Unification News for November 2002

IIFWP Convocation 2002 - Governance and the Role of Religion in Peace and Security

by Gordon L. Anderson, Ph.D.

It had been a year since the terrorist attack in New York that brought down the World Trade towers. I had landed on September 20, 2002 at LaGuardia airport and as my cab took me across the Queensboro Bridge I could see the United Nations where US President Bush had made his case for enforcing sanctions against Iraq the previous week. Clearly the world had changed since September 11, 2001 and religion, or at least the rhetoric of religion, had become prominent in discussions of global peace and security.

Religion has no geographical boundaries like the nation-states that make up the United Nations. After World War II, the United Nations had been established with a Security Council made up of great powers with a mandate to keep nations from fighting one another. September 11, 2001 drove home the point that in our global age wars do not have to be fought by nations. Groups of people marginalized by the system of nation-states that is entrusted with global peace and security could find other ways to fight back and demand recognition and rights on par with those of established society.

Following the Cold War, which came to an end in the late 1980s, the United Nations has been increasingly called upon to police wars, not between nation-states, but between groups of people within states which fought over control states, between cultural groups that transcended state boundaries. Religion and ethnicity frequently formed the lines of demarcation of one group against another as they vied for power and recognition. In the West, over the last two hundred years, after numerous wars and much bloodshed, democracies had arisen to suppress the violence between such groups by offering political formulas for equal rights and opportunities for all. However, in much of the world states had been ruled by single parties, dictators, and authoritarian regimes. The demise of the power of many of these regimes, because of their corruption, unfairness, and inefficiency in a global economy, led to an anarchic world order which the UN Security Council was not structured to police.

Recognizing the limitations of the United Nations and its need to better understand the forces influencing our world in the 21st Century, the General Assembly resolved in its Millennium Declaration of September 18, 2000 that the UN "will spare no effort to promote democracy and strengthen the rule of law, as well as respect for all internationally recognized human rights" (para. 24). Further, it was stated that "we will spare no effort to make the United Nations a more effective instrument for pursuing all of these priorities" (para. 29). This included giving "greater opportunities to the private sector, non-governmental organizations and civil society, in general, to contribute to the realization of the Organizations goals and programs" (para. 30).

It was just two years since this declaration had been issued. Several non-governmental organizations and intergovernmental organizations had held discussions on the theme. In October 2000 and January 2001 I participated in NGO consultations in the ECOSOC chambers. The conference which I had come to attend this year, held in commemoration of the United Nations International Day of Peace, September 21, had been denied a room at the United Nations. We were meeting at the nearby Hilton hotel. The mission of Uganda to the United Nations had requested a room, but at the last moment it had been canceled. Some of the religious leaders and non-state actors attending the conference must have caused someone in the United Nations to panic, even though the host of the conference was the state of Uganda-a member of the United Nations. Clearly, despite the vision of the millennial declaration and the reforms the UN itself recognized as necessary, the reality was that the established UN bureaucracy was having difficulty in "sparing no effort" to involve NGOs and civil society in "the realization of the Organizations goals and programs."

Notwithstanding the change of venue, the conference of "Governance and the Role of Religion in Peace and Security" sponsored by the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace (IIFWP) on the International Day of Peace was a truly inspiring event. There were participants from 75 countries from the worlds religions and cultures, great and small. There were politicians, lawyers and scholars that understood the United Nations and the real obstacles to the reform of any such political institution. At the opening banquet we were treated to a choreographed ceremony titled "The Hope of All Ages." The ceremony contained songs and readings from people throughout world history that echoed the desire for world peace. These included readings from Confucius, Socrates, the Bible, the Koran, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jehan Sadat, and Reverend Sun Myung Moon (IIFWPs Founder). One was left with the impression that world peace is the aspiration of all the worlds great religions and cultures.

September 21, 2002, The International Day of Peace

The conference was formally opened by a panel titled "How Our Minds Have Changed" organized by the Ambassador to the UN from Uganda, Semakula Kiwanuka, who read the words of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on the establishment of the International Day of Peace and reminded us of a peace bell made up of coins from around the world. He asked those gathered to remember the victims of conflict and to dedicate themselves to the betterment of the world.

The first speaker was Al-Haji Moses Ali, Second Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Uganda. He was a military man who had worked with Idi Amin in 1973-78 and then had been exiled until 1986. While global terrorism made its major debut in America on September 11, 2001, he reminded us that the same terrorists had bombed embassies in East Africa, and that in Kampala they had uncovered a similar plot and foiled the terrorists. Nevertheless, terrorism is a constant reality in Uganda and many parts of the world today. He apologized that his embassy to the UN had failed to acquire UN facilities and promised to find out why their use was denied.

Mr. Ali was followed by Dr. Jones Kyazze, a Ugandan who heads the New York office of UNESCO. Dr. Kyazze spoke about peace requiring an understanding among cultures, the need to empower women and minorities, and the need to overcome disease and poverty. Good governance requires serious and engaged dialogue that includes all segments of society. He reminded us that violence often starts with families and in schools, and must be addressed at all levels of society.

