Before suggesting ways to reduce one kind of violence in neighborhoods within Canada, permit me to look beyond our borders. Some spills into our own country, but most, of course, results from a range of home-grown causes.
First the important concept developed by Benjamin Barber in his book, Jihad vs McWorld, stressing first, as the author does, that Islam as one of the world’s great religions is not the issue. Indeed Barber’s introduction to the most current edition of his book criticizes Rev. Jerry Falwell for interpreting the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington as the wrath of God, noting that Falwell no more defines Protestantism than the Taliban defines Islam. Barber is also correct in taking issue with Samuel Huntington for echoing Osama bin Laden since both appear to call for a cultural war between “the West and the rest”.
The book uses the term ‘McWorld’ to refer to the forces of aggressive economic and cultural globalization. ‘Jihad’ refers to “disintegrative tribalism and reactionary fundamentalism”. It concludes that only the globalization of democratic institutions is likely to offer a way out of a global war between modernity and its critics because democracy responds best to both sides of the conflict.
Barber continues: “By extending the compass of democracy to the global market sector, civic globalization can promise opportunities for accountability, participation and governance to those wishing to join the modern world and take advantage of it’s economic blessings; by securing cultural diversity and a place for worship and faith insulated from the shallow orthodoxies of McWorld’s cultural monism, it can address the anxieties of those who fear secular materialism and are fiercely committed to preserving their cultural and religious distinctiveness. The outcome of the cruel battle between Jihad and McWorld will depend on the capacity of moderns to make the world safe for women and men in search of both justice and faith, and can be won only if democracy is the victor.”
In my view, Canadians and our governments should be working much harder and more effectively towards achieving a fully democratic world as early as possible in the new century. The 45 or so dictatorships left around the planet, which do so much damage internationally as well as domestically, should know always that Canada stands always with their respective populations and their human rights and well-being, never with tyrants of any political hue.
I share fully a number of the points on democracy promotion which Tom Axworthy of the Queen’s University Centre for the Study of Democracy recently made to the House of Commons Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, including these three:
The British, Germans, Swedes and Americans are already directly promoting democratic practices around the world, including free elections with universal adult suffrage, freedom of expression, association, political organization and dissent, alternative sources of information and genuine political choice and the accountability of government to voters. Independent courts, equality before the law and protection for minorities, including religious ones, are essential to functioning democracies.
There must be a functioning state before there can be a functioning democracy. In the case of Afghanistan, the holding of a Loya Jirga traditional assembly to give Afghans ‘ownership’ of their democratic process was a good start, but more troops are unfortunately needed to ensure public security. In the successful case of Bosnia, the ratio of soldiers to inhabitants was about 1 to 50, but this level has never been reached in Afghanistan. (Lest there be any ambiguity, I do not think Canada should abandon the Afghans to the Taliban despite the loss there already of some of our noblest sons and daughters in battle.)
A Canada-based democracy institution- Democracy Canada – rooted in our federal, culturally diverse, multicultural and bilingual country would be warmly welcomed by the international democracy promoting community. We must stand with the world’s democrats and make a serious effort to promote the concept, knowing full well that government of, by and for the people will differ everywhere.
Twentieth Century Violence
The century we recently left was undoubtedly the worst in all recorded history in terms of brutality directed at believers. One estimate of the number of human beings of all nationalities who died prematurely for their faiths between 1900 and 2000 is an appalling 169 million, including: 70 million Muslims; 35 million Christians; 11 million Hindus; 9 million Jews; 4 million Buddhists; 2 million Sikhs; 1 million Baha’is.
Too many of these victims died in inter or intra-faith violence, but most by far perished at the hands of totalitarian regimes, which, demanding that all authority be vested in themselves, detest religion mostly because its practitioners’ deepest loyalties lie elsewhere. Stalin, Hitler, Mao and other dictators had murdered untold tens of millions of believers.
Falun Gong in China
Having just completed a visit to four Asian locations (South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong) to raise awareness about the issue of organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners in China, permit me remind you of what is happening even today in China to this new faith community. The experience offers lessons for other religions in the new century as well, especially the need for all faith communities to stand together when one is being persecuted anywhere. Persecution directed against one community must be seen as an attack on all.
Founded only in 1992 in China, Falun Gong enjoyed phenomenal success there initially, in part because of the spiritual vacuum created by Mao and the militant atheists in power since 1949 and partly because, unlike the Communist party, its roots are deep in Chinese culture and religion. Following the Tiananmen events of 1989, the government of Deng Xiaoping was willing to tolerate religions as an outlet for popular frustrations with the authoritarian, if not totalitarian, governance combined with the unregulated, if not heartless, model of capitalism Deng had unleashed in China a decade earlier.
