Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Freedom of Religion in India - A Debate and Discussion at the House of Lords

Freedom of Religion in India – A Debate
and Discussion at the House of Lords

Dr. Mozammel Haque

There are well-known facts on paper and documents which nobody can deny and question. Similarly, there are facts on the ground the reality suffered by people, the facts people are going through their lives and the facts which are happening everyday, the day-to-day life of the people of India. Both of these facts are there on documents and in people’s life – the question is which one you are going to highlight; which one you are going to place before the public. As a neutral observer of facts, I will not ignore any one of that.

Facts on Documents
Lord Popat (Con):
Let’s see the facts on paper and documents. It is a fact that India is the largest democracy in the world. It is also a fact that the population of India is more than 1.3 billion. It is also a fact that India has a population of 780 languages. “For millennia, India has been home to vast diversities, cultures and traditions. In the rich tapestry of Indian society, we see 780 languages and seven major religions,” said Lord Popat from the Conservative Party at a debate and discussion at the House of Lords, British Parliament recently and . added, “Yet India also has a depressingly long list of incidents in which religious tensions have risen. Today’s debate could realistically have happened at any point in the past few decades and still reached worrying conclusions. While India’s diversity is one of its greatest strengths, it so often leads to moments of weakness. We should not pretend that religious tensions in India have come to the fore only recently, or under the BJP. Some, if not most, of the worst riots, including the Sikh massacre of 1984, which the noble Lord, Lord Singh, mentioned, were committed under the regime of the Congress Party.”

Baroness Berridge (Con):
Similarly, at the same debate and discussion on India: Freedom of Religion at the House of Lords, British Parliament recent, Baroness Berridge from the Conservative Party,  mentioned, “The predominant religion of the Commonwealth is Hinduism, a fact which derives directly from India’s membership. The Commonwealth’s second most widespread religion, Islam, is also well represented in India with 172 million people—the world’s third largest Muslim population. By 2050 India is predicted to have the largest Muslim population in the world. India currently has the world’s largest populations of Sikhs, Jains, and Zoroastrians, as well as substantial numbers of Christians and Buddhists and people of no religion at all. India has more people who are not Hindus—a quarter of a billion—than most countries have people. India’s religious diversity has always been part of its national identity and history.

Lord Sheikh (Con)
In the same discussion and debate at the House of Lords, British Parliamnt, Lord Sheikh from the Conservative Party also pointed some of the facts on the documents. He said, “India is home to 1.3 billion people, who belong to all the major religions of the world. More than 780 languages are spoken there. Additionally, the state cannot impose any tax to promote a religion or to maintain a religious institution.  The Indian constitution ensures that every citizen of India has the freedom to profess, practice and propagate his own religion. Therefore, citizens can follow their own religions and beliefs. We should all remember that India took an active role and was originally instrumental in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that we are discussing here today.”

“Since 1993, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Zoroastrians have been noted as minority communities. I stand here as a Muslim of Indian origin. Approximately 15% of the country is Muslim, totalling about 180 million people,” Lord Sheikh mentioned.

Facts on the Ground
These are facts and figures on Papers, on Documents and in the Constitution. The question is about facts on the ground, human rights of the people, and the religious tolerance in India. These we can understand from the day-to-day life of the people. The debate and discussion on “India: Freedom of Religion” at the House of Lords was raised by Lord Indarjit Singh of Wimbledon, a Crossbench (Independent) Life Peer since 2011.

Lord Indarjit Singh of Wimbledon:
Lord Singh highlighted concerns over the plight of minority faiths in India. Narendra Modi, leader of the nationalist BJP, won a landslide victory in the May 2015 Indian election, mainly on ostensibly economic issues, but after his election he has given increasing support to the Hindu extremist agenda of those who helped propel him to power. He refers increasingly to restoring dignity and power to the Hindu community. His own credentials were questioned by many in India and abroad. As Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2002, he failed to stop widespread violence against the Muslim community and for some years was banned from entering the UK or the USA.”

In support of his argument, Lord Singh of Wimbledon mentioned, “Reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom and other human rights organisations all tell the same story of forced conversions of Muslims and Christians, with brutal rape and killing and the destruction or seizure of property. This has been paralleled, sadly, by a more general crackdown on the right to free speech.”

Harassment of Muslims and Christians
Lord Singh of Wimbledon
There is an increasing disregard of Article 18 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Lord Singh has given just a few examples to explain the fear now felt, particularly by Christians and Muslims in India. He said, “The highly respected US Commission on International Religious Freedom expressed concern in its 2015 report over the biased application of state anti-discrimination conversion laws, under which Christian preachers have been harassed and arrested, while no action has been taken against those who, by inducement or otherwise, force people to convert to Hinduism. Its report also drew attention to the increasing harassment of Muslims and Christians, particularly those who have converted to Christianity, with physical violence, arson and the desecration of churches and bibles. Although this highly respected US Commission on International Religious Freedom is allowed to function in countries such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and China, it is now banned from entering India.”

Muslims targets of Hindu extremists
Lord Singh also mentioned, “Muslims in particular are targets of Hindu extremists and are routinely accused of spying for Pakistan, of being terrorists, of forcibly kidnapping and marrying Hindu women and of slaughtering cows. Muslim villages in remote areas, particularly in Bihar, are routinely attacked. Sadly, the police, as with the mass killing of Sikhs in 1984, are either silent spectators or active participants. Discrimination against religious minorities was prevalent, as Sikhs know too well, under successive Congress Governments. Under the BJP Government of Narendra Modi the increasing attacks on minority faiths have become more blatant and are accompanied by a disturbing silence of those in power. Under Congress, discrimination against Sikhs was direct and brutal. In the run-up to the election that put him in power, Narendra Modi himself pointed out that the Congress Government were responsible for the mass killing of thousands of Sikh men, women.”

