Archive | Spirituality & Religion RSS feed for this archive

Repairing the Damage in Israel

Last week, Haaretz reported that Israelis have been working with Mount Zion churches in recent months to repair damage to cemeteries belonging to Jews, Christians and Muslims, whether due to vandalism or simply the ravages of time.

image001

The first project, sponsored by the Society for the Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites, is the restoration of the Protestant cemetery on Mount Zion [above]. The work was done by master masons – Circassians from northern Israel – with funding from the preservation society. After the gravestones were repaired, groups of volunteers — ranging from religious Israeli Jews to overseas Christians studying here — began cleaning up the cemetery and tending the greenery.

“We did this to correct, at least a little, the bad impression left by the authorities’ failure to deal with the hate crimes,” said architect Gil Gordon, who oversaw the work. “They haven’t caught and indicted a single person, and the mayor is ignoring it. If you like, we’re doing this to rescue Israel’s honour, so they’ll know there are also people who care.”

The organizers are talking with the Armenian Church about restoring its cemetery and also with the Dajanis, a respected Palestinian family that has long taken care of Mount Zion’s cemeteries. Next week the volunteers are expected to begin cleaning up the mount’s Muslim cemetery. After that they plan to restore the Sambursky Cemetery, a Jewish site on the mount.

In addition to cleaning up the cemeteries, the volunteers are documenting the graves, some of them very old. They came to remind people that Jerusalem is a multicultural city where we all live, and will continue to live, side by side.

Dr. Yisca Harani

Dr. Yisca Harani

“We began the project after dozens of crosses in the Protestant cemetery were broken,” said Dr. Yisca Harani, a historian of Christianity and one of the project’s initiators.

The volunteers, she added, “came not just to show solidarity, but to show commitment and try to remind people that Jerusalem is a multicultural city where we all live, and will continue to live, side by side.”

Once Mount Zion’s cemeteries have been restored, the plan is to create a tourist route that will cover both the cemeteries and the site’s many cultures and faiths.

‘Adivasi Campaign’ demands rejection of the Land Acquisition Ordinance 2014

Adivasi land rights

 

A letter from Gladson Dungdung, Convenor of Adivasi Campaign for Human Rights

 

On behalf of the “Adivasi Campaign for Human Rights”, I have the pleasure to share its first brief report, “Adivasi Campaign demands rejection of the Land Acquisition Ordinance, 2014″ which is available to view at:

http://www.adivasirights.org/full_news.php?news_id=2

The ‘Adivasi Campaign for Human Rights’ (Adivasi Campaign) has been recently established to lead the national campaign of the Adivasis/Indigenous Peoples of India, majority of whom, are notified as Scheduled Tribes under the Constitution of India.

In public domain in India, Adivasis/Indigenous Peoples are largely perceived either as victims or beneficiaries, but they are seldom considered as decision makers by government, non-governmental organizations, donors, international organisations etc. There is a serious lack of representation/participation of the Adivasis/indigenous peoples in the discussion, debate, policy formation, law making, budgeting, etc relating to them.

Therefore, it was decided to establish the ‘Adivasi Campaign for Human Rights’ with the aim to seek and ensure representation/participation of the Adivasis/Indigenous Peoples, among others, in discussion, debate, policy formation, law making and implementation of programmes relating to Adivasis/Indigenous Peoples by NGOs, donors, governments, UN bodies, etc.

The Adivasi Campaign is committed to promote, protect and ensure the rights of the Adivasis /Indigenous Peoples guaranteed under the Constitution of India and United Nations human rights instruments including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Gladson Dungdung

Convenor, Adivasi Campaign for Human Rights
Website: www.adivasirights.org

2014 UCL Lancet Lecture by Arundhati Roy – The Half-Life of Caste: The ill-health of a nation

Arundhati Roy giving the 2014 UCL Lecture. image © UCL

Arundhati Roy giving the 2014 UCL Lancet Lecture.  Image © UCL

The 2014 UCL Lancet Lecture was given by Arundhati Roy – The Half-Life of Caste: The ill-health of a nation.

The UCL video of the lecture can be viewed here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nawWZYhUWBA&list=PL794B0AE51832BE14

Arundhati Roy, acclaimed novelist and political activist, won the 1997 Booker Prize for Fiction with her novel The God of Small Things. She has published several collections of political essays on issues ranging from large dams and nuclear weapons to the corporatisation and privatisation of India’s New Economy.

