September 2011

 

Doctrine divides, Action unites

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‘Religion Does Not Kill People; People Kill People’

Shabeb Khan


Introduction

When I first heard about the opportunity to attend the Dialogue in Diversity workshop in Bangladesh, I was extremely excited as building relationships between communities in the Untied Kingdom, and in particular in my city of Bradford, is something very close to my heart. Throughout my life, I have experienced and witnessed many prejudices and racism from members of all communities and faiths. Despite living in a very tolerant society in England, I have always felt there is a lack of understanding and, worse still, a lack of willingness to understand other cultures and religions in the people of the United Kingdom.


Shabeb Khan, a Muslim from England, explains the teachings of
his faith during the daily interfaith prayer held every morning to
begin the Diversity in Dialogue workshop in July in Dhaka,
Bangladesh.

Dialogue in Diversity was an opportunity to broaden my horizons, meet people from different societies and learn skills with which to tackle the issues faced in my country.

Learning

There was such a diverse group of people at the Dialogue in Diversity workshop that it was an ideal opening to the workshop to learn about the life stories of people and listen to first-hand accounts of problems faced in their respective countries. It was a real eye-opener to learn more about such countries as Laos, Burma, Bangladesh and India. Many of the issues in these countries are either ignored or not given enough publicity in the U.K. media, which plays a major role in providing information and creating publicity for oppression. The challenges faced by these brave people in their daily lives are astonishing, and I am full of admiration for the work they are doing. The country reports increased my awareness of human rights issues throughout the globe and provided me with a better understanding of the history and diverse cultures which exist in all communities.

I found that the diversity which exists in most communities is not only religious or ethnic but can also be in terms of wealth, political interests, sex and many other differences. It is not the diversity which creates problems in society but how we as humans identify with this diversity. This workshop on diversity helped me realize that it is our identity which creates biases, stereotypes and prejudice and helped me to identify my own identity and prejudices. I found this to be an eye-opener as I have always prided myself on being open-minded and without prejudice. However, I found that I have a strong sense of identity, and this strong sense of self does not allow me to relate to people who do not share my identity.

Our prejudices aid us in labeling groups of people which are different to us. This process leads to discrimination and hate crimes within our communities but also on an international stage where countries or organizations create support for their actions by taking away people’s humanity. Thus, people are seen as objects which we do not relate to, and this dehumanization of people is used to justify crime, war, murder and state terrorism. Governments have found labeling, or profiling, to be a useful tool with which to generate support and oppress large groups of people.

On a personal note, this workshop helped me to find clarity about the prejudices in the Western world about Muslims. The phrase “Islamic terrorist” not only creates mass hysteria and fear but also creates a separation in society between people. Religion does not kill people; people kill people; and these people must be given the identity they deserve—one of criminals and radicals without the link to religion. Thus, identity leads to prejudice, which leads to discrimination, and this discrimination can be manipulated to create conflict among people.

As I witnessed on the field trips to the various religious institutions in Dhaka, however, all religions can exist in peace and understanding as long as they can avoid interference from external agencies and educate their followers in the true message of faith and religion. We all have the same objective: to achieve spirituality through the worship of God, but we just have different methods of reaching this spirituality.

I have always tried to avoid conflict as I have seen so much pain and hurt caused through it, but I have learned that conflict can be a positive thing and can be the driving force behind change for the better. Conflict challenges our views and forces us out of our comfort zone, helping us to become aware of the true reality. I have learned that while I remain in my comfort zone I will not be able to recognize my prejudice or have the courage to be truly transformed. While I feel I am a very tolerant and accepting person, I have found that this is not enough and that tolerance does not last, especially when our identity is challenged. In order to truly transform, I must understand my identity, its diversity and my prejudices. However, it is difficult to leave my comfort zone as outside it lie danger and challenges to my beliefs and values which I may not be ready to accept. It will also force me to examine my identity, and this exercise is dangerous for my sense of safety. I must have the bravery to challenge myself and take risks by putting myself into uncomfortable situations, and I hope the Dialogue in Diversity program in Dhaka is the first step in this long journey. Before I can hope to transform society and the people around me, I must first challenge myself and transform myself.

Another important lesson for me has been to realize that conflict management in society is not enough but that we must push to resolve conflict and use it as a tool to transform ourselves and society. However, to transform society through conflict, we must understand and learn about the history, culture, traditions and religious faiths of a community. Acquiring this understanding is a long process and comes in stages of tolerance, acceptance, engagement, discussion and dialogue.

I am proud to live in a society which tolerates differences, but I now have a responsibility to help my society to continue on the path of transformation. Transforming ourselves and the marginalized society may be difficult, but it is even harder, and even more important, to challenge and transform those who have power and abuse this power to oppress others. We must help the marginalized to realize they have their own power, as we have learned through numerous stories from oppressed societies, and we must challenge the views of those in power so they may reflect on their own identities and beliefs. Only then can we find true justice rather than man-made law which protects the powerful and helps them to continue to control and enslave society through capitalism and indoctrination. Many people find this contemplative process difficult to accept as it challenges their sense of reality, and governments are very skilled in using the media and distraction techniques to keep the people desensitized and ignorant to the real problems. I feel these are the root problems which need to be addressed and everything else is just symptomatic of the materialistic society in which we live.