Assault on Freedom of Speech
Lord Singh of Wimbledon
Speaking on the growing assault on freedom of speech in India, Lord Singh mentioned, “The growing assault on freedom of speech has alarmed many in India from all walks of life. Recently, a number of prominent Indians honoured for their work in arts, science and business returned their awards as a protest against curbs on free speech.”

“Despite my concerns, I believe that India is a wonderful country that has a lot going for it. It is a country rich in talent with a vast pool of highly educated and qualified people in business, science and the arts. But to achieve its real potential, those in positions of authority should heed the words of India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, who declared that the care of minorities was more than a duty, it was a sacred trust. India has a lofty constitution with grandiose pledges of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. It is a country that is home to many different faiths, but it cannot fulfil its full potential unless it takes its religious minorities with it. Sadly, there is no sign of this happening. What can, or should, Britain do about the deteriorating attitude to human rights and religious freedom in India?” Lord Singh raised the question.

Religious Freedom, Rights
of women and children
Lord Hussain (LD)
Lord Hussain, Peer from the Liberal Democrat Party was reading the Human Rights Watch Report 2016. He said, “The Human Rights Watch report 2016 states that the Government (of India) did little in 2015 to implement promises by the newly-elected Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, to improve respect for religious freedom, to protect the rights of women and children and to end abuse against marginalised communities. Even as the Prime Minister celebrated Indian democracy abroad, back home civil society groups faced increased harassment and government critics faced intimidation and law suits. Officials warned media against making what they called unsubstantiated allegations against the Government, saying that it weakened democracy. In several cases, courts reprimanded the Government for restricting free expression.”

Lord Hussain also said, “According to the report, religious minorities, especially Muslims and Christians, accused the authorities of not doing enough to protect their rights. Some leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party made inflammatory remarks against minorities, and right-wing Hindu fringe groups threatened and harassed them and in some cases even attacked them. It has been widely reported throughout the past many years that Hindu extremism in India is growing and the human rights and freedoms of Christians, Muslims, Sikhs and Dalits are hugely being victimised through its activities and attacks.”

 “I read two news articles in the past two days relating to India; one of them stated that four Kashmiri Muslim students were attacked and charged for eating beef in Rajasthan. That is the kind of environment that people are having to live in. For eating something they like, they are not only attacked and beaten up but then charged. At the same time, I read that an American watchdog had been refused a visa to look into the freedoms and rights of religious communities in India. That shows the intention of the Indian Government,” Lord Hussain mentioned two articles only to show the kind of environment Indian minorities are living.

Kashmiri Muslims
Lord Hussain particularly mentioned about the human rights situation of the Kashmiri Muslims. He said, “In particular, Muslims, who form the largest minority in India, are facing enormous pressure because of various laws. For example, Kashmir is the only Muslim majority state in India, where, as we all know; Indian forces have been since 1947. However, since 1990, they have continuously enjoyed immunity via the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, through which they are being given licence to kill. I bring this up in the debate on religious minorities’ rights because 99.9% of the victims suffering at the hands of the armed forces with immunity under that Act are Muslims. More than 100,000 people have been killed in the last 20 years by the armed forces. I know that there have been reports lately that some soldiers have been charged for wrongdoings in Kashmir, but that is only a token prosecution. When the Foreign Secretary next sees his counterpart in India, will he raise the issue of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the immunity given to its forces in Kashmir? When will India take that away from them? When will it take the army back out of the cities and heavily populated areas?”

Observance of Basic Human Rights,
Right to Practise one’s religion
Professor the Rt. Revd Lord Harries of Pentregarth, a Crossbench Peer of the House of Lords expressed his concerns and worries about the observance of basic human rights.

Professor the Rt. Revd Lord Harries of Pentregarth
Lord Harries said, “There are some real worries about the observance of basic human rights, especially the right to practise one’s religion. On paper, India has an excellent secular constitution. As Amartya Sen has argued, “secular” here does not mean the banishment of religion from public life but the fact that all religions are treated, in theory, with equal respect and concern by the state and its institutions. However, in practice, because of certain Hindu extremist groups, there is sustained violence against Muslims, Sikhs and Christians. Human rights are indivisible, and my concern is with the freedom of all religions in India—Muslims and Sikhs as much as Christians, although I wish to focus on Christians for a few moments.”

Attacks on Christians
Speaking about the recorded attacks on Christians, Professor the RT Revd Richard Douglas Harries, Cross-Bench Peer of the House of Lords mentioned, “A new report from the Evangelical Fellowship of India documented 177 recorded attacks on Christians last year. Church services were stormed and Christian leaders harassed and assaulted. There were beatings and violence, including the rape of a 71 year-old nun. There were even reports of 18 church pastors being arrested. This, the report stressed, is a drop in the ocean because most cases are simply not recorded by the police or local government. These attacks on Christianity must also be understood in relation to the caste system, because many Christians are Dalits—the former untouchables. As is well known, Dalits suffer disproportionately by every possible criteria: the number of rapes, lack of clean water and sanitation, poverty, and inability to obtain justice from the police and judiciary. It should also be noted that Christian Dalits do not qualify for the positive discrimination measures that other Dalits enjoy, so they suffer twice—both as Dalits and as Christian Dalits. A full list of these gross injustices is being set out this month at the Human Rights Council in Geneva.”

Discrimination against Dalits
Speaking about the discrimination against Dalits, Lord Harries said, “Not surprisingly, a good number of Dalit Hindus in the past sought to convert to Christianity or Buddhism. However, it should be noted—to the shame of the church—that caste has now also heavily infiltrated the church. The point here is that Christians are the object of attack by Hindu extremist groups, because these groups believe that they seek to attract converts from Hinduism by the promise of escape from the caste system. Whether this is true or not, it is very difficult for people to convert should they want to because of the threat of violence. Yet freedom to convert from one religion to another is fundamental to Article 18.”