Falun Gong contains more health elements than most traditional religions and more religion and ethical features than other qigong schools. Falun Gong offered to many Chinese the opportunity to access spiritual and moral principles through physical exercise and healing. Faith followed exercise. There is also a community dimension, but no aspiration to any political office and no violence. Another Polish Solidarity movement, Falun Gong clearly was not, although Deng’s successor, Jiang Zemin, being preoccupied mostly with keeping his party in power by force, evidently thought that the two were identical in the threat they posed to Communism.
What really sparked Jiang’s declaration of war on Falun Gong was its popularity; by the late 1990s, there were 70 – 80 million practitioners across China, considerably more than members of his party. Beijing alone by then had 2000 exercise practice sites and in the mid- 90s Falun Gong meditation was even practised within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the capital. A spark was lit when 10,000 – 16,000 Falun Gong practitioners from all walks of life petitioned peacefully at Party headquarters in central Beijing against an attack in them in a publication. Jiang declared a violent war almost immediately in the summer of 1999.
Seven Years of Terror
On what has resulted since the summer of 1999, permit me to quote from a speech, I gave recently on behalf of Interfaith International at the UN Human Rights Council plenary in Geneva:
“I wish to speak about whether the government of China is harvesting the vital organs of Falun Gong practitioners, killing them in the process. (Human Rights lawyer) David Matas and I released a report in July, which came to the conclusion, to our regret and horror, that the claims were indeed true.
We examined every avenue of proof and disproof available to us, eighteen in all. For example: …Falun Gong practitioners in Chinese prisons are systematically blood tested and medically examined. Because they are also tortured and abused viciously, this testing cannot be motivated by concerns over their health.
Waiting times for organ transplants in China are incredibly short, a matter of days and weeks. Every where else in the world, waiting times are measured in months and years, pointing to the existence of a large living organ bank in China.
It is easy to take each element of proof in isolation, and say that this element or that does not prove the claim. It is their combination that leads us to the chilling conclusion we reached. We are reinforced in our conclusions by the feeble response by the Government of China. Despite resources and inside knowledge, it has not provided any substantive information to counter our report.
Our report has 17 different recommendations. Virtually nothing to prevent the harvesting of organs of Falun Gong practitioners in China is currently being done. All our proposed precautions should be enacted and enforced. One should be implemented immediately; organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners across China must stop now.”
If you wish further information about this tragic situation, you can access our report in ten languages and various media commentaries through organharvestinvestigation.net
Sudan: More Genocide Looming
From the perspective of this conference, there is much to be said about contemporary Sudan as one of the most violent remaining dictatorships on earth. Let me make only three points:
First, last week there was a report that approximately 80 Dafuri children are now perishing each day in what the United Nations has termed a “man-made catastrophe of an unprecedented scale”. Unlike southern Sudan, where there was a major religious dimension to the twenty-year old civil war, virtually all the residents of Dafur are Muslims. In a province where the ‘African’ and ‘Arab’ communities lived together in relative harmony for centuries, genocidaires, who deem themselves to be Arabs, have over the past three and a half years used government aircrafts, bombs, bullets, gang rapes of girls as young as eight, fire and starvation to drive their surviving neighbours out of Dafur or into displaced persons camps. Approximately 450,000 of the African community have died, roughly half murdered and half dead of starvation and related causes from the conflict.
Second, Sudan’s military leader, Omar al-Bashir, will allow the 7,000 members of the African Union (AU) essentially observer force to remain until the end of this year. He refuses to accept a more robust UN peacekeeper force of 20,000 to attempt to dissuade his proxy janjaweed from more waves of mass murder. He insists bizarrely that UN peacekeepers in Dafur would violate Sudan’s sovereignty despite the fact that he has already accepted 10,000 peace-keepers in southern Sudan.
Why isn’t the Security Council finally accepting its UN Charter responsibility and insisting on implementation of its resolution 1706? The Harper government should also be pushing the Security Council under Canada’s Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine, specially when two – if not all three – of the opposition parties indicated in the recent House debate that they want Canadian peacekeepers to save lives in Dafur.
Third, if the UN Security Council continues to be ineffective in preventing yet another Rwanda-like genocide in Dafur and the Dafur Peace Agreement (DPA) signed in May still protects virtually no Dafuri civilian, other options will have to be considered. One is a three-part plan, which would welcome the assistance of the UN, the AU or NATO, but could succeed without the help of any of the three. It would provide a protected deliberation of a wide range of Dafuri leaders, an interim regional administration for the province and a no-fly-zone to stop Sudanese government aircraft from bombing civilians across the province.
