IIC Newsletter 18: June 2003

Swords into Ploughshares

Peace – as sharing

When I wonder about what peace means to me, I remember standing under some eucalyptus trees on a hill in Momostenango, a little town in the western highlands of Guatemala. It was December 1995, just before the Guatemalan Government signed a peace accord with the guerrilla front, thus ending 30 years of internal armed conflict. I was talking to Abraham García, an indigenous Mayan spiritual guide and healer, who, some years before, had been imprisoned and tortured by the army.

Abraham turned his face towards the town and spoke almost as if to himself: “Peace isn’t the simple silencing of the bullets”, he said, “it must be an inner change towards other people, respect for the way they think, the way they live and how they solve their problems. For us there is no peace if there are people who walk bare foot, if there is no housing, no land.”

The often quoted picture from the vision of the Prophet Isaiah (Ch.2 vv.1-4) of people beating their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks probably looks to most of us like an unrealisable dream. But this is because we forget the first part of the vision which speaks of all the nations “streaming” to the mountain of the Lord’s house “that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths”.

It seems to me that Abraham hit the nail on the head. It isn’t enough for the sword and the spear merely to be buried. Their sharp blades must be converted from being instruments of destruction into ploughshares and pruning hooks used for productive purposes, but at the same time an inner conversion of the people who use them is necessary. The soldier’s aggressive energy has to be turned into the productive energy of the farmer and our suspicion and fear of other people needs to be turned into trust and understanding.

Peace can only be built on the values which lie at the heart of all the religions and spiritual traditions of the world, values such as compassion, generosity, forgiveness, patience, honesty, humility and love. The war in Iraq might have been declared officially at an end, but will there truly be peace if the wealth generated by the reconstruction of the country ends up in the hands of some of the richest companies of the United States? Can we speak of peace anywhere as long as such a small percentage of the world’s population enjoys the lion’s share of the benefits of trade?

Injustice provides no peace for those who are wronged but it does not provide a peaceful life either for those who profit from it. Someone from a village in the Indian state of Orissa once told me of an old tradition whereby, when evening comes, the better-off householders shout out: “Anybody hungry? Anybody hungry?” Only when they are satisfied that everyone in the village has had enough to eat can they go to sleep in peace.

Wendy Tyndale, World Faiths Development Dialogue www.wfdd.org.uk

Celebrating Diversity and Peace

Through the interaction of diverse cultures, people can foster mutual understanding, irrespective of race or gender. Learning within multicultural societies encompasses the preservation of cultural identities and diversity, recognition of gender equality, religious freedom, and the safeguarding of Indigenous Peoples and minority groups from oppression and forced assimilation. The teaching of human rights concepts can achieve the goal of multicultural education – developing the capacity to understand, clarify and appreciate the similarities and differences between cultures.

In connection to this, I offer the example of my own performing group United Rhythm, composed of students from 24 countries, with one vision – the celebration of diversity and peace through the performing arts.

Morse Flores, Philippines

Although it is difficult to bring about peace through internal transformation, this is the only way to achieve lasting world peace. Even if during my lifetime it is not achieved, it is all right. The next generation will make more progress. His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Peace as healing: Extracts from letter(s) by Ibrahim Issa,

Hope Flowers School, Bethlehem, Palestine. www.hopeflowers.org

On December 17th, 2002 at 5:00 in the morning I was awakened by the very loud noise of explosions and gun fire. Some neighbours started to phone us at home and ask what was going on.Our answer was, we do not know. Then my mother, I and my wife, decided to leave the home to speak to the soldiers. I was in my pyjamas. It was a very cold morning.

When I reached the first soldiers, one of them asked me, “Where are the wanted persons?” He repeated his question again and again, and I said always I do not know what he was speaking about. Then he asked me who lives in our home and who lives in the apartments next to my mother’s home. I answered that me, my wife, my mother and my three months little daughter. Also in one of the apartments downstairs next to us lives some one called “Bilal” who is working as a night guard in a company in Bethlehem and who has been renting here only two days.

One of the soldiers took me to my neighbour’s home. There I saw that the army had already arrested two young men and ‘Bilal’. The Israeli Intelligence major took me to one of the rooms in my neighbour’s home and started to ask me about explosive materials. I was in shock because I did not know anything. The major threatened to demolish the home if I did not admit where the explosive materials are. The bulldozer is on its way. He mentioned to me that he found weapons in my home (he meant in the apartment where ‘Bilal’ was renting downstairs) and then he said to me, “you will live all your life in a tent, the home is gone”.