Hindu extremist groups
Speaking about the religious violence by the Hindu extremist groups against other religions, Lord Harries said, “Mr (Narendra) Modi, in his younger days, was a member of the RSS, the main Hindu extremist group. He has not disowned that past, nor, as far as I am aware has there been a ringing condemnation of Hindu-inflicted violence against other religions. At the moment, there seems to be a culture of impunity, which can only poison the atmosphere further and lead to an increased number of attacks. Will the Minister, in our dealings with the Indian Government, call on Mr Modi to be clear, forceful and unequivocal in condemning these Hindu extremist groups, and firm in ensuring that perpetrators of religious violence are brought to justice? On too many occasions, there has been little or no action against criminals when the victims have been Christian Dalits or simply Christians.”

Treatment of Religious minorities
In India problematic
Lord Nazir Ahmed of Rotherham, an Independent Peer of the House of Lords, British Parliament also took part in the debate and discussion on India: Freedom of Religion at the House of Lords.

Lord Ahmed
Lord Ahmed spoke about the alarming situation of the religious minorities in the so-called largest democracy in the world. He said, “Democracy without human rights, equality, fairness, rule of law and minority rights does not impress me. President Putin was democratically elected; Donald Trump is leading the race for the Republican Party presidential nomination in the US; Hitler was also democratically elected; and so were many others in history who had a terrible record in the treatment of religious minorities. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, with all due respect, that I disagree with him: India’s record on the treatment of religious minorities has been problematic for decades.”

Reports of attacks, intimidation and
Marginalisation of religious minorities
Lord Ahmed continued, “We are seeing, as many had predicted, disturbing new levels of threat emerging since the formation of the openly Hindu nationalist BJP Government led by Prime Minister Modi. There are almost daily reports of attacks, intimidation and marginalisation of religious minorities. In 2015, President Obama identified the risk of religious intolerance as a possible cause of India failing as a state The noble Lord, Lord Singh, mentioned the tens of thousands of victims of mass violence, against Sikhs in Delhi in 1984 and Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, where mobs widely believed to have official backing massacred, raped and looted with impunity.”

“In the past year Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made numerous international trips in the hope of boosting trade and India’s engagement in global affairs. However, this did not go as planned as India continued to vote poorly when it came to human rights issues at the United Nations. I accept India being involved with the UN declaration, but India abstained from the Human Rights Council’s resolution on Syria, North Korea and Ukraine and voted against resolutions on Iran and Belarus. India’s long-term determination to play a larger role in global affairs and Prime Minister
Modi’s aspirations have been shot down because of India’s weak record on human rights, both at home and abroad,” mentioned Lord Ahmed.
Christian Communities face
Discrimination and religious violence
Lord Ahmed mentioned about the discrimination and religious violence against Christian communities. He said, “Christian communities in India have faced discrimination, as we have heard, and religious violence over a period of time. For example, on 17 June 2014 in the Bastar district of Chhattisgarh, over 50 village councils adopted a resolution which banned all non-Hindu religious propaganda, prayers and speeches. In those communities this effectively criminalised the practice of Christianity for approximately 300 Christian families in the region. Many were also injured in the violence following that. Numerous incidents of violence have recently taken place in India over the consumption of beef, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hussain, and many have been killed.”

Sikhism as a distinct religion
Speaking about Sikhism as a distinct religion, Lord Ahmed said, “Lack of recognition of Sikhism as a distinct religion has gone on for too long. Article 25 of India’s constitution deems them to be Hindus for the purposes of religion and personal law. Sikhs’ efforts to amend that incredible, offensive and divisive article have been thwarted for decades. This has resulted in the prevention of members of the Sikh communities from accessing employment, social services and education, preferences available to other religious communities. Sikh community members are reportedly harassed and pressured to reject religious practices and beliefs distinct to Sikhism. In October 2015, security forces in Punjab killed two Sikhs and injured scores more who were protesting peacefully against the desecration of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, which is the holy Sikh scripture. No action has been taken against those who committed this sacrilege or the security personnel who killed those innocent Sikhs.”

Visa Refusal to the United States Commission
On International Religious Freedom
Lord Ahmed raised the topic of visa refusal to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. He mentioned, “The Indian Government has recently refused visas to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom; this denial of impartial international access proves that there is still a veil that the Government of India and Mr Modi do not want the world to lift. I think it is clear that India has been and remains in breach of its duty towards minority religions. Prime Minister Modi and his allies in hard-line Hindu groups, such as Vishva Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, present a challenge to the international community. Do we confront this overt threat to tens of millions Christians, Muslims and Sikhs in India, or do we appease these extremist forces in the name of trade and profit? I urge the UK Government to make wiser choices and tailor its India policy towards the protection of internationally accepted religious freedoms. Backing India’s claim to a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, for example, is folly under present circumstances. Surely we should demand compliance with international law as a bare minimum price for such a prize.”

US Commission on International
Religious Freedom Annual Report
Lord Collins of Highbury, Peer from the Labour Party at the House of Lords took part in the discussion and debate.

Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab):
Lord Collins said, “Countries that do not respect religious freedom invariably do not respect other basic human rights. Last weekend I listened to BBC Radio 4’s “Sunday” programme—I am a regular listener despite being a Humanist—during which a representative from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom was interviewed about being denied the opportunity to visit India to examine reports of religious discrimination and abuse. In the commission’s recent annual report, it was suggested that incidents of religiously motivated and communal violence in India had increased for three consecutive years. NGOs and religious leaders, including leaders from the Muslim, Christian and Sikh communities, attributed the initial increase to religiously divisive campaigning in advance of the country’s general election.”

