Racism, Nonkilling, and Shared Humanity
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 26 Sep 2022
World Peace Day Address on Anti-Racism 21 Sep 2022
Ending racism is essentially about making each person equal, respectful and dignified as the other. To achieve this to the fullest, over the past two centuries the fight has continued globally in tackling racism at the international, national and individual levels. This presentation provides an overview of anti-racism and peacebuilding through the lens of Universal Rights, Nonkilling and Human Dignity. Ending racism is about finding in this diversity of race, power, and culture, the universal– what unites us rather than the other way around. The sooner we find the universal (s), the sooner we will find solutions for building nonkilling peace, rooted in our shared humanity.
The notion of the other and otherness has been the cause of much hurt and violence. The topic of making the world free of racism is eminent — to overcome hate, mutual distrust and discrimination of fellow human beings based on ethnicity, language, skin colour, gender and religion.
One of the strong images of racism that prevails in my mind is a scene from the biopic GANDHI made by filmmaker Sir Richard Attenborough. Some of you may have seen the movie. Mohan Das Gandhi, a young well dressed Indian Gujarati lawyer, travelling by train in South Africa (31 May 1893) gets thrown out of the railway compartment by a white man because of the colour of his skin.
Gandhi’s biographer writes, it was “as if a shapeless spectre had assaulted a belief deep inside him – the insight, nurtured from childhood and confirmed by his three years in England, that all human beings, creations of the same God were of equal value”. The man who had him thrown out of the compartment was a monster, “a spirit in which the arrogance of power joined the arrogance of race.” (p.60)
Mohan Das resolves that he would non-violently fight for equal rights for people of all races. He would seek to affirm his belief in the oneness of all humans, one important goal leading to the ideal of achieving equal rights for all, and later the independence of India from Britain. The biographer writes ‘Gandhi did not realize it at once, but the dilemma of his life goal, whether it should be political or spiritual, had been resolved. The humiliation was a turning-point for him, for he had found a task in which his will to God and his will to politics could flow together as one force.” (p.61)
This year on August 15th India celebrated its 75th year of Independence. The gaining of Independence from western colonial powers through peaceful means became a model for the Independence of many other former colonies in Asia, Africa and Americas, including four decades later addition of 14 sovereign states resulting from the peaceful break-up of the Soviet Union.
The fight for racism is essentially about making one person equal, respectful, and dignified as the other. To achieve this to its fullest, over the past two centuries the struggle has continued globally in tackling racism at the international, national, and individual levels.
The incident of Gandhi being kicked out from the rail compartment reminds one of a similar moment in the USA six decades later when the Black American civil rights activist Rosa Parks in Montgomery Alabama stood her ground in a public bus, refusing to move from her seat in the front designated for whites. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would famously remark, judge one not by the colour of one’s skin, but by the content of one’s character. Despite the official ending of slavery in USA in 1865, between 1877 and 1950, more than 4,400 Afro-Americans were lynched by white mobs for crimes of hatred. Even today the fight for fair voting rights for minorities in the US Congress continues.
Struggles for human rights in South Africa and the long imprisonment of Nelson Mandela is another example where lessons learnt from India and American struggles were followed. Second half of the 20th century provides us many examples of courageous leaders across the globe who using nonviolent protest sought freedom, quality and justice, they founded model constitutions and charters reflecting the will and aspirations of their people.
In the post Second War world, the creation of the United Nations in 1945 with an anti-race and anti-hate charter played a significant role in nation building. It defined the conditions for who wanted to be a UN member state. These nations agreed to the fundamental belief that “Men are born free and remain free and equal in rights”. In 77 years of its existence, 193 members of the UN have continued to adhere to the principles of international behaviour laid down in its Charter (the founding Charter has been amended three times in 1963, 1965, and 1973). The UN Charter codifies the major principles of international relations, from sovereign equality of States to the prohibition of the use of force in international relations. (Art. 4(1) on membership)
Human rights and fundamental freedoms form a special basis of the Charter. The Article 1 (3) describes the purpose of the UN to be: To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.
More specifically, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is agreed to be the foundation of international human rights law. Reading from a UN Text: The UDHR has inspired a rich body of legally binding international human rights treaties. It continues to be an inspiration whether in addressing injustices, in times of conflicts, in societies suffering repression, and in our efforts towards achieving universal enjoyment of human rights. It represents the universal recognition that basic rights and fundamental freedoms are inherent to all human beings, inalienable and equally applicable to everyone, and that every one of us is born free and equal in dignity and rights. Whatever our nationality, place of residence, gender, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status, the international community on December 10, 1948 made a commitment to upholding dignity and justice for all of us.