 

‘Goddess of big things?’ A rejoinder to Arundhati Roy’s 2014 lectures in London that offered a critique of Mahatma Gandhi by Narinder Kapur

Arundhati Roy, the celebrated author and Booker Prize winner, recently gave two talks in London on the subject of caste, one at University College London (UCL), and the other a few days later at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in the South Bank Centre, London. I presume the two talks were very similar, but the one at UCL appears available for viewing, and I did not attend either talk in person.

As Professor Michael Arthur, the UCL Provost, outlined in his Introduction to the Lancet Lecture given by Arundhati Roy at UCL on November 20, 2104 [1], the Lancet Lecture series has been delivered by an impressive feast of minds, including two Nobel Laureates – the psychologist Daniel Kahneman and the economist, Amartya Sen. It was an imaginative and bold decision to invite Arundhati Roy to deliver this year’s lecture, which was both stimulating and controversial, in line with the reputation which Ms Roy has gleaned over the years.

Her lecture was entitled, The half-life of caste: The ill-health of a nation. However, while caste was a key theme of the lecture, much of it was also taken up by a rather savage critique of Mahatma Gandhi. Her criticisms were so strident, and so divergent from established views of Gandhi, that it is only fair that some form of rejoinder is offered. A rejoinder of Ms Roy’s general thesis, which actually takes the form of a 153-page Introduction to a new 2014 edition of the 1936 book, Annihilation of Caste written by Dr B R Ambedkar, has already been written by the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, Raj Mohan Gandhi (http://www.rajmohangandhi.com/ambedkargandhi-debate-reply-arundhati-roy).

Ms Roy’s critique of Gandhi comes at the same time that the British government has decided to erect a statue of Gandhi in Parliament Square, and I suspect Ms Roy will not be donating any royalties from her books towards the Gandhi statue appeal (www.gandhistatue.org)! Some of the questioners who raised queries after the lecture prefaced their question by ‘I am a fan of yours’. Well, I am a fan of both Ms Roy and Gandhi, and so Ms Roy has managed to tear me apart, something that hitherto up to now only my children have succeeded in doing! I am a long-standing member of the Gandhi Foundation and have written a number of articles about Gandhi [2-4]. My interest in Gandhi started when I was researching Gandhi and Indian history for my book, The Irish Raj [5]. Sitting in the Oxford South Asia library, and having Gandhi’s volumes of writings in front of me, was a daunting experience while I was researching for the book.

Arundhati Roy has rightly achieved international acclaim for her Booker Prize novel, The God of Small Things. But she seems to have acquired a messianic appeal, akin to that of Mother Teresa, and – dare I say it – Mahatma Gandhi. In the eyes of many people, especially in the west, she can do no evil and say no evil. She appears to have taken on the charisma of ‘Goddess of Big Things’, pronouncing on issues that include nuclear weapons, terrorism and dams. She is seen as a manly figure in a world where we need a strong personality to stand up to male chauvinist pigs. However, as her Wikipedia entry shows [6], she is also a controversial figure, and she has been criticised by many in India for some of her statements and actions. She has also been criticised by the very people, Dalits, whose rights she claims to be defending and upholding. [7]

I do not intend to focus on Ms Roy’s pronouncements on caste nor on what she states were statements and views of Gandhi or Ambedkar in respect of caste. Caste systems lack logic and are relics of a bygone age, though a similar argument might be made of royalty! I wish instead to critique at a more general level the content of her lecture.

Ms Roy made it quite clear in her lecture that she considered Gandhi quite undeserving of the respect and accolades that he has been given, going so far as to criticise the Oscar-winning film on Gandhi by Sir Richard Attenborough. We are then to assume that those who got Gandhi all wrong include not only Sir Richard Attenborough but also Einstein, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and current leading academic figures such as Professor Howard Gardner of Harvard and Professor Lord Bikhu Parekh of London. Even those who disagree with Gandhi on certain issues have recognized his major, outstanding contributions to political thinking, such as a previous Lancet Lecturer, the Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen. In its recent award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Malala and to Kailash Satyarthi, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee gave a rare insight into its reasoning behind the award. It made little bones of the fact that it regretted not giving the award to Gandhi, and that the award to Malala and Kailash Satyarthi was in a sense an atonement for that grave error [8]. So, Ms Roy also stands on the other side of the fence to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee.