“Do the Government ensure that the issue of religious freedom is integrated into regular dialogue between India and the UK? Once again, as we have heard, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office seems focused on what it called prosperity interventions in India, but what is being done on human rights since Prime Minister Modi came to power? The prosperity agenda and the lives and fundamental freedoms of people must never be part of a cynical trade-off. You cannot trade human rights with economic trade,” said Lord Collins of Highbury.
While paying tribute to the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, on religious freedom in the Commonwealth, Lord Collins said, “Despite the importance of the relationship with India, which I strongly respect, we must not shirk from raising human-rights issues if the country fails to adhere to domestic and international law.”

The Earl of Courtown (Con)
The Earl of Courtown from the Conservative Party said, we all deplore “the desecration of the sacred text of any religion and acts of violence against any human being on grounds of their faith. It is also natural that many will have worried about the effect on their own families of recent events in Haryana, Punjab and at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Many—again both here and in India—are rightly horrified at the crimes inflicted upon innocent women and girls going about their daily lives.”
Human Rights Concerns in Kashmir
The Earl of Courtown also said, “We recognise that there are human rights concerns in Kashmir. Any allegations of human rights abuses should be investigated thoroughly, promptly and transparently. We are also aware that in Indian-administered Kashmir the Public Safety Act and the Armed Forces Act provide for detention and house arrest without trial for up to two years. We are also aware of the concerns regarding allegations of immunity from prosecution for Indian Armed Forces personnel in Indian-administered Kashmir. There is also a mechanism which allows people to request that the Government of India investigate such concerns. We expect all states to ensure that their domestic laws are in line with international standards. Any allegations of human rights abuses must be investigated thoroughly, promptly and transparently.”

Human rights violations on Muslims
The Earl of Courtown said, “As for the human rights attacks on Muslims recounted by the noble Lord, Lord Hussain, the United Kingdom engages on human rights matters with India, including religious freedom, both bilaterally and through EU-India human rights dialogue.”

Facts on the Ground reported
In the Newspapers and protest

Indian Intellectuals alarmed by
Rising intolerance attacks
It is reported on 1 November 2015 that “First writers then artists, followed by filmmakers, historians and scientists. The chorus of Indian intellectuals protesting religious bigotry and communal violence grows louder by the week with a single message for Prime Minister Narendra Modi: Protect India’s tradition of secularism and diversity. Those protesting are angry and worried by a spate of deadly attacks against atheist thinkers and minorities, and by Modi’s relative silence through it all.”

Arundhati Roy joins protest against intolerance
And returns award
It is reported on 5 November 2015 that “Booker Prize-winning novelist Arundhati Roy has joined the growing number of writers, filmmakers, scientists and historians voicing alarm over what they describe as a climate of religious intolerance and violence in India. Roy said in a sharply worded editorial published Thursday in The Indian Express newspaper that millions of minority people including Muslims, Christians and members of low-caste or tribal communities “are being forced to live in terror, unsure of when and from where the assault will come.”
It is also reported, “Already dozens of writers have returned awards to the country’s top literary institution, the Sahitya Academi, over disappointment that it has not condemned the recent killings of atheist activists who campaigned against religious superstition or Muslims rumored to have slaughtered cows or eaten cow meat.”

Roy said she was “so ashamed of what is going on in this country” and was pleased to return her 1989 national screenplay award and “to be a part of the political movement.” “I believe what artists and intellectuals are doing right now is unprecedented, and does not have a historical parallel. It is politics by other means,” said Roy, who in recent years has become a fervent civil rights activist.

Many of those protesting have also criticized Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party for not speaking out against religious attacks, saying their silence has encouraged Hindu hard-liners to justify the attacks and assert Hindu superiority, it is reported in the press.

Religious Intolerance in India
Who’s afraid of Shah Rukh Khan?
Under the above caption, Mr. Aijaz Zaka Syed wrote in the Jeddah-based English daily Arab News dated 6 November 2015: “If this is how India’s biggest superstar, feted around the world including by universities such as Harvard and Edinburgh, is treated for once speaking his mind and not preening and fudging like the other politically correct Khans, imagine the predicament of the less fortunate members of his clan. But then what’s new? The more things change in India the more they remain the same. Indeed, they seem to be unraveling at an alarming pace.”

He also observed in his write-up: “He (Mr. Narendra Modi) has been in power barely a year and half and he has split the country down in the middle, with people who have co-existed in peace for centuries thirsting for each other’s blood. Not a day passes without the Hindutva rabble-rousers, many of them senior BJP leaders and members of Modi’s Cabinet, telling Muslims, Christians and other minorities to leave the country or persuading them with attacks such as Dadri.”

Mr. Zaka Syed maintained, “Is it any wonder then the foot soldiers see these comments as the leader’s nod and wink-wink to go berserk. As another group of writers pointed out this week in their letter of protest, the Dear Leader is not only tolerating spiraling acts of intolerance and violence, he is mandating them with his selective and strategic silence.

“This sinister silence has not only forced hundreds of writers, intellectuals, scientists, filmmakers and artists to come out on the streets, it provoked rare rebuke from the President of India at least thrice and one long, passionate speech from the Vice President. Theirs are ceremonial positions and they are supposed to read from the script. Nonetheless they couldn’t help emphasize the urgent need to uphold India’s traditions of tolerance and diversity. Even the international media, not too long ago gushing about the ‘rock star reception of Modi’ in America, has started noticing the dark underbelly. While New York Times on Tuesday slammed Modi for tolerating and encouraging the extremists, the Economist did a cover story titled ‘Lights! Camera! Inaction!’ underlining the reality of Modi hype,” concluded by Mr. Zaka Syed.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Religion Can Help Healing the Wounds of Conflict

Religion Can of Course Help
Healing the Wounds of Conflict

Dr. Mozammel Haque

Religion is peace and religion teaches how to live a disciplined peaceful brotherly life. It can not only play but its aim and purpose is to guide humankind to lead a peaceful disciplined life and keep away people from conflict, violence, and disorder. There is no doubt sometimes some people used religion to create disturbance, disorder and conflict.

