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Interfaith Harmony: Myth & Reality

Anand Krishna*

About 60 years ago, our President Soekarno scoffed at Indian


shopkeepers in India who took pride in displaying their religion on
their signboards, Hindu Tea Stall, Muslim Restaurant and so on
and so forth.

Around the same time, President Radhakrishnan of India was


amazed at how we on the archipelago had preserved our culture
and traditions deeply rooted in the ancient Indus Valley Civilization,
irrespective of our religious affiliations.

That was a reality then, but a myth now.

Now, the hard reality is that a notorious cleric, totally ignorant of our
age old traditions and culture, can publicly threaten us that suicide
bombing would continue if we did not adopt a sharia based
government system.

The intensified police efforts to curb terrorism is not blessed by the


purportedly man of God. Instead, he blesses the suicide bombers
and calls them martyrs. In his own words, "I don't absolutely blame
bombers in Indonesia because their goal is good, namely to defend
Islam.

Such view is in clear contrast with what Mahatma Gandhi believed


in: Terrorism and deception are weapons not of the strong but of
the weak. A religious act cannot be performed with aid of the
bayonet or the bomb.

Another hard fact is that, our government feels helpless in dealing


with this one single mans notoriety, which has already tarnished
our countrys image. Or, perhaps he is not a single man after all.
Perhaps there are others behind him. A, or a number of political
parties, some influential people up there, forces outside the
country who are they?

An ex high officio tells me that that was not the case. So, what is the
case? Its the political will. There is no political will to put an end to
all this. Perhaps.

Our learned analysts and scholars argue that fanaticism, radicalism


and terrorism are not the same. Not all radicals, they argue, are
terrorists.
As mentioned by Prof. Greg Barton, in his well researched book,
Jemaah Islamiyah: Radical Islamism in Indonesia, our notorious
cleric is also reported to have said, I make many knives, I sell many
knives, but I am not responsible for how they are used.

The moderate clerics maintain that terrorism and violence have


nothing to do with religion. They carefully avoid discussing the issue
of growing fanaticism. They would not echo with Gandhi, A
fanaticism that refuses to discriminate is the negation of all ideals.

Speaking in international forums, the leaders of our religious


institutions are reluctant to admit that the growing fanaticism and
radicalism have divided our society where interfaith harmony had
never been an issue to discuss, but a way of life to practice.

Earlier we did not have interfaith groups, but we had


interfaith harmony. This was a reality then, and a myth now.
Now, the reality is that we have several interfaith groups,
but no interfaith harmony.

Whether you like it or not, religion has been used to justify acts of
terror. Religion has been presented in such a way, and by its own
followers, that it has lost both its meaning and its utility as a
uniting force.

It is against this backdrop that, December this year the Parliament


of Worlds Religions will meet in the city of Melbourne, Australia.

We may recall, back in 1893, the parliament had met for the first
time in Chicago. Vivekananda (1863-1902), one of the speakers who
was to become the star then, firmly believed that, sectarianism,
bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism have long possessed
this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence,
drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization
and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible
demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is
now.

He hoped that the convention might toll the death-knell of all


fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of
all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the
same goal.

More than a century later, his hope remains a hope and a dream to
realize. The conference in Melbourne later this year therefore, is not
only timely, but also urgent and imperative. However, more
important is the meeting of our minds and hearts. More urgent is
our willingness to be honest and truthful in what we say and what
we do. More imperative is the change of the paradigm of a mere
tolerance. We have to learn to appreciate the differences between
us.

We have to work on our individual belief system and mental


complexes. Can we change our slogans from my religion is the
best or my religion is the only solution to my religion is not
better than yours. This will bring an end to all our religious and
religion based conflicts, competitions and acts of conversion.

To my friends who still endorse fanaticism toward ones religion, I


must use harsher words this time; your endorsement is not only
unhealthy, but also dangerous.

Consider the fanatics who have been, and still are, hiding the
terrorists in the name of religion. They are not terrorists. They are
only fanatics, and perhaps not even radicals. Yet, they pose danger
to society and nation.

As long as fanaticism and radicalism are not eradicated, terrorism


will continue. And, interfaith harmony shall remain a dream.

I look forward to the meeting in Melbourne, as I also look forward to


its outcome. The options are limited, either we continue having
dialogues or really come together, work for world peace, and serve
the world community as one unit: One Earth, One Sky, and One
Humankind.

*Spiritual Activist, writer of more than 130 books in Indonesian and


English. He is scheduled to speak in the 2009 conference in
Melbourne, and has been nominated as an Ambassador based on
his interfaith involvement and significant contribution to the
interfaith movement