|SUMMIT AT THE U.N.|
August 31, 2000
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: More than 1,000 swamis, chieftains, rabbis, monks, ministers and laypeople gathered in New York this week to attend what was billed as the Millennium World Peace summit. Organizers said the meeting was a response to a call from U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, and the summit was held at the United Nations, though it wasn't a U.N.-Sponsored event. It was paid for largely by Ted Turner's U.N. Foundation. (Praying) The religious leaders-- some of them from areas in conflict-- spent four days praying and discussing resolutions on peace, poverty, and the environment. The summit's stated goal was to build an interfaith ally to the United Nations and its quest for peace. One important leader was absent, the dalai lama, exiled spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists and winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize. He was not invited to the main event because of opposition from China.
PROTESTERS: Where is the Dalai Lama?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: His absence led to arguments and protests at the event.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Today, the final day of the gathering, the religious
leaders signed a declaration of commitment to global peace and said
they would next establish a religious council to advise the United Nations
on preventing and settling disputes. For more, we turn now to the secretary-general
of the summit, Bawa Jain. He is a founder of the World Movement for
Non-violence-and we turn to Rabbi Marc Gopin, who teaches at the Fletcher
School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and who wrote "Between
Eden and Armageddon: The Future of World Religions, Violence and Peacemaking."
And to Jean Bethke Elshtain, a professor of social and political ethics
at the University of Chicago.
BAWA JAIN: I think that there have been some fundamental breakthroughs, especially, you know, the United Nations is a political body. For the first time, we have been able to breakthrough that and bring religious leadership at the center of it. I think it goes beyond anybody's expectation the way people turned out. I believe more than a thousand villages, leaders, plus a delegation of two thousand people from a hundred countries, and the U.N. saw the response which was phenomenal, and the U.N. was quite excited. The secretary general was quite - and he congratulated us for bringing in these religious leaders to help support the work and the mission of the United Nations. So that's a fundamental breakthrough.
The second is that the religious leaders who have gathered here have gathered here from across the world - many of them participating in these major inter-religious gatherings for the first time. Many times we saw these faces for the first time. People did not know each other before. And the second part of this is that for the first time now we could bring a lot of religious leaders from the zones of conflict, from the tension areas. And they sat here together, they deliberated together, and they made a lot of progress to see how they could conduct themselves differently so perhaps there can be some hopes and aspirations of peace in the world.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Jain, could you give us a specific example of a meeting in which people from areas in conflict sat together and how your summit could help resolve the conflicts?
BAWA JAIN: Yesterday, there was a session on forgiveness and reconciliation. There were religious leaders who sat there from the Middle East, both Jewish and Islamic leaders. And I'm told at the end, both the Jewish and the Islamic leaders apologized for the way they've conducted in the past and sought to reconcile and see how they need to conduct themselves. That is one instance. Actually I'm told there were some leaders from the Christian community and the Hindu community who sat together on the whole issue of conversion and proselytization. And a draft is going to be presented this evening - which I just had to leave to come to your show.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Mr. Jain, did the absence of the Dalai Lama undercut the success of the summit?
BAWA JAIN: Well, I think there has been a major breakthrough on this issue. When we began to process, we were clearly informed of the sensitivity -- both the political and the physical sensitivities within the U.N., and the constraints thereof. And I consulted last November when I met him in Israel this issue, and he said to me that this is a unique opportunity and the summit must happen. And I was in constant communication with them. And by the way, I have known him since I was a young child. And the fundamental breakthrough on this is for the first time, a representative of the Tibetan Buddhism was in the United Nations, in the general assembly hall sharing a prayer from the traditional. And the senior person shared a message from Tibetan Buddhism and even read a message from the Dalai Lama. Even though I must say, the Chinese delegation protested, they talked to me and there was a lot of pressure here from the U.S. administration, as you know on this issue.
And Ambassador Holbrooke really cooperated with me and helped me through this. I was dealing with one side of the secretary-general's office of the U.N., Senator Helms and Ambassador Holbrooke, and the other side, the Chinese. I have to confess to you that really, the Chinese delegation cooperated a lot. Even though the position was very strong, I requested then that this is a summit of peace for the religious and spiritual leaders and I would like to seek their cooperation and do not make this a major issue. They want med to block the message of his -- and I asked them to please, reconsider, because the message was one of love, respect and tolerance of the religious leaders can cooperate and work within the international framework. And the Chinese ultimately relented that and even though they were not happy, they did understand my position and really cooperated. So... A major breakthrough has been accomplished in this.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Jean Bethke Elshtain, how do you see that issue, and how do you see the summit as a whole?
JEAN BETHKE ELSHTAIN: Well, no one would be so churlish as to suggest it is not good idea for people to get together and to talk. But I think it is important to introduce a note of some skepticism into this discussion, that is, the statements that emerged from meetings of the sort are often couched at a level of generality absent specifics, it is very difficult to know how this will translate on the ground. It is also less than clear how the representatives from the different nations were chosen. For example, in the case of the Chinese, there were representatives from five, I believe, major faith traditions but there is no religious liberty in China, and so who, in fact, do these people speak in behalf of?
Another issue is the issue of religious autonomy itself. If persons religious are working under the aegis of a political organization, which the United Nations is, what exactly does that mean? What precisely is the relationship? I think that, again, it is good to talk, but the statements that have come out are very, very general, very vague, and we know that on the ground, the issues in which religion is a part of conflict, intercept with so many other issues, with issues of ethno nationalism, with economic conflict, that it is often very difficult to single out the religious dimension and say that's it, and that somehow a statement emerging from a meeting in New York is going to make a difference, seems to me unlikely. It is a wait and see situation.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Rabbi Gopin, I know that you were a participant or at least an observer in the summit. What do you think of it and what did you see that either gives you hope or which makes you skeptical?