True peace will only be realized when we can all engage in dialogue to recognize our own identities and prejudices and provide justice and human rights for all. Yet still there will be barriers as, in order to truly transform, our identities and the identities of people we relate to must be challenged or attacked. Only then can we empathize with the oppressed of society rather than pity them. Pity or sympathy only encourage acting on the superficial level of welfare and development rather than reform. Again, many governments and organizations, including non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the United Nations, avoid reform and transformation as it puts their existence at risk, and the executives of these organizations, who have been corrupted by power, will avoid this transformation at all costs.

New Ideas

I attended the workshop with many of my own ideas; but after hearing the various country reports and learning more about major institutions, such as the United Nations, I feel I have to re-evaluate my thinking and, as a wise man once said, “to learn, we must first unlearn so that we can relearn.”

I have started on this process and now know that research, understanding and changing the mindset of the majority is vital to create peace and justice. Thus, some of the ideas I have are as follows:

  1. I must educate myself and others about other religions and cultures, paying attention to the differences which make us unique but with a particular focus on the commonalities and shared goals.

  2. We must have a vision we want to create, and a targeted strategy focusing on short-term goals must be developed. In order to achieve this aim, there must be a coordination of organizations, in particular NGOs.

  3. As a group of international, like-minded people, we must use the media for our own goals. With the increased popularity of the internet, this task is not as difficult as it used to be, and we must use new technology to increase awareness and education, naming and shaming oppressors and the supporters and funders of these oppressors.

  4. As human beings, we have a responsibility to uphold everyone’s human rights, not just ours. For that goal to be realized, I feel the people of the so-called more developed countries can support the people working for interfaith understanding, peace and justice around the world.

  5. There is a need to create a foundation in the United Kingdom which will help to support the education of peace workers from all faiths but at a grassroots level and focusing on the middle class. This proposal can be undertaken through the sharing of resources and scholarships and by raising awareness of human rights abuses on a street level and not through the media or the government.

Application

On my return to the United Kingdom, I must apply what I have learned and help to educate others. In order to put into practice what I have learned, I have the following plans and strategies:

  1. Continue educating myself in a variety of subjects, such as world religion, international history, transformation and politics;

  2. To continue on my journey to achieve personal transformation by taking risks and engaging in dialogue;

  3. To maintain contact with the School of Peace (SOP) students and continue regular dialogue, challenging each other and providing updates of our work and the challenges we are facing;

  4. To work with YMCA Bradford and Bradford University to create a SOP in the United Kingdom, Europe and the world using the YMCA as a vehicle for change through a vision to link up and coordinate learning, activities and strategies with peace schools on an international scale in order to promote justice, peace and understanding;

  5. To help my city and my country to continue developing on the road to transformation and to increase awareness of the damage the media and labeling are doing to harmony in society;

  6. To promote religious education within all societies in order to remove ignorance and re-establish faith as a power for peace and not destruction;

  7. To create a foundation with which to support the work and education of all the future leaders I have met through Dialogue in Diversity.

Humans have a basic need to belong and find comfort by attaching themselves to an identity.

Conclusion

Through this Dialogue in Diversity program, I feel I have not only broadened my horizons through understanding myself and my personality but that the dialogue has also helped me to understand the real problems and issues we face in the United Kingdom and the world.

After hearing the country reports, I felt embarrassed and ashamed about some of the problems which I felt were affecting people in our country so much. Human rights abuses are being committed on a daily basis, yet we remain ignorant of it, living in our little bubble. As humans who are fortunate to live in a tolerant society, it is our duty to help our fellow human beings to achieve the same rights and freedom we enjoy. However, I have learned that as a society we have just started the journey of transformation; and although our problems may not be as serious as many affecting the countries around the world, we still live in a society which is not as developed as we like to think it is. We are part of the problem, not the solution, and thus must take responsibility by making changes ourselves. Transformation of our own society will reduce the support for oppressors around the world and will challenge their actions and beliefs and set them on the road to tolerance as a minimum objective.

Deep inside me I felt tolerance was not enough, but I accepted it as I thought this was as good as it was going to get. I live in a culture of neutrality, capitalism and greed and consequently have been influenced by this context. Dialogue in Diversity has helped to open my eyes and clear my vision. Now I know that we also live in a society of oppression, but we are slaves to Money rather than slaves to a dictator or other oppressive forces. We as people allow our countries to continue to suppress other societies so that we may benefit financially. There is so much progression still left to achieve, and I feel I now have some of the tools with which to start bringing a transformation to myself and the people around me.

“If you want to see a change, be the change you want to see.”
Jose Varghese (Dialogue in Diversity, Dhaka, July 2011)