The third speaker was Reverend Dr. Chung Hwan Kwak, Chairman of the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace which provided major funding for the conference. He spoke about the present as an "axial moment" in history, making indirect reference to the "axial age" posited by Karl Jaspers regarding the rise of the worlds great cultural spheres between 600 BC and 100 AD. Dr. Kwak went on to say that how our minds have changed since the September 11 tragedy is not as important as "how our minds should have changed." He went on to speak about corporate corruption and political corruption, and received applause when he stated that "morality must be at the basis of governance, whether it be a superpower or poor nation." He stated that for governance to be comprehensive, it "must have a balance of structure and culture, of character and form, of principles and practices, and of spiritual wisdom and practical reason." He stated that the world could not solve its problems "by political, economic, and military means alone;" that religious and cultural leaders of conscience step forward showing "the ideal of living for the sake of others." He received another round of applause when he indicating the world was waiting for such true leaders to emerge.

Professor Nicolae Anton Tau, former Foreign Minister of Moldova now teaching at the International Free University in Moldova, stated that September 11 changed the US more than the rest of the world. It drove home the point that the US is not a safe haven, separate from the rest of the world. "Global terror," he said, "is the first form of warfare of the 21st Century." This type of war has no front, no rules of engagement, and it targets innocent people. He saw the September 11 tragedy as a moral test as well, for it is in times of stress that peoples real character is known. "New Yorkers," he said, "showed an expression of humanity at its best-compassion and intercultural cooperation."

The final speaker in the first session was Sister Anele Heiges from the Committee of Religious NGOs at the UN. While she was a Dominican sister and had a doctorate in peace studies from Columbia University, she said she felt it was most important to speak to the group "as a grandparent." She had an adopted granddaughter who is Ugandan and she is white, but she said her granddaughter reminds her that "our hearts and blood are the same color."

After a break, we returned to Session Two, which was concerned with the topic of "Governments, Religions and the United Nations in Cooperation for Peace and Security." A Jew, a Muslim and a Christian were on the dais, in addition to a member of Parliament from South Africa, and the Presidential Assistant for Religious Affairs from the Philippines.

Rabbi Izhak Bar Dea, Chief Rabbi of the Rabbinat of Ramat Gan in Israel, said that all political attempts at negotiation in the Middle East have led to deadlock. Spiritual leaders have not participated in the discussions. They would add understanding to the situation that might lead to a better conclusion. This example of the Middle East is applicable to the global problems of peace as well-the spiritual and political dimensions of life need to be harmonized.

Reverend Hycel B. Taylor, a Christian leader from Illinois, argued that we need faith in a spiritual solution to political problems. Citing the Christian philosopher Paul Tillich, he defined spirit as "the actuality of the power of unity." "The history of the world has sought non-spiritual solutions to political problems," he said. Moving into the cadence of a preacher, he stated that "God must not be an object of worship, but the subject of our being." He declared that, "when the spirit breaks out, narrowness is transcended."

The room fell silent when Abdurrahman Wahid, Former President of Indonesia and a prominent Muslim leader, took the podium. "The most important thing is that the UN has lost spirituality." He continued, "We should let go of our egos to create peace in the world." He had obviously been listening to what former speakers had said as he emphasized statements made by Sister Anele Heigis, Rabbi Bar-Dea and Reverend Taylor. Wahid went on to describe how politicians often use the words of religion to bolster their own egos. He stated that there is a growing trend of religious organizations to support and influence a political party, using the examples of Soko Gakkia in Japan, the RSS in India, Katami in Iran, and his own political party in Indonesia. He was critical of Yasser Arafat in Palestine for only working in political terms.

The afternoon session consisted of presentations by several NGO leaders on how religions and governments can and do cooperate on specific issues. Mr. David Caprara spoke about service projects run by faith-based groups in the United States which receive government support, especially after President Bushs faith based initiatives were begun. Mohini V. Giri, Chairperson for the Guild of Peace in India spoke about work there with widows and poverty. Milicent Percival, President of the Senate of Antigua and Barbuda, spoke about programs where religious workers cooperated with the government in combating HIV/AIDS. Mr. George Ogurie spoke about HIV/AIDS activism in Nigeria through a program called the "Zero Transmission Initiative."

Grand Imam Sayyed Mohammed Musawi, of the World Ahul Bayt Islamic League based in the UK, argued that human society needs discipline, both inner and outer. Religion provides inner discipline and the State is responsible for external order. Religion and the State have complimentary roles and can cooperate in many ways. Musawi, a Muslim living in the West, strongly urged that democracies be established in Muslim states.

Noel Brown, Former Director of the UN Environment Program, commented on the recent trip of the Prime Minister of Japan to North Korea as a breakthrough toward peace on the Korean peninsula. He was followed by Dr. Vishwanath Karad, President of the World Peace Centre in India, who emphasized the importance of "spirituality," as opposed to religion, in modern life. He cited Gandhi as an example of a spiritual leader who tried to integrate spirituality discipline and political life. The afternoon presentations were followed by questions and discussion from the floor.