Then the soldiers tied my hands and my eyes were covered too. I was transferred to some place I do not know. My appeals were that I am a peace activist, but that did not mean anything for the soldiers.

On the 4th day I was released. In the prison I remembered my father Hussein who was jailed also several times because of his peace activities. Hussein told me once that he got his power to work for peace from the middle of pain. My belief in peace never wavered. On the contrary I got energy to work and to change. It is the first time in my life that I felt that Palestinians and Israelis need peace more than ever. I hated the terror of both sides.

At home, the Israeli army had isolated my mother, wife and daughter in our neighbour’s home and searched everything for almost 6 hours. All furniture was turned upside down. The army destroyed the garage, surrounding walls, the whole garden of the home, before American officials intervened to stop them. I believe that Palestinians and Israelis are circulating in a spiral of violence since two and half years. Their decisions are based on action and reaction while I believe that every act of terror is a result of an unhealed wound. I believe also that I can deal with my wound and I can heal it in a peaceful way. I am not embittered by my experience. I believe that both people are behaving from their fear.

I want to share with you this experience. While I was blind folded I had a very interesting discussion with one of the Israeli soldiers. He wanted to know my religion. I answered that my religion is “interfaith”. The soldier did not know what interfaith is, and when I explained to him, he started to discuss that Palestinians do not want peace, and that the Palestinian intention is only to destroy Israel. After almost one hour of discussion I could recognize the difference in the soldier’s behaviour towards me. I think the soldier was a typical person who had limited beliefs about the other side. The soldier listened and I thought that collaborative speech could be useful with him. I am saying this because I believe that Palestinians and Israelis could solve their problems if they at least listened to each other. Defensive communication is very typical in the Palestinian – Israeli conflict. It is important to listen to each other’s truth. After the horrible experience in the prison, I am more aware that we have to work harder to make peace.

* Ibrahim will be in the UK in August. If you would like him to talk to your group, e-mail: amalzh@hally.net www.hopeflowers.org

Peace as action

At the city courthouse, a pregnant woman is on trial.The reason being her participation in the student movement against the military dictatorship. The government is accusing her of leading students in subversive activities. She may be sentenced to five or more years in jail.

In fact, since 1967 she was very much involved in the anti-government student movement and worked alongside a group called Popular Action. She started to support the resistance against the military when she was studying philosophy at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. After a very active period in 1969, she became the president of the university’s student union. During those days such engagement was a very dangerous task. Many of her friends had already been killed by the regime or tortured. After a federal decree that prohibited any student initiative and intensified the persecution of militants opposing the regime, she was forced to go into hiding. A few months later she was caught.

On that day in November my mother was judged innocent.

My history teaches me that peace and justice are inseparable. The further societies get from their ethical principles and universal values, peace, justice and human life are the first victims. Since we have forgotten most about ethics (after all humanity seems to be governed by the law where always the strongest abuses the weakest and values now only mean money), peace and justice are as far away as possible from our horizon. We need to create a new myth of peace and joy in order to acquire visions and inspiration to embody and lead a Culture of Peace.

The awareness that peace is only possible when it includes all peoples and living beings is not enough any more. Acting with joy based on a view of one humanity is the challenge for ourselves and all spiritual citizens. To spread a multicolored vibrant peace seems to be every peacemaker’s duty.

Andre Porto www.vivario.org For more from Andre, see IIC’s Faith and Interfaith video-interview with him.


Do you think you can take over the universe and improve it? I do not believe it can be done. The universe is sacred. You cannot improve it. If you try to change it, you will ruin it. If you try to hold it, you will lose it. So sometimes things are ahead and sometimes they are behind; Sometimes breathing is hard, sometimes it comes easily; Sometimes there is strength and sometimes weakness; Sometimes one is up and sometimes down. Therefore the sage avoids extremes, excesses, and complacency.

Peace – through love

We were on our way to an ashram in the Himalayan foothills. Four friends. On the plane, one began telling of how the swami there would sometimes not let people in. He was known as the Colonel of the Himalayas! Surprising my friends, I immediately burst into tears, fearing I would be one of those denied access. It was a time of my life when I was deeply trapped in something I knew not to be right yet which held me firmly in its grip.

From Delhi airport it was a 12 hour drive to the ashram. Exhausted yet joyful, the others bounced through the gates to meet Swamiji. I slunk in behind, hoping to be ignored and so able to stay, especially as the journey had been so frightening. Unable to go back down the way we had come up, I thought I would have to stay there forever!

It was not long before Swamiji, silently reading my consciousness, told me that only love can change a person. For 3 weeks he was our Mother, there in those high hills, nurturing us spiritually, emotionally, physically. No military punishments! Only love.

