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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: "Since the
government has not adopted a sharia system, such disasters
*suicide bombings* will continue."

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

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
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. (Prof. Greg Barton, Jemaah Islamiyah: Radical Islamism in

Our 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

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

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

*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

In 1893, the city of Chicago hosted the World Columbian Exposition,
an early worlds fair. So many people were coming to Chicago from
all over the world that many smaller conferences, called Congresses
and Parliaments, were scheduled to take advantage of this
unprecedented gathering. A number of congresses were held in
conjunction with the exposition, including those dealing with
anthropology (one of the major themes of Exposition exhibits),
labor, medicine, temperance, commerce and finance, literature,
history, art, philosophy, and science. One of these was the Worlds
Parliament of Religions. The Parliament of Religions was by far
the largest of the congresses held in conjunction with the
The 1893 Parliament, which ran from September 11 to September
27, had marked the first formal gathering of representatives of
Eastern and Western spiritual traditions. Today it is recognized as
the occasion of the birth of formal interreligious dialogue worldwide.
Absent from this event were Native American religious figures, Sikhs
and other Indigenous and Earth centered religionists. (It would not
be until the 1993 Parliament that these religions and spiritual
traditions would be represented.) The conference did include new
religious movements of the time, such as Spiritualism and Christian
Science. The latter was represented by its founder Mary Baker Eddy.
Rev. Henry Jessup addressing the World Parliament of Religions was
the first to mention the Bah' Faith in the United States (it had
previously been known in Europe.[2]) Since then Bah's have
become active participants.[3]
In 1893, The Buddhist preacher Anagarika Dharmapala was invited
there as a representative of "Southern Buddhism" - which was the
term applied at that time to the Theravada. He was a great success
and by his early thirties he was already a global figure, continuing to
travel and give lectures and establish viharas around the world
during the next forty years. The Jainism preacher Virchand Gandhi
was invited there as representative of 'Jainism' & had won silver
medal at first parliament, his success was covered by many USA
periodicals and later by the New York Times.

Address by Swami Vivekananda

Wikiquote has a
collection of quotations
related to: Swami
The eloquence of Swami Vivekananda and his introduction of
Hinduism taught to the United States are particularly remembered.
The speech has been identified by many to mark the beginning of
western interest in Hinduism not as merely an exotic eastern oddity,
but as a vital religious and philosophical tradition that might actually
have something important to teach the West.[4][5] The opening
line, "Sisters and Brothers of America...", was greeted by a three
minute standing ovation from the audience of 7000.[6]
"Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have
long possessed this beautiful Earth. They have filled the earth with
violence, drenched it 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."
Every 5 years last one in 2004 in barcelona spain

2009 Parliament
The Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions has said
Melbourne, Australia will host the 2009 Parliament of the World's
The 2009 Parliament will take place December 3 through December
9. Based on attendance at previous events, the Melbourne
Parliament is expected to bring together 8,000 to 12,000 people.
The Melbourne Parliament will address issues of aboriginal
reconciliation. The issues of sustainability and global climate change
will be explored through the lens of indigenous spiritualities.
Environmental issues and the spirituality of youth will also be key
areas of dialogue.
The Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions, [3], suggests
that the Melbourne Parliament will "educate participants for global
peace and justice" through exploring religious conflict and
globalization, creating community and cross-cultural networks and
addressing issues of religious violence. It suggests it will support
"strengthening religious and spiritual communities" by providing a
special focus on indigenous and Aboriginal spiritualities; facilitating
cooperation between Pagan, Jewish, Christian, Bahai, Jain, Muslim,
Buddhist, Sikh and Hindu communities; crafting new responses to
religious extremism; and confronting homegrown terrorism and
violence. [4]