But religion prepares the psychological state of mind to cope with different situations. Islam prepares the common bond of humanity by establishing their common origin and universal brotherhood. This universal brotherhood emanates from the following basic concepts and is demonstrated in a most authentic and brilliant manner here on this occasion:
Adam is the first man from whom all human beings have sprung up;
Abraham is the father of monotheistic religion;
Acceptance of all prophets as prophets of God;
Belief in all revealed books of Allah.

Thus, this acceptance of Abraham as the patriarch of the concept of Tawheed and recognition of the continuity of Prophethood from Prophet Adam to the Last Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and having faith in all revealed books keeps up a chain of faith known as Islam throughout the world. This binds the whole humankind into a bond of brotherhood whose genealogical father is Adam and the spiritual father Abraham. Thus Muslims believe in the continuation of the human race on earth. There are no conflicts and controversies in the monotheistic religion decreed by God. All Muslims (those who consciously and willingly surrender to the Will of the Creator) belong to this Ummah and therefore constitute a fraternity of faith.

Lord Eames mentioned brotherhood. But it is known and we found conflicts were there in the past and still are around the world and people were victimised. Religion teaches forgiveness as mentioned by Dr. Marcus Braybrooke but we have to remember that religion also teaches, at the same time, not to cause injustice.

We have noticed in the past the main cause of conflict is not religion, but injustice and this injustice was created by the wrong policy of some policy makers who are in power. Dr. Marcus has mentioned different stages of forgiveness. When injustice is caused to some people, some communities or some countries, they became victims and some of the victims of oppression and injustice, may be they are very minimal, may be 1 in 1000, took to violence; though religion does not approve violence, extremism or disorder; though no sensible peace-loving people will support that; but we noticed it is happening.

Healing the Wounds of Conflict –
How Can Religion Help?
Naturally, under this situation and circumstances, how can religion help? Becomes the topic of discussion and debate undertaken by the Universal Peace Federation in its event on 22 February 2016.

A meeting on “Healing the Wounds of Conflict – How Can Religion Help?” hosted by Lord Ahmed of Rotherham, was held at House of Lords Committee Room, on 22 February 2016. This meeting was organised by Universal Peace Federation (UPF) on the occasion of World Interfaith Harmony Week. In the event, people of so many different traditions communities religious groups faith groups gathered and represented which makes this meeting more important and more relevant.

The purpose of holding this meeting was, according to Universal Peace Federation, “While it is quick to destroy development and positive inter-community, inter-ethnic, inter-religious relationships the recovery from conflict requires a long period of healing. It is said that politicians can sign peace treaties but it is a role of religious leaders to encourage the healing and the reconciliation that makes that treaty long lasting and brings hope for future generations.”

“UPF has had a series of conferences chaired by Rev Dr Marcus Braybrooke on forgiveness and reconciliation. They have allowed us to consider the dynamics of forgiveness. Reconciliation is a wider process that brings together communities and individuals in mutual reflection and honest effort to build understanding and then trust that will underlie generations of future development,” said UPF.

Among the speakers, there was Rt. Rev. the Lord Eames OM, the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland (1986-2006), Rev. Dr. Marcus Braybrooke, Joint President of the World Congress of Faiths and Irris Singer. In the absence of Lord Ahmed, the event was chaired by Mr. Robin Marsh, Chairman of the Universal Peace Federation, London, United Kingdom. After the speeches, there was Q&A.

Rev.Dr. Marcus Braybrooke
Rev. Dr. Marcus Braybrooke, Joint President of the World Congress of Faiths, started by explaining the importance of forgiveness in different Faiths. Dr. Marcus said, “We must forgive as the Jesus did.” He said, “In the same way, Muhammad (peace be upon him) when he returned victorious to Mecca showed a divine mercy. He called for the leaders of the Quraish and said to them, ‘This day, let no reproach be cast On you: Allah will forgive you, And He is the Most Merciful Of those who show mercy. (Al-Qur’an 12:92)

He also mentioned, “The Buddha said, “hatreds never cease through hatred in this world; through love alone they cease.”

But Dr. Marcus said, “If it is easy to talk about forgiveness, I know how difficult it is even in ordinary life. I cannot begin to imagine how difficult it is for those whose loved ones have been killed or tortured, but the only hope for healing and lasting peace is for us to mirror the forgiveness of God. As Desmond Tutu said, “There is no future without forgiveness.’”

After showing the importance of forgiveness, Dr. Marcus mentioned how difficult it is to practice and then he mentioned various stages of forgiveness. He said, these are:
1. The victim feels anger and hatred
2. The victim demands justice – public recognition of the wrong can do something to reduce the anger.
3. The victim recognises that the anger is damaging himself or herself, making him or her twice a victim, and tries to let go of the anger.
4. The victim begins to think about the wrongdoer. Negative feelings begin to be replaced by positive ones. Perhaps the wrongdoer is a relation or member of the same faith community or the victim recognises that the wrongdoer has lots of problems or poor background or ‘was obeying orders.’
5. There is some expression of willingness to forgive but, a key question, is whether this can happen before there is confession of guilt and repentance on behalf of the wrongdoer?
6. May be there is some form of reconciliation. For example one ex-husband, when his wife married again took the wedding photos.

He mentioned about the most vital role of the faith communities is to give practical help to victims of violence, but can they also play a role in reconciliation?

Then Dr. Marcus mentioned about various commissions such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, recent Canadian Truth and Reconciliation report says, ‘shaming and pointing out wrongdoing were not the purpose of the Commission’s mandate. Ultimately the Commission’s focus on truth determination was intended to by the foundation for the important question of reconciliation. Getting to the truth was hard, but getting to reconciliation will be harder. Reconciliation requires that a new vision, based on a commitment to mutual respect, he developed.’