I do not yet live his teaching, yet it lives in me and I know that realising it will bring peace, for myself and others.
Only love can change a person.

Sandy Bharat Ashram details: www.yogananda-srf.org
‘Rest in Peace …’ The present definition of peace I hold is ’understanding why everything is as it is and having the patience to work towards eternal felicity for all’, as I think that peace is a totally individual and active state of being. This definition holds that ‘’Resting in Peace’ is an impossibility; the dream of ‘resting in peace’ is mixing up peace with eternal happiness. Eternal happiness is the situation when every particle in the cosmos is unified again in the Source or God. As long as we all together have not achieved this situation there is no rest, not even in Nirwana or Paradise. The tragic fact is that through the ages, past and to come, we all are fighting, together and apart, individual wars against our lusts, needs and greeds, for status, power and for more, keeping this planet a battlefield. Only by coming to understand this, will we individually find peace, but not yet rest. Jael Bharat

Sandy and Jael Bharat

Peace for me means knowing that people are willing and wanting to live together in harmony. After all, that is what the Torah (God’s Law) teaches us; in giving it, God provided the framework for people to live alongside each other, not necessarily in total agreement – it would be a very boring world if there was no argument – but in sufficient tolerance to allow others to live the way that they want without hurting them or wanting to change them. Peace at that level reflects the message of Torah that we should ‘love our neighbour as ourselves’ (Lev Ch 19).

And on a more personal level, peace is my acceptance of the need to live in this world, making the best of what life throws at me, both the good and the bad. The whole duty of humankind, says the prophet Micah (Ch 6), is ‘to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God’. If each one of us tries to achieve that, then we shall be at peace.

Penny Faust

For Peace in time of wars

Dear God: long reverenced by all humanity!

The inspired have for many centuries had knowledge of your will:

Of Love, Peace, Healing and the Golden Rule

But in this, new millennia, we fight mindlessly on, and on……,

Torturing with malice our incarnate bodies

Ignoring immortality: TRUTH

It is to realms of sanctity that all will return

NOW: as sirens and bombs scream and tanks clatter

Help us to ignore the screens and late news chatter

To find Your spiritual Peace in candle lit stillness

A lovelight to go winging wordless in Union

Wrapping our Spaceship Home in a golden blaze……

Of Your will, oh God!

From: Sixty inspired texts with prayers and poetry by Eric Gladwin. For copies, e-mail: ericgladwin@supanet.com

Peace – Is my Duty

The late Rabbi Hugo Gryn used to say “there is no such thing as an innocent bystander”. He could have been a Zoroastrian, for this statement quite beautifully reminds us of our individual responsibility. Individual responsibility is at the heart of the Zoroastrian teaching. Accepting this responsibility in conjunction with the dictate Humta, Huckta Huvarashta (good thoughts, good words and good deeds) as the ethical principle enables one to live in peaceful harmony with all. The all here implies the whole of creation, not just all within our own community, not just all within our nation, not just all of humanity but the whole of creation. The responsibility is all encompassing. It has been stated that there is no outer peace if there is no inner peace, and there is no inner peace if there is no peace with the environment. The environment is not just the ecological environment but the environment that is created by us and by our fellow human beings. Our religious principles enable us to have a relationship with the Supreme Being and our ethical principles enable us to forge relationships with the creation and the rest of humanity. Perhaps, that is why ‘good’, in the above ethical principles, is defined “as only that which is good for any body whatsoever.” When we consider the good of all, and we are inclusive there is no place for an enemy. No enemy: no war: peace! The good of all is my responsibility, peace is my responsibility, fulfilling my responsibility is the only duty I have.

Jehangir Sarosh www.religionsforpeace.org

SNOW, SUN and SEA: an Interfaith mini-Saga

The eighth EuroMediterranean Civil Forum took place in Chania, Crete at the beginning of May, under the auspices of the EU’s current Greek Presidency.

Civil Fora have two primary aims: to provide opportunities for dialogue between the Arab and European worlds; and to act as useful tools towards the avoidance of wars and military action.

The overall theme – ‘Dialogue of Cultures and Civilizations’ – proved to be somewhat ambitious for the barely two days’ conferring we had at our disposal. Interfaith matters got dutiful mentions but were not really engaged. From the omission of any specifically religious dimension, further substantiated by the comparatively small number of those opting for the ‘Dialogue of Religions’ Workshop, the message seemed to be that those present wearing Interfaith T-shirts should keep to their side-lined place.