In the eyes of many leading figures, both past and present, Gandhi’s major achievements were two fold – firstly, to show that nonviolence was a viable means of bringing about political change and to show this at a time when violent means (two World Wars) was the norm; secondly, to point to superordinate principles of living and thinking which could usefully help to understand and guide human behaviour.

‘God is Truth’, ‘God is Love’, were the two key principles espoused by Gandhi. Where is Truth and where is Love (Compassion) in the Lancet Lecture that Ms Roy gave? Ms Roy’s compassion for those in lower castes is no doubt genuine and unarguable. The caste system is as degrading as it is illogical. What about Truth? How can one distinguish between Truth and Myth? Ms Roy gave the impression that this is an easy task, but I argue that it is not. There are three fundamental problems and flaws in the broad argument behind Ms Roy’s critique of Gandhi, flaws that lead me to doubt whether her lecture represented the Truth. Firstly, a major problem is that Mahatma Gandhi is dead, while Arundhati Roy is alive.

Ms Roy passionately believes in justice, as witnessed by her campaigns for justice in India. But there is a fundamental injustice in making strident criticisms of a man after he is dead, for the simple reason that he cannot respond to allegations – ‘Dead Men Cannot Talk’. This applies equally to other past figures such as JF Kennedy and Winston Churchill who are often the subject of allegations and innuendos. In the eyes of some people, to be assassinated once while alive is bad enough, without also having a character assassination long after you are dead. Apart from justice, I also argue that such criticisms are fundamentally disrespectful. If I was to criticise Michael Arthur or Richard Horton after they died, their families would quite rightly regard it as disrespectful for me to do so. Secondly, who is Mahatma Gandhi and who is Arundhati Roy? Is Arundhati Roy the combination of sperm and ovum one second after conception? Is Arundhati Roy the little girl in Corpus Christi school in India? Is Arundhati Roy the person on the day she won the Booker Prize? Our biology and our brains change from one day to the next. Arundhati Roy was not even the same person at the start of her UCL lecture as she was at the end of her lecture. Ms Roy tried to make the point that it was the same Gandhi throughout, that he was rigidly and 100% consistent in his views throughout his life. Ideally, one would wish to have gathered Gandhi’s views the day before he was assassinated to be sure that he had not changed his views. The point I am making is that Gandhi was a dynamic figure living in dynamic times, and it is quite likely that snapshots of his utterances, even if completely accurate, were not representative of the ‘true’ Gandhi, and the ‘true Gandhi’ may in fact be evanescent. Thirdly, Ms Roy relies entirely on words and verbal descriptions of events from the past. The Psychology of human memory tells us many things, amongst which the two key messages are that memory can be selective and can distort past reality, and that much of this selectivity and distortion can occur unconsciously, below the level of our awareness [9]. Indeed, we are often fooled by our confidence in how accurate our memories are, and in some cases the more confident we are of a recollection from the past, the more likely it is that we may be fooling ourselves. Memory distortions are so prevalent that they are considered by some to have adaptive value [10-11]. In legal settings, credibility is often given when ‘contemporaneous notes’ were taken of a conversation or event. For verbal utterances, a tape recorder would also be a key source of validity for the record that was kept. We do not know if the written statements alleged by Ms Roy to emanate from Gandhi were not subject to error (perhaps he did not mean ‘sex’, but ‘six’ or ‘sects’, and his secretary got it wrong or the proof reader did not pick it up!). We now have the advantage of modern technology that is more likely to ensure that posterity has a more veridical record of words and events. Such technology was largely absent in the period during which Gandhi is alleged to have made comments that Ms Roy so heavily relies upon.

Towards the end of her lecture, Ms Roy appealed to the audience to ‘apply their minds to false myths’. I respectfully appeal to her to apply compassion, objectivity and science to some of the false myths that may be lurking in her own mind.

Narinder Kapur is a consultant neuropsychologist at Imperial College NHS Trust, London and a Professor of Neuropsychology.
https://twitter.com/narinder_kapur
http://londonmemoryclinic.com/

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Gandhi Foundation.