Dr. Marcus mentioned that Wikipedia lists some 40 Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, Some have been set up by the United Nations, some by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the great majority by governments. In South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which Archbishop Desmond Tutu headed, offered an amnesty the whole truth was told.

Acknowledgement of Injustice
Dr. Marcus also mentioned about the importance of the acknowledgement of the injustice. He said, “The importance of knowing what actually happened to one’s loved ones is very important. The Citizen’s Pact in Mexico had as its first demand ‘the naming of the victims’ as well as acknowledgement of the injustice. Desmond Tutu repeatedly emphasized his faith in the healing power of truth telling, captured in the banners which said ‘Revealing is Healing’. The same is true of the community trials after Rwanda genocide. ‘They served to promote reconciliation by proving a means for victims to learn the truth about the death of their family members and relatives.’

Public Apology
Dr. Marcus also mentioned the importance of public apology. He said, a person needs to recount the traumatic experience in detail. People also need to have the injustice they have suffered acknowledged. This is why I think public apologies are important and are not empty gestures. Dr. Marcus mentioned about Pope John Paul’s words of apology in the scroll put into the Western wall in Jerusalem were very important.”

Dr. Marcus also mentioned about the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of Verdun. He said, “By the end 300,000 German and French soldiers had been killed. In 1984, President Mitterrand and Chancellor Kohl went there together. They did not just shake hands but held each other’s hand. As the historian Le Naour said, ‘Verdun ceased to be a symbol of nationalist pride. It became a symbol of peace and the stupidity of war’ and of the new Europe – perhaps it should not have social effect. Dr. Marcus also mentioned Symbolic events and public apologies are, I think, helpful.

Trials for the injustices
Dr. Marcus then mentioned about the requirement of justice for those who persecuted atrocities.  He said, “To what extent, does justice require the prosecution of those who perpetrated the atrocities – as for example the Nuremberg trials. More recently, in Rwanda, following the genocide, more than 120,000 people were detained and accused of hearing criminal responsibility for their participation in the killings. To deal with such an overwhelming number of perpetrators, a judicial response was pursued on three levels: First by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.”

Dr. Marcus also mentioned about the Liberian Commission and South Africa. He said, “The Liberian Commission recognised that prosecution is desirable to foster genuine national reconciliation and combat impunity, but allowed for amnesty in some circumstances, especially for children and for individuals admitting their wrongs, speaking truthfully and expressing remorse. A trial expresses public horror – may be it acts as a deterrent, but does it purge or perpetuate the memory? In South Africa, a person who made a full confession was freed from criminal or civil liability. Tutu has insisted that ‘public exposure and humiliation’ was a big price for the perpetrator to pay. Others more cynically have said it was a price worth paying.”

Then Dr. Marcus enquired about compensation and rational forgiveness. He said, “This is also significant because some Christians try to practice was had been called ‘rational forgiveness,’ which encourages the victim to forgive even if the person who hurt them has not expressed sorrow or contrition. The victim initiates the search for reconciliation. Desmond Tutu in his beautiful Book of Forgiving insists on two simple truths, ‘there is nothing that cannot be forgiven, and there is no one undeserving for forgiveness’. Yet I cannot forget the warning of a Jewish friend that ‘to be kind to the cruel is to be cruel to the weak.’

Concluding Remarks
Referring to the recent crisis in Syria and Middle East, Dr. Marcus said, “This may seem an abstract theological discussion: but I think it is of real importance to think now about the long and very difficult process of healing that will be necessary in Syria and the Middle East when at last there are no targets left to bomb. Let me end with the words of Kia Scherr after the death of her husband and daughter in a terrorist attack in Mumbai. ‘If we continue to love in the face of terrorism, we disempower the terrorist and the terrorist ceases to terrorise. Imagine multiplying this a million-billionfold around the world and over time, we will truly end terrorism.’ Should we pray for terrorists as well as for their victims?”

“Only love and forgiveness can disperse the revengeful dust of history rises up to haunt us,” Dr. Marcus concluded.

 Rt. Rev’d the Lord Eames OM
The Archbishop of Armagh and
Primate of All Ireland (1986-2006)
The next speaker was not only the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland but also a member of the House of Lords. Among the many titles and positions Lord Eames was awarded the Freedom of the City of Armagh. His contribution to a troubled city was described as follows: ‘The immense national and international stature of Lord Eames in both church and community life has rightly been much celebrated. This award, however, signals something more: the respect and deep affection in which Lord and Lady Eames are held in the city and district which was their home for over twenty years and the contribution they made to the community of which they were a part. ‘Northern Ireland is enjoying something of a ‘Springtime of hope’ at the moment. Much of the foundation for that hope was laid by the work, quietly undertaken by day and by night, in homes just as much as in council chambers, by Lord Eames during his long tenure of office.”

Practicality of peace process
Lord Eames started saying that  “thank you Marcus, may I say what you say that you have set the scene so perfectly for what I wanted to talk about; because I come among you as the practitioner, I come among you as the person who through experience has had to do the sort of things that Marcus talked about. The phase the dilemmas the phase the challenges; the phase the failures; because the hardest path to walk is the path of reconciler. There is no harder path; and there is no more difficult task.”

The Archbishop of Armagh and the Primate of All Ireland had played the role reconciler during the Irish troubles. He described the situation, “It’s January, snow on the ground on the barren hillside there is a group of man several trucks and from the trucks comes machine guns. rocket launchers, revolvers, ammunitions - the whole paraphernalia of the terrorists. And they are putting these in a huge file on the side of the hill. With another person I have been appointed to observe the destruction of terrorists’ arms and for 4 or 5 hours on that barren hillsides I watched individual bullets counted and numbered. I watched individual weapons sliced into; I watched … exploded in the distance; and I watched scientists dismantle weapons of hate and destruction. That was for me the end of years of pilgrimage because it marked the surrender of arms which had been used to kill, to maim and destroy in my community. And for 20 of those years as Archbishop of Armagh without wanting to be but compelled to be part of the process that brought that and produce what we call the practicality of the peace process.”