A big fault lay with the Forum’s structural weakness which allowed too much time for the workshops and not nearly enough for the plenaries. No less than six local dignitaries welcomed us and sometimes in the most heady way. “You come here as citizens of the world, cosmo-politans”, as one rather floridly put it. “You do not come here as citizens of Athens or Corinth”. But unsurprisingly many of us DID come from either Crete or the Greek mainland, as our names revealed.

A strong presentation on Cyprus, by a Greek -Turkish duo with plenty of references to the success of the recently agreed political accord, aided by many “brothers and sisters from both sides of the barricades”, proved popular with the Forum. “A victory that will affect the whole of the Mediterranean” seemed to be the success story we wanted to hear. More sobering references to Iraq or Israel/Palestine were significant for their absence, apart from occasional and rather perfunctory acknowledgements.

Before we broke into one of four Workshops, we heard Prof. Talat Halman, from the Department of Turkish Literature. Was this to be yet another WELCOME? With some relief, we discovered not. In the event, his teasingly titled paper (‘Psychosis, Gnosis, Osmosis’), studded with poetic references, turned out to be an elequent cry on behalf of the world’s casualties from another trinity, this time “oil, toil and soil”. He also commended to us Turkey’s newly forming Parliament of Cultures.

The religious Workshop may not have been brilliantly attended, but those who came stayed to the bitter end of the acheingly long drafting of Statement process, in preparation for the EU governmental reps’ meeting at the end of May. Apart from our endlessly patient Staff member, we were a very male lot, full of enthusiam for our own projects but fighting shy of wider issues; until helpfully prompted by another gentle eastern Med professor, Antoine Nasri Messana, urging us to take account of religion’s “non-negotiable elements” in a world bristling with “political competitiveness”.

Members of the workshop must eventually have twigged to the slight difference of emphasis between their Greek Orthodox and British Anglican Co-Chairs ; particularly when it came to practical matters like the apparent absence of a mosque in Athens or ideological concerns like the desirability of a divine mention in the EU Convention. In the case of the first, we were advised by Co-Chair Alexis Papaderos that the problem was planning difficulties, pure and simple. As for the godly reference, members discussed at length the virtues or otherwise of a theocracy, but didn’t seem too concerned by the excluding nature of such mention or too happy with the thought that there might be more freedom for religious life under a secular state than under its ‘theo’ counterpart. The matter was eventually resolved by the very Orthodox half of the Chair. Those who know their apothatic theology (denying rather than affirming the divine attributes) will appreciate the subtlety of the final recommendation to the EuroMed’s governments: “The European Convention should not exclude reference to God”. Not bad for an example of the way Orthodox semantics can pour cooling water over even the most passionately doubtful of Anglican Thomases. “….should not exclude”. Ah, indeed!

One glorious feature of our time together in beautiful, historic Xania (in its Greek version): the presence of snow above the Forum’s deliberations in the 75 fahrenheited valley below. For the phenomenonologically inclined, this is apparently caused by the Inversion Lapse Rate (as in the undoubted hot and cold layers of Crete’s aerial sandwich).

Like the ‘White Mountains’, religion and interfaith felt a bit left out in the cold, as we spent most of our time in the hotter regions of cultural and political problems.

And, yes, the mixture of hot and cold patches in the sea added to the parable. Not excluding reference to the sun-baked sand and all the excellent Grecian hospitality, too.

David Partridge, IIC Volunteer Forum: www.euromedcivilforum.gr

Faith Schools and Social Cohesion: An Interfaith Discussion

On the 11th November 2002, the International Interfaith Centre, with the support of the Rt Revd Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford, held an interfaith discussion in the House of Lords on the hotly debated topic of faith schools and their role in promoting and maintaining social cohesion.

Proceedings began with a summary of the government’s position on faith schools and their role in society, delivered by Baroness Ashton from the Department for Education and Skills. She noted that faith schools, which make up 30% of all the country’s schools, are wanted by parents and communities across the religions. There is no evidence to support the claim that faith schools contribute to social segregation. Rather positive relations and co-operation between different faith schools, could be seen as integral to community cohesion. Faith schools seeking government support must be prepared to show that they are committed to good relations with all facets of the wider community, as well as partnership with other local schools, so that they positively represent the religions that they teach.

The rest of the panel were then invited to respond to the Baroness, and did so eagerly and with a variety of points in support as well as in opposition. Canon John Hall, Chief Education Officer at the Church of England Board of Education, was mainly in agreement, also underlining the need for faith schools to nurture good relations with other schools, both religious and ‘secular.’ Suha Yassin (a student from Copthall school in North London) also agreed, but suggested that there should be wider provision of state-supported schools teaching faiths other than Christianity.