References
1 Roy A. (2014). Lancet Lecture: The half-life of caste: The ill-health of a nation. November 20,
2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nawWZYhUWBA&list=PL794B0AE51832BE14
2 Kapur N. How Gandhi’s words speak volumes to the NHS today. Health Service Journal, April
18, 2013.
3 Kapur, N. (2013). The NHS could learn much from Gandhi’s teaching. BMJ, 346: f2411.
4 Kapur N. Bringing Gandhi to Science and Medicine. In: Mashelkar, R. (Ed). Timeless Inspirator:
Reliving Gandhi. New Delhi: Gandhi National Memorial Society, 2010; pp. 228-237.
5 Kapur N (1997). The Irish Raj: historical and contemporary links between India and Ireland.
Antrim: Greystone Press.
6 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arundhati_Roy
7 http://roundtableindia.co.in/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=7283:an-openletter-to-ms-arundhati-roy&catid=119&Itemid=132
8 http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Kailash-Satyarthi-was-in-running-for-Nobel-peaceprize-for-over-half-a-decade-Nobel-Institute/articleshow/44774768.cms
9 Schacter, D et al. (2011). Memory distortion: an adaptive perspective. Trends in Cognitive
Sciences, 15: 467-74.
10 Fernandez, J. (2014). What are the benefits of memory distortion? Consciousness and
Cognition, in press.
11 Lillenfeld S, Byron R. (2013). Your brain on trial. Scientific American, 23: 45-53.

The Gandhi Foundation Multifaith Celebration 2014

The Gandhi Foundation’s Multifaith Celebration took place on Thursday 30th January 2014 at the House of Lords, London

Dr Rex Andrews gave a lecture on Gandhi related aspects of his new book “God in a Nutshell“. Our President, Lord Parekh, hosted and Chaired the event with Q&A with a multifaith audience.

Thank you to all who attended

Mark Hoda addressing The Gandhi Foundation Multifaith Celebration 2012

Mark Hoda addressing The Gandhi Foundation Multifaith Celebration 2012

Father Alec Reid – 2008 Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award recipient

Father Alec Reid

Father Alec Reid

Sadly Father Alec Reid, who received The Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award in 2008 along with Rev. Harold Good, died on 22nd November 2013 aged 82 years. His role in the disarmament process in Northern Ireland, the victory of non-violence over violence, and the bringing together of the Catholic and Protestant communities with Rev. Harold Good were significant milestones on the road to peace. You can read an account of the 2008 award and speeches by clicking:

http://gandhifoundation.org/2008/10/30/2008-peace-award-annual-lecture-harold-good-alec-reid/

The Daily Telegraph obituary can be read here:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/10468267/Father-Alec-Reid-Obituary.html

A World of Limited Resources – The Gandhi Foundation Summer Gathering 2013 by Natasha Lewis

The Abbey, in the little village of Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire, was again the setting for this year’s Gathering, a week of attempting to live in the style of one of Gandhi’s ashrams whilst allowing a space for discussion into applying his principles to issues faced in the modern world. The building itself is a perfect facilitator for this event, providing several cosy sitting rooms, a kitchen and dining room dating to the 13th century, and a large Great Hall which has windows that open out into the main garden. The grounds give ample space for camping and sports including badminton, as well as a large kitchen garden which provides much of the delicious food for the week! The surrounding countryside also provides several beautiful walks along the river Thames.

GF SG 1

The Gandhi Foundation Summer Gathering 2013

Although some rooms are available in the Abbey itself, most Gatherers stay in the guest house annexe, which has the advantage of 20th rather than 13th century plumbing and heating! The braver amongst us, mostly families, camped and this year a camper van was also used for accommodation. Thirty Seven people attended over the first weekend, with people coming and going over the next week.

The premise of Gandhi’s ashram means that a great communal spirit is built up throughout the week, with teams taking turns to help prepare meals and keep communal spaces clean. The kitchen is usually the focal point, where children’s (and adult’s!) baking and craft takes place, as well as some of the most interesting discussions about the year’s theme.