Common denominator of being a reconciler
Lord Eames gave a short sketch of his experiences of those days. He said, “I want to suggest you that no matter who you are tonight, no matter what tradition and experience who have had, there are Common denominators of being a reconciler. For the principles, Marcus has said so clearly a few minutes ago, are there worldwide. I speak to you having seen them at first hand and because of that have lived through it. You have read and experienced troubles of Ireland; causes of that go back generations and centuries. We have not got even time to begin to discuss what they are; but the result of that was that in the early 1960s warfare, literally warfare, broke out between two communities – Protestant and Unionist communities in Northern Ireland; wished to be long and continue to belong part of the United Kingdom.”

Ireland 1960s war broke out
Speaking about the Ireland conflict of 1960s, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland said, “Republican nationalist Roman Catholic community who in the main favoured being part of the Republic of Ireland. Now that, in a very simplistic way, is what was the cause of the conflict. Into that you put terrorism, into that you put reaction to terrorism; into that you put para-militaries and vicious groups; and into that you put killing and maiming and destruction and terrible suffering. That’s the position which I was called to exercise the role of the Anglican primate of all Ireland and because of that much of my Ministry took me down the path of being not just sanctuary of pulpit or the Communion table; it took me into the homes of despair of broken families, the victims; the people who cried and did not know why they are crying; the little children who said where is my father and above all else it took me to the world of politics as they struggled to find a way of bringing to an end.”

Path of Reconciliation
Lord Eames started describing the scene the winter hillsides which was actually, in reality, the consequences of the efforts of so many of the making for brought the end of one side of the armed conflict. About this the Archbishop of Armagh said, “I will take back that picture with me to my grave.”

What is conflict?
Lord Eames was requested by the organiser of the event to say something about the path of reconciliation. Lord Eames said, “First of all, what is conflict? Conflict is an action of an opposing person or communities who have lost the will to find a peaceful resolution to difference; peaceful resolution, be that religious difference, political difference, economic difference; it is the failure to find dialogue for peaceful solution to a conflict situation.”

Lord Eames maintained that it is a failure to resolve conflict resolution. He said, “Conflict is the ultimate failure; conflict takes over the people where peace failed and conflict takes over where bridge building has given the second place dialogue. For I am totally convinced from my experience that no matter how hard it is before we even begin as Marcus has said earlier on, before we even begin into talk about forgiveness we have to recognise the nature and meaning of conflict.”

Nature and meaning of conflict
Lord Eames defined the nature and meaning of conflict. He said, “Conflict is a human condition; and while we talk about bringing reconciliation between groups and communities and nations and people its all about getting ordinary men and women to recognise that the benefits of reconciliation and peace outway the consequence of conflict. And when we struggle and tried to get that message through that we begin to realise the complexity of what we are talking about.”

Referring to Dr. Marcus who spoke earlier, Lord Eames said, “Marcus has rightly said earlier on that sometimes religion is not the cure of conflict but it is also the cause and if I think back to the Irish situation of my experience I have to say with all honesty yes, it is as much the cause of the problem as anything else that we had failed over the generations to explain the real essence of faith of religion no matter who we are; what traditions we belong to; the real essence of it is brotherhood.”

Brotherhood – Essence of Faith
The Archbishop of Armagh Rev’d Eames explained brotherhood. He said, “Brotherhood which acknowledges that no matter what are particular teaching may be, we are fellow citizens of the one world; and my colour, my creed; my faith and my experience may differ me from other people; we are still basically seeking to find a reconciled world in which there is respect for difference. I sometimes begun to feel during the struggle I am talking about. The hopelessness of despair is time and time again our efforts failed and that failure was much to our inability to understand the meaning of conflict as it was to begin to learn what forgiveness meant.”

Again referring to Dr. Marcus’ definition of forgiveness quoted from different sources, Lord Eames mentioned, “Forgiveness, as you have defined from the various sources you quoted, means different things to different people and when that action of hill side was over, it was not the end of a story; it’s the beginning because people have the victimhood, people of the victim world, all had the different concepts of what they wanted to do.”

Failure of understanding
Then the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland mentioned about two cases which he cannot forget. He said, “I remember bearing a young man recently married whose little child from the former married is standing on the side of the grave that I buried him. In my robes I remembered turbulent feeling something is talking to my robes. And I looked down; a four year old looked up to me; amazed and aghast; what was going on and she said simply: ‘Archbishop, what you have done to Daddy?’ I still feel emotional and cannot reconcile the story because that tragic scene summed up to me so much of the tragedy of what we call the trouble; it is the human reaction in the simplicity of a child which makes your sophistication and my sophistication doll into insignificance. What you have done with daddy?”

Lord Eames said, “As a Christian, I had offered his human remains into the hands of our God of Love and I could have been a Muslim; I could have been a Hindu; I could have been a Jew, I could have been a non-believer, but my weeping for that little child was universal. Was not it?  Universal whatever faith you come from; you would have the same feeling, the same emotion; I am quite certain, if you have any compassion.”

Speaking of another experience, the Archbishop Rev’d Eames, said, “I think of the mother when she said to me, ‘I want justice’. I said, ‘what is the justice you are looking for?’ She said, ‘I don’t want to see someone in prison;  I don’t want to see one condemned what they have done to my daughter; I don’t want to see a person to execute for what they have done; I just want to know what happened?’ Tell me more; listen to what she said; ‘I just want to know: did they give her lunch before they kill her.’”

Common humanity – victimhood
After referring those two little incidents, Lord Eames said, “My friends, those are just two little incidents which remind us something humanity; the common humanity of the field of suffering which is victimhood, for it is victimhood we are talking about to night; if it is the religion whatever faith you come from, if you and I have a role in bringing a reconciled world, its got to be a world which we understand. We understand conflict; we understand reconciliation but we also understand what makes a victim. I have my own little definition. It is not any book that I have written. One that I have worked out through the years of trial and experience. It’s called instantaneous theology.

