Wednesday 16 December 2009

Global interfaith harmony

About 60 years ago, then president Sukarno scoffed at Indian shopkeepers in India who took pride in displaying their religion on their signboards, "Hindu Tea Stall", "Muslim Restaurant", and so on and so forth.

Around the same time, then president Radhakrishnan of India was amazed at how we on the archipelago had preserved our culture and traditions, deeply rooted in the ancient Indus Valley civilization, irrespective of our religious affiliations.

That was a reality then, but a myth now.

Now, the hard reality is that a notorious cleric, totally ignorant of our age-old traditions and culture, can publicly make the threat that suicide bombings will continue if we do not adopt a sharia-based government system.

The intensified police efforts to curb terrorism are not blessed by this purported man of God. Instead, he blesses the suicide bombers and calls them martyrs. In his own words, "I don't absolutely blame bombers in Indonesia, because their goal is good, namely to defend Islam."

Such view is in clear contrast with what Mahatma Gandhi believed in: "Terrorism and deception are weapons not of the strong but of the weak. A religious act cannot be performed with aid of the bayonet or the bomb."

Another hard fact is that our government feels helpless in dealing with this one single man's notoriety, which has already tarnished our country's image. Or perhaps he is not a single man after all. Perhaps there are others behind him. Or a number of political parties, some influential people up there, forces outside the country - who are they?

A former high officio tells me that is not the case. So what is the case? "It's the political will. There is no political will to put an end to all this." Perhaps.

Our learned analysts and scholars argue that fanaticism, radicalism and terrorism are not the same. "Not all radicals," they argue, "are terrorists."

As mentioned by Prof. Greg Barton, in his well-researched book, Jamaah Islamiyah: Radical Islamism in Indonesia, our notorious cleric is also reported to have said, "I make many knives, I sell many knives, but I am not responsible for how they are used."

The moderate clerics maintain that terrorism and violence have nothing to do with religion. They carefully avoid discussing the issue of growing fanaticism. They would not echo with Gandhi, "A fanaticism that refuses to discriminate is the negation of all ideals."

Speaking in international forums, the leaders of our religious institutions are reluctant to admit that growing fanaticism and radicalism have divided our society, where interfaith harmony had never been an issue to discuss, but a way of life to practice.

We did not have interfaith groups earlier, but we had interfaith harmony. This was a reality back then, and a myth now. Now, the reality is that we have several interfaith groups, but no interfaith harmony.

Like it or not, religion has been used to justify acts of terror. Religion has been presented in such a way, and by its own followers, that it has lost both its meaning and its utility as a uniting force.

It is against this backdrop that, in December this year, the Parliament of the World's Religions will meet in Melbourne, Australia.

We may recall that back in 1893, the parliament met for the first time in Chicago. Vivekananda (1863-1902), one of the speakers who was to become the star then, firmly believed that, "sectarianism, bigotry and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful Earth. They have filled the Earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now."

He hoped the convention might toll the "death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal".

More than a century later, his hope remains a hope and a dream to realize. The conference in Melbourne later this year, therefore, is not only timely, but also urgent and imperative. However, more important is the meeting of our minds and hearts. More urgent is our willingness to be honest and truthful in what we say and what we do. More imperative is the change of the paradigm of a mere tolerance. We have to learn to appreciate the differences between us.

We have to work on our individual belief systems and mental complexes. Can we change our slogans from "my religion is the best" or "my religion is the only solution" to "my religion is not better than yours"? This will bring an end to all our religious and religion-based conflicts, competitions and acts of conversion.

To my friends who still endorse fanaticism toward one's religion, I must use harsher words this time: your endorsement is not only unhealthy, but also dangerous.

Consider the fanatics who have been, and still are, hiding the terrorists in the name of religion. They are not terrorists. They are only fanatics, and perhaps not even radicals. Yet they pose a danger to society and the nation.

As long as fanaticism and radicalism are not eradicated, terrorism will continue. And interfaith harmony shall remain a dream.

I look forward to the meeting in Melbourne, as I also look forward to its outcome. The options are limited - either we continue having dialogues, or really come together, work for world peace and serve the world community as one unit: One Earth, One Sky and One Humankind.

The writer is a spiritual activist, writer of more than 130 books in Indonesian and English. He is scheduled to speak at the 2009 conference in Melbourne and has been nominated as an ambassador based on his interfaith involvement and significant contributions to the interfaith movement.

Anand Krishna , Jakarta Sun, 09/06/2009 12:35 PM


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