After a help-yourself breakfast, the morning session begins with a brief meditation and sharing of information, then continues into the main discussion topic for the day. There is normally a short introductory presentation followed by discussion in small groups and then feedback. This leads into Shramdana, meaning ‘sharing of one’s time, thought and energy for the welfare of all’ in accordance with the way Gandhi’s ashrams were run. Lunch is eaten and, after a digestion break, craft activities begin later in the afternoon. It was Gandhi’s belief that time should be spent on useful tasks, and this period is used to follow his guidance. Crafts available this year were varied, including collage making, art using dried flowers, crochet and watercolour painting. One particularly interesting activity was spinning thread from a sheep’s fleece: we set up a production line including carding the wool, using the spinning wheel to turn the wool into thread and winding the finished wool into balls (and untangling it!). The spinning wheel was a bit trickier to use than I expected and unfortunately my wool alternated between being much too thick and snapping because it was too thin! After supper Gatherers are invited to contribute to the evening’s entertainment which included animal noises, poetry readings, slideshows and circle dancing. Then meditation and time for sleep before it all begins again in the morning!

The topic for this year’s Gathering was “A World of Limited Resources: Inspirations and Challenges in Sharing the Planet” which attracted many external speakers as well as new participants. This meant that there was often a talk in the afternoon in addition to the morning session. The first of these was given by an architect, Sandra Piesik, who is running a project reviewing renewable resources as construction materials, involving over 120 scientists and professionals. Her talk mainly focussed on developing architecture using palm leaves in the United Arab Emirates, and her efforts to rescue indigenous technology from the extinction imposed by the advent of globalisation and modern building practices. She highlighted the fact that concrete is not always the most suitable building material in every environment on Earth, and that there is a huge untapped source of building materials from the palm leaves from plants used for date production, which are currently wasted in the UAE.

GF SG 3

The theme of the first morning session (Sunday) was Sarvodaya. This is a term coined by Gandhi to mean ‘universal uplift’ or ‘progress of all’ and was a fundamental principle of his political philosophy. We discussed some of Gandhi’s other main principles: Swaraj, self-rule;  Swadeshi, self-sufficiency; and Satyagraha, “truth force”, Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance strategy.

Monday’s theme was resource depletion: examining the effects of diminishing stocks of non-renewable gas, oil, coal and minerals on the world. We discussed particular industries’ impacts on the earth and its people, and possible substitutes.

Tuesday focussed on climate change and population from a biological perspective, as the talk was given by an ecologist. Human culture has gradually evolved from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle through small scale agriculture to the globalised economy we see today. However, this has occurred in a period of relatively stable climatic conditions for the past 5000 years, which has lulled us into a sense of false security. We were divided into three groups and attempted to answer three questions. The question for my group was: What attributes from our hunter gatherer and agricultural ancestors should we cultivate and which should we reject? We were also asked to talk about steps we could take to reduce our energy usage both on a personal and national/global scale. 
Ruth gave a presentation originally aimed at actuaries to show that in the economic world it is vital to take into account risks of climate change and resource depletion.

The World Economic System was Wednesday’s subject. Alan Sloan presented us with a thought-provoking presentation on a potential new economic system based on ecological footprints. Conventional money is not directly related to the material world, and he suggested that if the new currency were based on the resources available from the earth then this would help to solve the resource depletion crises we are currently facing, as well as relieving poverty in the developing world.

GF SG 2

Four participants gave presentations on four ‘prophets’ on Thursday. John Muir was an American naturalist whose activism helped to preserve national parks such as Sequoia National Park and the Yosemite Valley. Ishpriya is a Catholic nun who founded the International Satsang Organisation. The Reverend Horace Dammers was the founder of the Lifestyle Movement. Frances Moore Lappé is the author of the bestseller Diet for a Small Planet, which advocated a plant-based diet as being much more conducive to food security.

On Friday we welcomed another guest speaker, a representative of Traidcraft. He gave a presentation on the organisation and their efforts to ensure that workers are paid a fair price for their products.

On the last evening we held a party, which was a sort of variety show with everyone offering their best party pieces. We had old home videos, games, singing, jokes, poetry, a small flute recital and some improvised circle dancing. The evening ended with a small tribute to the victims of the atom bomb in 1945, as it was Nagasaki Day. We went out into the garden and floated tea lights in little paper boats in a large baking tray filled with water, as incense smoke floated up into the night sky. It was a lovely way to end the week, which has been one of the most thought-provoking I have attended.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 840 other followers