Navleen Kaur (Head of Sikh Studies at Guru Nanak Sikh School) maintained that a curriculum infused with religious teaching allowed students to explore their beliefs and cultural backgrounds more fully, an opportunity they would not have in most state schools. A deeper exploration of one’s own beliefs and history produces young people who are willing and able to serve as responsible and knowledgeable ambassadors for their own faiths within the forum that is British multicultural society.

Also in support of faith schools, Fiona MacTaggert (MP for Slough) told an interesting story from the floor. In her own constituency, she has noticed that in multicultural schools where there is still a shortage of teachers from ethnic minorities, white Christian or secular teachers do not have the linguistic skills or relevant social and theological know-how to tackle the circulation of extremist religious literature and the activity of groups that promote it. Thus, the setting of a faith school may in fact be less nurturing for extremism than a more regular, secular school.

Ted Cantle (chair of the government team that reviewed the situation in Oldham, Burnley and Bradford following the 2001 race riots) reported that, based on his findings in those towns, the phenomenon of “white flight” from inner city areas tends to lead to monocultural schools due to their location alone, and that it was this kind of segregation and lack of contact between the various groups in the communities that led to a complete absence of social cohesion. It should be the obligation of all schools, faith-based or otherwise, to encourage a broader intake of differing racial groups, and to commit themselves to activities that contribute to the formation of positive links between community groups.

Dr Owen Cole (religious education specialist) maintained however that faith schools are actively selective, and pointed to Liverpool, Glasgow and the East End of London as examples where even the slightest encouragement of division along the lines of faith has proven disastrous in the past. Faith schools are expensive, requiring a denomination to supply 10% of the initial start up cost for a school, and it could be difficult for religious minority communities to gain the wider communal support required to set up their own faith schools, limiting choice to well-funded Christian or under-funded secular education.

Thikra al-Khrsan, a student from the Al- Zahra Muslim school, expressed her worry that single faith schools fail to prepare young people for a multicultural university environment, but went on to say that race-related bullying could often be a factor that encourages young people of faith to seek out an environment where they are amongst the majority.

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg believes the answer lies in multifaith schools, where students would be able to study and discuss ideas with others of different faiths, but where they will also have the opportunity to study their own faiths deeply to an extent not offered by state secular education. The Rabbi, with others, including the Bishop of Oxford who chaired this event, is developing a curriculum for the UK’s first consciously multifaith school.

David Rollason (Head of RE at Plashet School) described his school as a place where people value and respect each other. All religious holidays are observed as closely as possible and students are given the option of attending different faith based assemblies.

Nonetheless, some still maintain that school is not the place for spirituality, that there should be a strong distinction made between religious education and religious formation.

Factors such as race-related bullying and the desire to be amongst a community of people like oneself seem to be perennial obstacles to a truly cohesive pluralist society. School is the place where so many of society’s ills are somehow seen to develop in the next generation, and so should be the first and foremost place to tackle such problems. That is why lively, passionate, difficult but ultimately constructive dialogue on the issue between all facets of society, such as that in the House of Lords on the 11th November, is so important to the future of our communities.

Sam Wintrip

In memorium: Joel Beversluis

Joel Beversluis made an enormous contribution to the growth of interfaith activity in North America and worldwide by his work for NAIN and by his publishing. A Source Book for the Earth’s Community of Religions, originally prepared for the 1993 Parliament, is a rich resource and Threshold 2000 was published in time for the 1999 Parliament. Testing the Global Ethic was a joint venture with IIC and WCF. Joel warned that ‘good thoughts and good reading are not equivalent to good deeds’. His publications were tools to help us change the world. Sadly, as he wrote, ‘Now, the task is in your hands.’ May we, who have been enriched by Joel’s work and friendship, be worthy of his challenge.

We express our deep sympathy to his family in their sad loss.

Marcus Braybrooke, on behalf of all at the IIC.

Peace – perfect peace!

Hundreds of years ago, one of India’s great Tamil saints said, “It is easy to tame the rogue elephant. It is easy to tie the mouth of a bear. It is easy to mount the back of a lion. It is easy to charm poisonous snakes. It is easy to conquer the celestial and the noncelestial realms. It is easy to trek the worlds invisible. It is easy to command the angelic heavens. It is easy to retain youth eternally. It is easy to enter the body of others. It is easy to walk on water and sit in burning fire. It is easy to attain all of the siddhis (yoga powers). But to remain still is very, very difficult indeed”.

Quoted by Swami Bua in Hinduism Today, April/June 2003 – www.hinduismtoday.com