Archive | November, 2010

The Gandhi Foundation Annual Lecture and Peace Award – 2010

 

 

Ali Abu Awwad and Robi Damelin of the Parents Circle Families Forum holding The Gandhi Foundation Peace Award for 2010

 

This year the Gandhi Foundation’s Annual Lecture and Peace Award took place on the 3rd November in the House of Lords, in a session chaired by Lord Bhikhu Parekh, Vice President of The Gandhi Foundation.  Lord Parekh welcomed the guests and introduced Omar Hayat, a Trustee of The Gandhi Foundation who then explained why the Parents Circle Family Forum (PCFF) had been chosen as recipients of the 2010 International Peace Award. Omar described how when researching the PCFF after they had been nominated he began to feel both hope and sorrow: hope in that such initiatives were taking place, and sorrow that there is need for such an organisation.

The PCFF is a grassroots organization of bereaved Palestinians and Israelis, families who have lost loved ones to violence in the conflict. It promotes reconciliation as an alternative to hatred and revenge. Each year they arrange hundreds of dialogue encounters between Israelis and Palestinians, to promote mutual understanding.

In 2009 the Peace Award had been received by the Children’s Legal Centre (CLC)  in recognition of their work representing young and vulnerable children worldwide. In that ceremony Denis Halliday had presented the award to Professor Carolyn Regan, the Director of the CLC. Professor Regan gave an outline of some of the work that the CLC does: providing individual legal advice, telephone helplines and upholding children’s rights in many countries across the world, including some of the poorest. Then Professor Carolyn presented this year’s award jointly to Robi Damelin and Ali Abu Awwad, who are Public Relations officer and Programme manager of PCFF respectively.

Both Robi and Ali each gave a short acceptance speech. Robi mentioned that she had a family connection to Gandhi in that one of her relatives was Hermann Kallenbach who gave Gandhi the land for the ashram known as Tolstoy Farm in South Africa and was one of Gandhi’s closest friends. Robi said that for her joining the PCFF was a way of making a difference by understanding the shared pain that Israelis and Palestinians both experience, and that she chooses to prevent other families from experiencing this pain.

Ali talked about some of his history as a prisoner of the Israelis, and reading about Gandhi on hunger strike. He said that the next generation will be the evidence for our movement today. Ali said he hoped that our vision will be shared and joined in a structure of making peace in the Middle East and everywhere.

Following on from the Peace Award, the Annual Lecture took the form of a panel discussion, looking at the Middle East conflict from the point of view of non-violence. The members of the panel were: Robi Damelin, Israeli representative from the PCFF; Ali Abu Awwad, Palestinian representative from the PCFF; Denis Halliday, former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations, Humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, and Patron of the Gandhi Foundation; Huw Irranca-Davies, MP and Patron of the PCFF. Lord Parekh asked the members of the panel to each speak for a few minutes before the session would be opened to speakers from the floor.

Robi started by stating that the long-term goal of the PCFF was to create a framework for a reconciliation process to be in place for when political agreements are signed. She outlined various initiatives that the PCFF is currently engaged in, including lobbying of politicians.

Ali posed the question – what could lead to freedom as a nation. His answer was that there were two ways: one to work on themselves, to create this structure, the other is reconciliation. To leave the occupation and the memories of the occupation behind. Ali expressed his belief that they would one day be free. Perhaps not in his lifetime, but it would happen.

Denis Halliday started by saying he was concerned firstly by the violations of human rights in respect of the Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem, on the West Bank, and in Gaza. His second concern is with the people of Israel itself: while Israel persists in aggressive military occupation, sets aside the human rights of the Palestinians, and until she shows respect for her neighbours and all of her own people and understands the importance of living together in dignity without humiliation then the future of Israeli wellbeing is in doubt.

Denis Halliday (r) previous recipient of the Peace Award and patron of The Gandhi Foundation with Huw Irranca-Davies (c) MP and Patron of the PCFF

Denis cast doubt on the role of the United States as a broker of peace in the region, and called for the other nations of the region such as Turkey and Egypt to become more involved in finding solutions to the conflict.  He referred to the US and Israel as rogue states. Having mentioned that the United States channels billions of dollars annually to Israel, which is mostly used for military purposes, Denis called for a massive injection of cash to help the Palestinians. He also said he wanted to encourage the Palestinians and the Israelis to imbue in their children love and understanding for peace.

Huw Irranca-Davies spoke next, referring to himself as a hopeless naïve. Huw said he had first come across the PCFF in Palestine when he was visiting there with the Labour Friends of Israel and the Labour Middle East Council. In the back room of a bar they listened to stories where individuals were faced with tragedy and bereavement but chose not to hurtle towards anger but to go in the other direction, and indeed to encourage others to go along with them. Huw said he is a Patron of the PCFF because there is something transformative about the idea that summer camps, telephone lines between the different sides, and working in schools can make a difference.

Lord Parekh then invited contributions from the floor. The first speaker expressed the view that peace and security are two sides of the same coin: there can be no peace without security and there can be no security without peace. The second said that he felt that ‘the Irish gentleman’ (Denis Halliday) made a diatribe against Israel and that it was unhelpful in the situation, and it made it difficult to move forward.

Following the next two speakers from the floor, Robi spoke and said that they all had made statements, not questions. She asked that if you care about the Israelis and the Palestinians, then help us to find a way to reconcile, do not create another conflict by making people be on the defensive – it doesn’t help. Robi said that she would appreciate questions that have to do with the human side, not politics.

Lord Bhikhu Parekh (r) Vice-President of The Gandhi Foundation

Ali appealed for people not to be part of the problem, but to be part of the solution. He also said that the Palestinians cannot live like they do forever – something has to change.

