Rebuilding Integrity and Trust
Our time appears to be characterized by a frightening erosion of trust. