Peace and Harmony, Will They Ever Be Achieved?

Visvanathan Muthukumaran
Member of the Asian Youth Centre; Executive Committee Member, United Religions Initiative, South India-Sri Lanka Zone

Serendip (from which “serendipity” derived, meaning the occurrence of beneficial happenings by chance) is the old name of the island of Sri Lanka. But nothing beneficial happened to this beautiful country on Easter Sunday in April 2019, when churches and hotels were attacked killing 250 people.

One wonders what motivates the hate-filled minds to commit such gruesome crimes against so many innocent lives. Those attacks are a crime against  humanity in our society. Those attacks underscore the destructive energy spawned by hatred.

Even among the so called religious leaders there is this religious, racial, linguistic and political bias, cultivated in their blood from their childhood, which continues to prevail in their own personal, family, community and religious group. That's why their sectarian attitude is hidden to outsiders. The proper way to follow a  religion is to lead a godly life, is leading one's life with values and ideals. One can't love God without loving and respecting his fellow human beings, irrespective of their religion. In the whole world, however, I think that no religion is safe in the hands of priests.

The conditions for this extreme religion-based hatred stem from our homes and our own communities. This can be countered only by strengthening our relationships and challenging any extremism tooth and nail.

The bulk of terror attacks in the past, worldwide, even those claimed by the Islamic State (IS) on religious sites, were lower in number than to those on targets such as government and military installations. The world community must collectively respond to the challenge of the growing religion-based terrorism that threatens the global community. Of course, a vast majority of people wish to live in Peace with tolerance and amity with their fellow co-religionists. Today,  this terrorism has become an ideology that is not bound by any border and has become a global threat.

Peace building is not simply about the support to a society emerging from a conflict or from gruesome terror attacks, but the long-term initiative of educating the community, especially the youth and young children, on the importance of peace and religious harmony. Then the aim of education should not be a purely academic pursuit, but the pursuit of moral wisdom. The most important part of this education is education to non-violence and harmonious living, which ultimately develops the quest for mutual understanding. We need to be aware of the fact that young children are picking up the ignorance, prejudice and hatred they see in society and on electronic media, and are carrying this virus into  schools and classrooms. They  are not at fault. But we can't absolve ourselves of the blame. The education to peace should be given top priority in the primary school level, which should help us to lead a peaceful and harmonious living at least in the 21st century. Further, I think that global institutions like UNESCO, the UN and the United Religions Initiative (URI)  should give  more attention to preparing the future generation against religion-based violence and hatred.

I am sure that common people across the world remain touched or disturbed by the divisive forces and hatred, but remain humble and sympathetic human beings. I can give an example: in Kerala (one of the southern states of India) the world-famous Thrissur Pooram  Festival, which is a Hindu festival, is celebrated every year; in it more than 30 elephants take part and they are decorated with marvelous caparisons made by Christians for more than 100 years now: here there is no religious hindrance.  All our efforts towards religious amity and peace is just hypocrisy if we fail to fill our hearts with pure compassion.

Religion-based terrorism is one of human kind’s biggest enemies, and I hope that the resilience and wisdom in our global society will prevail over the forces of division and hatred based on religion. It's not just tolerance, but acceptance toward other faiths and secularism that reduces pro-violence attitudes. Religion has increasingly become important in conflicts worldwide, used as a medium for violence.

Those of us who really think that we can contribute to harmony and peace among the community should take great care in dividing friend from foe, and have a genuine, friendly mind and heart in approaching others. I subscribe to what Mr. N. Modi, Prime Minister of India, said in his speech at the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly. He said that terrorism is humanity’s biggest challenge and it’s not a challenge to any country, but to the entire world. That’s why we voice our concern to alert the world about this Evil which must be met with seriousness and determination. It’s imperative that the world unites against Terrorism and stands as one.

I hope that there will be in the world a new dawn and a brighter tomorrow.

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