Reflection by Kasama editor, Dee Dicen Hunt
More than 300 delegates from 16 countries, about 50 volunteers plus innumerable community hosts and cultural performers created four days and two evenings of dialogue in plenary sessions and workshops, a formal dinner, a concert, and a whole day’s tour of five centres of worship and faith practice. It was a stimulating and challenging experience.
In 2005 the Multi-Faith Centre and the Pure Land Learning College held an international symposium entitled Cultivating Wisdom, Harvesting Peace with a focus on peace education. One recommendation from the 2005 symposium called for the promotion of a critical dialogue between faiths and ‘secular’ human rights discourses. The 2009 Interfaith Regional Summit faced the potential to progress that aim.
Professor Swee-Hin Toh encouraged the gathering toward “an interfaith dialogue for action,” to ask how we transform our beliefs into concrete action for peace and harmony. “As a peace educator,” he said, “I think it is important that in order to move to principled action we need a process of critical education.” I couldn’t agree more.
Emphasising “principled”, so that we have care for everyone’s “enlightenment, salvation, ease and harmony,” he pointed to some deep concerns: building social justice and economies of well being; the doctrine of a ‘just’ war vs active non-violence; promoting human rights and responsibilities within our doctrines; fostering inter-cultural respect; living in harmony with the earth; cultivating inner peace.
In the spirit of critical analysis, some statements and questions from the floor following each panel and workshop presentation, and in the small group Dialogue Circles, raised the more troublesome points of discord and concern, such as:
How can we use religion to prevent domestic violence and trafficking of human beings? Why are women subordinated in religious practice? Indigenous land rights, women’s issues, the environment are ignored. Is religious conflict the cause of war or is the scarcity of resources the primary factor? In conflict resolution do you attack the structural inequalities or take care of things needing immediate attention? Do we just acknowledge problems but put no solutions forward? Some believers say all we need is forgiveness and love. Is that enough, what about justice or structural violence? How do we engage people when they don’t want to dialogue but give the impression that all is harmonious and peaceful in their countries?
One issue presented itself for immediate consideration. Christine and Lee, the parents of Scott Rush, attended the Summit. Their son, carrying 1.3 kg. of heroin strapped to his body, was arrested with eight others at Bali airport in April 2005. Scott was 19 years-old at the time. He faces Indonesia’s death penalty for his crime. Many Interfaith Summit participants are campaigners for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty. The Multi-Faith Centre with various faith, interfaith, and community groups have organised a meeting, “The Death Penalty: An Interfaith Forum” in Brisbane on 29th April.