm, from becoming the source of violence to becoming the inspiration for social action.

But the question remains, can religious youth from the developed world be effectively engaged as an asset to supporting efforts in the developing?

That’s where the Tony Blair Faith Foundation comes in. The Foundation makes the case for faith as a force for good in the modern world. Youth feature centrally in a number of their programmes including the Faiths Act Fellowship — to which we belong as a Fellow and an interfaith coach respectively.

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