Instantaneous Theology
Lord Eames explained Instantaneous Theology. He said, “That is the fact that you confronted with scene and with situation that no textbook you prepare for; no teaching prepare you for; no study prepare you for; but you react how you think your faith, it’s that situation. And when clergy turned to me in the past; please tell us what we should say? I have to say and I am going on to say to: When people forget what you said, they remember you; you are there; when people forget the Jew confronted hard to encapsulate the right word to speak out their tragedy. They remember you are there. They remember your face, they remember your compassion; they remember your brotherhood and I think that helps perhaps to understand: what true faith, what true religion, whatever the label, what true religion comes up to do in situation that may seem at first sight is totally beyond this. Instantaneous theology; Instantaneous compassion; Instantaneous brotherhood.”

The Role of Politician
Up to now, Lord Eames was talking about the role of religious person or from the religious point of view; that was his first story on conflict resolution. Lord Eames then started to tell his next story. He said, “The next step in my story is to talk about the role of politicians; for ultimately, for all solutions to conflict situation will involve the element of the political. I had to meet numerous politicians, in numerous occasions and indeed listen to numerous politicians in the scenario that was the Irish trouble and what has been by overriding impression again the years rolled by is the fact that we are fellow pilgrims looking for reconciliation. There is a sense that we have a common denominator – clergy and politician; our overall aim is to influence people. I would want to influence people along the lines what I have just described - the elements of love and compassion and forgiveness and reconciliation.”

Clergy and Politician
Speaking about the role of politician, Rev’d Eames said, “The politician wants to keep watching the ballot box; he wants to influence people at the high level of but it’s still people that he or she has got to influence. So it is the reminder that the roots of every conflict situation it is the ordinary people who must be taught to forgive; instantaneous forgiveness and to understand the nature of reconciliation.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa had a great role played during the apartheid in South Africa. Archbishop of Armagh and Archbishop Desmond Tutu were great friends. Referring to Desmond Tutu, Lord Eames said, “If Desmond Tutu are here, sitting beside me, the moment I can just hear him giggling; and casting that infectious laugh which reverberated around the world.  Because Desmond Tutu and myself have been life long friends; I worked with him in the South African Truth and Reconciliation process; as we tried to set up equivalent one in the Northern Ireland. He shared with me and we agonised together. There is one from that shared friendship that I would relate to you. Again you would not find it in a book. It was when Desmond Tutu came over here to see me and some others and apartheid was still a fact in South Africa and over his head was a threat that he would be imprisoned on his return to Cape Town. Robert Alexander Kennedy Runcie, the then Archbishop of Canterbury. Robert and I talked to Desmond in an attempt to try and get him fresh courage as he was going back to Cape Town. I remember Robert’s phrase. He said to the world: ‘You touch Desmond and you touch all of us’.”

Lord Eames continued, “The bit I want to relate to you was not public; it was between Desmond and myself. Desmond shared his worries and his genuine fear by listening I listened them; we talked together and prayed together and then he said something to me. I used to remember night after night, day after day, as we saw the end of the trouble. He said, ‘when you have cried, and when you can cry no more; you discover a new reality; there must be a different path; there must be a different path than regret.”

Forgiveness is an individual concept
Speaking about forgiveness, the Archbishop of Armagh said a very important aspect of human right. He said, forgiveness is an individual concept. He said, “I have no right to tell somebody you must forgive. I have no right to say a person, God or your belief wants you to forgive. That forgiveness must have somehow approached their situation and yes compel them to find a means whereby they can do things we call forgiveness. My reaction is not yours and your reaction is not mine. It is an individual concept; we may put the label forgiveness and we can say that’s we are talking about. At the end of the day it is an individual experience.”

The Archbishop of Armagh also mentioned, “As a Christian, I think, I have no right to judge; for one day I would be judged. I have no right to condemn; I can ask people to stop doing this; or to say there are lots of ways to reach your aim or fulfil your purpose other than violence. But I cannot condemn without justification. Or I have been or I live in a world which acknowledges the forgiveness of God; you, all of you live in a tradition, no matter what the label is, come from, forgiveness. Brothers and sisters, that’s why I begun by saying we talk tonight of brotherhood.”

After the speakers lecture; there was Questions and Answers session, where this writer, along with others participated. My comments and observations are mentioned at the beginning as an introduction.

Dr. Haque observed: We have noticed in the past the main cause of conflict is not religion, but injustice and this injustice was created by the wrong policy of some policy makers who are in power. Dr. Marcus has mentioned different stages of forgiveness. When injustice is caused to some people, some communities or some countries, they became victims and some of the victims of oppression and injustice, may be they are very minimal, may be 1 in 1000, took to violence; though religion does not approve violence, extremism or disorder; though no sensible peace-loving people will support and approve that; but we noticed it is happening.

Lord Eames and the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland brought the end of the evening by his concluding observation. Among the audience, there was a gentleman who declared himself as an atheist.

Referring to all the audience and especially to that gentleman, Lord Eames said, “My good friend, the staunch atheist there I would take up with him this question: my brotherhood with him. I still believe, I am his brother, whether he likes or not; but the point I am making is that you ask could we prevent it before it happens? It’s because we failed time and again have the difficult conversation within our community; that violence became the sign of our failure. Do you understand what I am trying to say and that’s why I am convinced that no matter wherever the conflict situation: it is in the Middle East or the local whatever it is; it does not matter; the conflict situation you change the label of the names; problems are the same and I have seen it in South Africa; I have seen it in the Balkans; and I have seen it of course in my own country. It is different conflict but it is the same principle. Did we not have the difficult conversation?”