Within 13 days of massacre in the French city of Nice which killed 84 people and wounded many others, the world was shocked to hear about the murder of an elderly priest, Jacques Hamel, by two men belonging to the Islamic State (IS) terror group in Normandy town, France. It was further shocking to know that the murder took place in the church during the Holy Mass, in the presence of many people. It is sad to know that the terrorists were shouting “Allahu Akbar” before slitting the throat of the 84-year-old priest. Every day we hear about similar terrorist attacks and violence from different parts of the world. While the Europeans are experiencing such attacks only recently, incidents of violence by terrorists and fundamentalists are common in our country. Still, majority of Indians are indifferent to such attacks and killings.
The repeated attacks on people in public places, especially in the churches, surely shake the people in Europe and make them feel insecure and vulnerable. These incidents may create much fear, anger, hatred and suspicion in the minds of the people. While we express our deep sorrow and anguish about these shocking incidents, we should also pray that these countries which promoted the ideals of freedom, liberty, equality and universal solidarity should not give up hope and turn to despair and negative reaction. Germany set an example before the world by welcoming more than a million refugees into that country without checking out their religion. A large number of them were Muslims. Germany spent a lot of money to rehabilitate these refugees. Hope that people do not react negatively and abandon these noble values and gestures which the German Chancellor Ms. Angela Merkel practiced.
While we wish and pray that people may have enough strength to bear these moments of confusion and tragedy, it is also important that people may develop their mental, emotional and spiritual stamina to face difficult days ahead with positive attitudes and proactive actions to prevent the young and old from falling into negative reactions and despair.
Universal Solidarity Movement of Value Education for Peace (USM), which we launched in 1993, was a proactive response to the mass killings and widespread hatred unleashed against minorities all over the country. Hundreds of innocent men, women and children were killed in the religious conflicts over the years in India. Religious strife, communal violence, bomb blasts, killings and hostility still continue. However, we continue to live and work in hope despite repeated terrorist attacks and religious conflicts. The proactive action of founding the USM was due to the possibility thinking – ‘why not I light a candle instead of cursing the darkness? Why not I start a movement with people belonging to diverse faith, culture, colour and language to build a society free from hatred, violence, racism and prejudice? Why not make use of the energy and talents of the youth to create a culture of forgiveness and peace?’ The starting was tough. The passion for lasting and inclusive vision kept me swim against the current. After 24 years, we do see signs of change. Hundreds of young people belonging to different religious and cultural background are working in unity to build a civilization of love and peace through USM. Together with the youth, many adults from all walks of life also are part of this peace mission today.
From my experience of three decades of work with people of all faith, especially the youth, I believe, and I am convinced, that it is possible; always it is possible and everywhere it is possible.
This is the time of test - test of our convictions, ideals, and our patience. The world has faced worse situations in the past, and it has come up with greater solutions. The European Union, UNO, Rotary International and many other organisations are just a few examples. These challenges we face now also will pass away, and better days are ahead for those who are willing to work positively with patience. I only wish that people do not abandon the great ideals of pluralism, equality and universal solidarity ( vasuthaiva kudumbakam) in the pursuit of temporary solutions by way of exclusion, prejudice, hatred, retaliation and revenge.
It’s time now for each one of us to light a candle. In other words, each one should explore the ways to educate the people in small groups about sustaining the great values of pluralism, which is acceptance, appreciation and promotion of differences. There should be small core groups everywhere to discuss and analyze various issues and take up actions in the locality to give signs of peace and fraternity. Later it could be a large movement to influence more people. Start with investing one hour in a week for this purpose.
In our action plans we may require to accept the mistakes of the past, if anything has happened, that hurt the feelings and dignity of any groups. It is important to find out if the young people who join the terrorist groups and indulge in violence are doing it as a negative reaction and expression of any suppressed anger against any oppressive system. All oppressive and discriminative system will face negative reaction later. Our efforts should be to teach the importance of reconciliation and forgiveness, instead of revenge and hatred against those who offended and oppressed anyone in the past.
I want to end this reflection with my own conviction which I share always with our USM team members: ‘Each one should believe that nothing is impossible; the more the problems, the greater should be our determination; the more the darkness, the greater the need for us to be the light; the more the indifference, the greater should be our sensitivity; the more the violence, the greater should be our efforts to work for peace and universal solidarity’.(Published on 10th July 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 28)