There were some further contributions from the floor, commented upon by the panellists, before Lord Parekh summed up by referring back to the conflicts that Gandhi was concerned with: between Muslims and Hindus; the British rulers and the Indian people; the orthodox Hindus and the untouchables. Gandhi did not face anything quite like the current conflict in the Middle East, but the principles by which he lived are relevant today.

Trevor Lewis
- Executive committee member of  The Gandhi Foundation

 

If you would like to read the introduction to The Gandhi Foundation Award by Omar Hayat and why the Parents Circle Family Forum was chosen please click on the Link below:

Introducing the Gandhi Foundation Peace Award 2010 to PCFF- Omar Hayat

 

If you would like to read the presentation speech by Professor Carolyn Regan, Director of the Children’s Legal Centre – last years peace award recipient, please click on the link below:

Presenting the 2010 award to PCFF by Carolyn Regan of the Children’s Legal Centre

Signatures of a Saint – by Anil Chandra

It was a July evening in Jhansi in 1945. A strong wind was blowing. A vast throng of town people, the peasants, and their families were moving towards an open piece of land near a hill. The men were dressed simply in kurta, dhoti or pyjamas while the spare figures of women were wrapped in white cotton sarees, and their heads with a bun of hair behind it, were generally covered. My mother too was walking briskly towards the open land with me besides her. I was then 6 years old.

The closer we reached the hill, the thicker became the crowds. My mother wanted us to be in front, so we had to push a little. The closer we moved to the front, the more somber became the atmosphere. I saw people standing or sitting quietly on the ground. Even if they had to talk, they spoke in whispers. Some were munching peanuts.

Suddenly, we were in front. We squeezed ourselves and sat down quietly with the others. I saw a dark skinned, naked man with a loin cloth sitting on a elevation at the hillside, mumbling some words. He was sitting on a small wooden platform and there was a mike in front of him. All round him were people with reverential faces. Some sat next to him, others stood on the hillside.

“Who is he?” I asked. “Hush,” whispered my mother. “He is a saint. Listen to him carefully.” I tried but could follow nothing. I was very restless sitting on the ground with nothing to do. I could not even ask a question of my mother as there was pindrop silence. One could hear the breeze and the rustling of the trees.

After half an hour of this silence, the old man stopped speaking and many amongst the crowd surged towards him. They were all trying to get closer, touch his feet, or just stand near him with folded hands. We too moved forward and slowly reached the old man. After waiting a few minutes, our turn came and I found myself standing directly in front of this almost naked man, sitting cross legged on the wooden platform.

My mother, after a respectful obeisance and muttering a few words, thrust a small paper towards him, and the old man slowly wrote something on it. I saw him clearly for the first time now. He was bald, very lean, and bespectacled. Handing the paper back to my mother, he looked up towards me, ruffled my hair and said to me in Hindi:

“Jab tum bare hoge to acche admi banna aur apni maa ka dhyan rakhna. Tum swatantra bharat me rahoge. Apne desh ka bhi dhyan rakhna” (“When you grow up, be a good man and take care of your mother. You will live in a free India. Look after your country also”).

He wanted to say something more but we were pushed away by those behind us.

My mother died in October 1990. While browsing through her cupboard, I came across her autograph book. On one of the pages, I saw a piece of paper pasted on which were scribbled the signatures of the old man. Below it, in the neat handwriting of my mother, were written the words: ‘The signatures of Mahatma Gandhi after the Simla conference, on his way to Wardha. 17, July 1945.’

Anil Chandra’s website is www.indianshortstories.in

Liberating Choices

Sheikh Amadou Bamba wall-painting, Senegal

How can we distinguish between fatal and liberating choices? That was the question posed by Sheikh Aly N’Daw, head of the International Sufi School. He was speaking at his book launch in Westminster, hosted by Ian Stewart MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Friends of Islam group. Aly N’Daw is from the Mouride school of Sufism founded by the Senegalese saint Amadou Bamba (1850-1927) who emphasised service to others as the path to God. Sheikh Aly encourages his students to study the lives of great men and women who have bridged the gap between politics and spirituality, and have demonstrated how peace within leads to peace in the world.

Sheikh Aly asked us to consider the choice that Martin Luther King made when he decided not to opt for a comfortable lifestyle in Chicago, but to take his ministry to the Deep South and confront the spectre of racial discrimination. On the surface, it appears that Dr. King made a fatal choice, because his ministry ended with his assassination. However, in reality he made a liberating choice, because he could have suffered spiritual death by taking the easy option of remaining in Chicago, but instead his self-sacrifice contributed to the political and social liberation of millions of African-Americans.

Next we were asked to consider Muhammad Yunus, pioneer of micro-credit and founder of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. A professor of economics, he became disillusioned with academic life and went to live with a group of peasants. Many people would consider this a fatal choice, at least professionally, but for Muhammad Yunus it was liberating because it showed him how small sums of money loaned on trust could yield massive results if targetted at the right people, particularly women. By 2008 the Grameen Bank had loaned US$7.8 billion to the poor.

Ian Stewart MP talked about his own difficult choice, to vote for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. He explained that his motivation had been to help the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs, but now that hundreds of thousands of people had died as a result of the war, he could not be sure if he had been right. He described the whirl of conventional political life and how politicians, caught in the maelstrom, are on auto-pilot, without time or space to connect with the spiritual dimension of life. As he is not standing in the forthcoming general election, he expressed the hope that he would now have time to learn more about what Sufism describes as the ‘spiritual heart’.

The first two books in Sheikh Aly N’Daw’s series are ‘The Initiatory Way To Peace’ and ‘Liberation Therapy’. If you would like to buy any copies, please email: contact_uk@international-sufi-school.org

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