Dinner was followed by opera singer ___ and then remarks by Honorable U.S. Congressman, Danny K. Davis, whose eloquence and poetry amazed those present. He was followed by the founder of the IIFWP the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, who spoke about his fervent desire to see Gods Kingdom on Earth. He asked participants to serious consider his proposal made shortly after Kofi Anans Millennium Declaration, to establish an Interreligious Council at the United Nations. He also spoke about the Ambassador for Peace program that he had initiated for the purpose of creating "leaders of good conscience" that teach "living for the sake of others."

September 22, 2002, Towards and Interreligious Council at the United Nations

The final day of the conference was spent in discussion about how a moral and spiritual dimension can be brought into world affairs, so that international decisions taken at the UN are not solely based the collective national self-interest of its constituent nations. How could the poor and marginalized, for example the Kurds, Palestinians, or followers of Osama bin Laden feel the UN had their best interest at heart? How could the UN transcend the real-politik of national self-interest an truly show concern for the entire world and the altruism of "living for the sake of others"?

The discussion was kicked off with a short plenary session chaired by Abd-Elaziz Hegazy, Former Prime Minister of Egypt. Speakers included Clara Lopez de Letona from Spain, Secretary General of the European Network Against Racism, Hon. Hamilton Green, Former Prime Minister of Guyana, Guillermo Reyes, a legal counselor to the Permanent Mission of Columbia to the United Nations, and Dr. Cromwell Crawford, Professor of Religion from the University of Hawaii.

Mr. Reyes had been commissioned by the conference organizers to offer a legal opinion on the establishment of an Interreligious Council at the United Nations. I found this to be most valuable for the discussions that followed:

1. The UN Charter gives a basis for an interreligious council in its language "to practice tolerance and live together as good neighbors;" and, "to achieve international cooperation in solving problems of a humanitarian nature."

2. In Article 7 it is stated that subsidiary organs as found necessary can be created.

3. A proposal must come from a member state and the initiative approved by the General Assembly.

4. Although any member state can propose an item for the General Assembly agenda, other states can oppose it.

5. All supporting documents should accompany the submission.

Even though the momentum of the Millennium Declaration is in favor of such a proposal, Reyes was not optimistic about its adoption. The experience of the Ugandan mission in getting a room at the UN confirmed our acceptance of his cautions:

1. The General Assembly is a body of tradition, not paperwork or change.

2. Some UN delegates and bureaucrats would feel a threat to their power. They already fear the power of many NGOs.

3. Many will not want to finance a new initiative when the budget is tight and departments are already fighting over what is there.

4. Practically, at least one Big 5 country, preferably the United States, along with several other smaller countries would need to push for this initiative or nothing will happen.

Dr. Cromwell Crawford asked us all to consider the need for the initiative and what "religion" has to do with it. Were we not really talking about spiritual and moral renewal at the UN? So many wars have been conducted in the name of religion. Religion has a dark side. How could the council transcend the petty and egotistical aspects of institutionalized religion?

Crawford tried to help us understand that "fundamentalism" and "fanaticism" are two different things. Fundamentals of religion nourish spirituality, but fanatics often "pose as fundamentalists" in order to incite violence or war in the name of religion. Yet, today religion is the biggest player on the world stage. Billions of people place loyalty to God or their religious institutions above their loyalty to a nation-state.

After the kick-off session we broke into five discussion roundtables of about 30 persons each to brainstorm about the possibilities for the establishment of an Interreligious Council at the United Nations, and to bring recommendations to the conference organizers that could move the process one step further.

I was asked to co-moderate one group with Bro. Andrew Gonzales, President of DeLasalle University, and the Former Minister of Education in the Philippines. I was quite impressed with the caliber of the distinguished participants which included Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, and modern humanists. We also had legal scholars, members of congress of various countries, other politicians, lobbyists, academics, and representatives of NGOs. While we did not have all of the needed expertise to answer all of the questions, we had a good group to pose the right questions and draft and vision statement and strategy for a task force whose job it could be to further the initiative. It was mentioned by one participant that he thought our roundtable discussion was of a higher caliber than a number of the plenary presentations. We were asked to present a summary of our discussion, along with all of the other groups, to the entire conference at the closing plenary session.

At the closing session, most of the groups covered a number of similar concerns regarding whether the council would be more effective within the UN proper or as a separate organization like the International Labor Union. Another point of discussion for most groups would be how the International Council would be structured and financed. Three of the groups recommended that a task force be formed and report back with results at next years assembly.

I had come to the conference wondering whether it would accomplish anything, but as I returned across the Queensboro Bridge in a cab to LaGuardia airport, I knew that this event had made a step, however large or small, toward the creation of a more humane world order. I was grateful to have had a chance to participate.

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