Historical research has shown that the idea of “race” has always carried more meanings than mere physical differences; indeed, physical variations in the human species have no meaning except the social ones that humans put on them (AAA). Aspiration for Abolition of instruments and institutions of war, racism, and poverty are based on the assumption that a radical shift in our view of one another is possible, and that is rooted in our interculturality as humans.
The NGO Amnesty International since its founding in 1961 has in its mandate a list of human rights that it has dedicated to their nonviolent defense. These cover protection and advancement of rights with focus on safety from torture; inhuman degrading treatment and cruel punishment (Art.5) ; arbitrary arrests and imprisonments, detentions, unfair trials or exile (Art.9); right to freedom of opinion and expression(Art 18); and elimination of death penalty. Together with partner organizations, the Amnesty International has taken on itself the task of throwing light on those nation states that neglect these rights or conduct their unjust practices within their borders.
The new century began with yet another awakening – the demand for the addition to basic rights and fundamental freedoms, the rights of the indigenous people. There are many more indigenous cultures than UN member states. The United Nations Declaration (UNDRIP) was adopted by the General Assembly in September 2007, by a majority of 144 states in favour, 4 votes against (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States) which later reversed their position. Today the Declaration is the most comprehensive international instrument on the rights of indigenous peoples.
The Declaration provides a framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world as these apply to their specific situation. It reflects a growing recognition that the cultures of indigenous people and that their nations are properly reclaimed, and their people be the part of deliberations regarding protection and evolution of indigenous laws, tradition and customs in their ecologically sensitive communities.
The UN and its agencies are a work in progress. UN’s work in conjunction with its member states has laid down the basic infrastructures needed for a humanist society and peace building, these must be nurtured, negotiated and sustained. SDG goals must be resuscitated. Despite many shortcomings in their workings and unmet expectations, no one has yet advocated their abandonment.
Ending Racism is about finding among the diversity of race, power, and culture — the universal. A culture of life-affirmation is that of peace, unity, and harmony. Nonkilling philosopher Glenn D. Paige states: Human rights are defined amidst controversies over universality versus cultural specificity, a commitment to their assertion and defence by nonviolent means is imperative. (p. 117). Right to Live comes first. Paige asserts: One way is to seek inclusion in the Universal Declaration and in global practice, the following provision: an Article 3(2) that states: Everyone has the right not to be killed and the responsibility not to kill others.” (p.118)
As educationist Dr. Ikeda has said: This will require the establishment of an unending educational process that nurtures in the hearts of individuals a sense of loyalty not only to self, family, country, but towards all of humankind. That is, cultivating the will to live and in peace through education, in the broadest sense of the word. (Ikeda, p.121) Intention in all this is not on eliminating the nation-state, but rather how to regulate and manage the clear over- extension of national sovereignty. (Ikeda- p.118)
Echoing the sentiment, the Russel-Einstein Manifesto on Nuclear Disarmament (in July 1955) pointed out: “Remember your humanity and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death.” (p. 136).
The sooner we recognize this, the sooner we will find solutions for building nonkilling peace rooted in our shared humanity.
Rajmohan Gandhi, GANDHI: The Man, His People and the Empire (2007)
Glenn D. Paige, Nonkilling Global Political Science (2002)
Joseph Rotblat and Daisaku Ikeda, A Quest for Global Peace (2007)
Cassidy Caron, “Pope’s remarks on Genocide marked turning point for Canada”, The Globe and Mail, August 27, 2022, Opinion, O3.
Statement on RACE by American Anthropological Association (May 17. 1998), cited in a Lecture on The Anthropology of War and Peace by Prof. Leslie Sponsel, University of Hawaii
Dr. Bill (Balwant) Bhaneja is a former Canadian science diplomat, a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, and author of six books and scholarly papers on politics and science. He holds a PhD in science policy from UK’s Victoria University of Manchester, currently serves as Senior Advisor to the Center for Global Nonkilling in Honolulu-Hawai’i of which he is a founding member, and produces the Nonkilling Arts Research Committee (NKARC) Newsletter. A peace activist, his recent books include: Troubled Pilgrimage: Passage to Pakistan (TSAR/Mawenzi, Toronto, 2013); Quest for Gandhi: A Nonkilling Journey (Center for Global Nonkilling, Hawaii, 2009); and in collaboration with Vijay Tendulkar, Two Plays: The Cyclist and His Fifth Woman (Oxford University Press (India), New-Delhi, 2006). He lives in Ottawa, Canada. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tags: Equality, Justice, Racism
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 26 Sep 2022.
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