RABBI MARC GOPIN: Well, I think that the summit really encapsulated a lot of the challenges and wonderful opportunities of integrating conflict resolution work and religious communities. Religious communities are not that much different from regular diplomatic communities. There are opportunities and there are problems. There are theological possibilities for moving millions of people in the direction toward peacemaking and reconciliation, and then there are theological possibilities toward violence. This is what we saw in Rwanda, for example, in your segment, where the, in the genocide, Catholic Churches were used as a part of the genocide. And in fact, in Catholic schools before the genocide, a lot of racism had been taught. And yet, at the same time, the possibilities of deep reconciliation after the genocide come uniquely from a lot of religious sensibility and religious community. We saw some of the same challenges of the summit -- a lot of conflict, and also, a lot of dreaming and possibility, a lot of leaders who for the first time become part of the process of peace building across the world. That's very, that's very significant in my mind. Even though -
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Are there any specifics you can give us?
RABBI MARC GOPIN: Specifically, there were one rabbi friend of mine did a heroic amounts of work in order to bring together the Hindu and Christian communities at the conference about the issue of proselytism, which in my research is one of the single greatest dangers to the future in terms of the monotheistic traditions being able to face the limitations of proselytism.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Can you be more specific? What kind of heroic work? What do you mean?
RABBI MARC GOPIN: Well, he brought together a group of people who agreed on a joint Christian Hindu statement between leaders of both communities on an end to any kind of manipulative processes of conversion on the Indian sub continent on the part of Christians. And it certainly doesn't include those Christians who probably were doing the bulk of that. However, it nuanced the image of Christians for the Hindu leadership and made them realize there are a broad range of Christians, there was a broad range of possibilities theologically and in interpersonally between these two very large global communities. I think that's constructive.
And as far as what Professor Elshtain said, I totally agree with her that the ground is really what matters. But on the other hand, in my research, it indicates that leaders have enormous power by single words that they use or do not use in terms of peace, violence and conflict and view of the other. And if we can move some of these leaders to integrate, a sense of the other that is honorable, the other religion, even when it is an enemy, that will be an enormous impact in key places like the Middle East. That's exactly what some of my friends are working on right now in terms of the Jewish Islamic relationship and its future, which is critical.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Jain, there's a danger, and I know that you got a lot of questions about this, that when you put religious and religious people and political people together which is what you are trying to do at the U.N., you stir up an even more explosive mix. Some people would say to you, the mix of religion and politics is what caused a lot of these problems. How do you respond to that?
BAWA JAIN: Well, I think that we have to view this in the context of the realities of today. I was questioned about this a couple of weeks ago when Camp David was still going on, and when the negotiations were going on. And I was asked by a reporter that, what do you think of, do you think this will succeed? I quite honestly at that time, I have to confess said it would not succeed. She said why? I said I think the religious leaders need to sit on the discussion - because the reason is these are the ones who have access to the grass roots. They are the ones who appeal to the hearts of the people; they can help build the public and they can help heal the communities and have them understand what the political positions are. So if you engage the religious leadership in the political process, I think then we could have solutions. Otherwise, as always, there's separation. And to my mind, most of the world's population, some 82 percent, follows some faith traditions. Each of the political leaders, business leaders, they also follow some faith traditions. So, faith in and religion is deeply imbedded in us. I don't think can have a clear separation.
We've seen the way the conflicts have been exacerbated. There are so many conflicts in the world based on ethnic or religious differences. Yet by the very mandate and structure of the U.N. - they cannot because it is an internal situation. So what is the bridge? Is the religion which can be the bridge for that -- and I think if we can carefully structure support system, and a careful partnership between the political and religious, the neutral venue being the United Nations, I believe there could be other ways of transforming the conflict situations.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Jean Bethke Elshtain, what do you think, religion as a bridge?
JEAN BETHKE ELSHTAIN: Certainly there are certain circumstances in which religion is a bridge, but it is terribly important to keep in mind that religion is an autonomous force. There are times when religion can work with politics; there are times when religion has to be entirely independent of political definition and political control. And one of the reasons in certain areas that religion has, in fact, worked to ease conflicts is precisely because religious leaders were not identified with political bodies of any kind. For example, if you look at the situation in Northern Ireland -- the decades of work that religious leaders spent together as a religious leaders working with their communities, that helped to lead to the Good Friday agreement, but did it so only because they were seen as independent in dealing with their communities and not as spokesmen for a political body or political entity of any kind. So one worry would be maintaining at one and the same time the independence of these communities, even as they interplay or mingle with a political body, whether United Nations or any other.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Rabbi Gopin, we just have a little time. Where do you stand on that?
RABBI MARC GOPIN: I think the Middle East is a perfect example of where, had we from the beginning of the peace process included the religious communities on both sides, we would not have had the disasters that we've had since the peace process again. These communities must be part of the solution. We don't give away states. We don't give away the central focus on creating civil society with human rights and civil guarantees and freedom of religion. However, their inclusion in peace process is critical to them not becoming part of the future and not part of the problem. And that's what we're seeing on both sides of the political spectrum from the Israelis to the Palestinian community. So there, we see, we're very close to the opportunity to have a comprehensive peace with all of the people involved.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, thank you all three very much.
JEAN BETHKE ELSHTAIN: Thank you.