If the regime in Khartoum concludes this option would establish a credible threat of force to stop its renewed genocide, it might well accept UN peace-keepers under its Resolution 1706. Perhaps as well, Khartoum’s most important business and defense partners, the governments of China and Russia, can now finally be shamed into persuading Bashir to accept UN intervention.
Reducing One Kind of Violence At Home
Much of the world probably sees Canada as a new beacon on a hill, where persons and communities of different religions (or other beliefs) live together in harmony in what has been termed “permissive differentiation.” Our major cities are today full of churches, mosques, synagogues, gurdwaras, pagodas and temples.
Recent events suggest that complacency anywhere across Canada is unwise. Permit me therefore to refer to an important paper by Dr. Elaine Pressman, who was raised in Prairie Canada but has been living in Amsterdam for the last few years. Her paper, “Education for Migrant Integration… European and North American Comparison”, was presented at the Munk Centre for International Affairs at the University of Toronto a month ago.
Some key points in it:
The convicted murderer of Theo Van Gogh in the Netherlands was initially thought to be a “well integrated” member of Dutch society in terms of his language skills, Dutch education, employment history and general ability to function within the country. Given this serious misreading, Pressman developed a tool to measure issues of integration; it uses ten self-assessing criteria to help determine the inward level of integration felt by newcomer individuals in Holland or elsewhere.
One, for example, is acceptance; a person assesses on a one-to-ten scale how accepted they feel within their adopted country. Self-ratings are also applied to nine other factors, including: one’s sense of welcome, integration, equal work opportunity for all, language capability, social access, loyalty, pride in citizenship, and acceptance of community values. The responses of relative newcomers were compared to those from a control group of long-time Dutch nationals. The scores of the latter group were in the 74 – 91 % range; one refugee group of immigrants surveyed had integration levels in the 17 – 41% range, with an average of 33%.
The Pressman methodology also identified cases of regressive integration in which individuals reversed the integration process as they reached adulthood because they felt betrayed as citizens. Radicalization is, of course, one by-product of reverse integration. Indicators included low loyalty to country, high-perceived discrimination, and no political or social involvement with the community.
The Dutch Intelligence Service (AIVD) has warned that the newcomer integration problem in the Netherlands could become so severe that in a worse-case scenario the national community there “could risk falling apart along religious and cultural lines.” Radicalization in the Netherlands today appears to be a serious social problem; essentially it means a group willingness to pursue changes in the country, which might cause danger to the continued existence of the democratic and legal order.
In Amsterdam, for example, Pressman’s research indicates that some students as young as seven were exhibiting strong anti-Western attitudes and were resistant to the values of the communities in which they live. She adds, “these attitudes (can) persist and harden in later school years and despite academic success and well-developed languages skills, there is often no attempt by these students to integrate into Dutch society.”
The paper notes that in Holland the right to government-funded education with separate religious instruction is protected in the constitution. She thinks that this constitutional right does not help to develop common values and experiences and successful integration. In Edmonton, of course, our strong public school system is quite different, but we know that we are not problem-free. Nor am I suggesting that we abandon the dual school system protected by our constitution in this province and others.
But should not all schools in Alberta and elsewhere offer positive citizenship messages to counter anti-democratic ones. I think they ought to, especially following the arrests on June 2, 2006 of 17 mostly young persons in Ontario on terrorism-related charges. An earlier warning, among others, was the arson committed in a Hindu temple near Hamilton soon after November 9th, 2001. In the case of the 17 youth, how else can any municipal, provincial or national government offset radicalization coming from various sources, including the Internet?
Pressman’s recommendations for education to counter this phenomenon includes curriculum-development for inter-religious knowledge and dialogue to increase mutual respect and understanding, public awareness campaigns targeted at school-level students on the dangers of radicalization, and teacher training programs to familiarize them with indicators of violent radicalization, and an information and documentation centre for both students and educators.
In Canada, I worry a lot about a Canadian Labour Congress report (Feb. 22, 2006), which indicated that racial discrimination is still having a negative effect on the incomes, employment prospects, and work status of some Canadians who were born in this country. One cannot attempt to explain away such differences on the basis of Canadian experience or credentials, especially when this discriminated-against group is on average more highly educated than some of those who are doing better employment-wise.
What is the relationship between violence and the absence of equal opportunities for all? It certainly appears to exist in the Netherlands, France and elsewhere, but what about Canada? No one can now still believe that we too do not have a problem. In our multi-faith and culturally diverse country, we must draw on the best practices from everywhere.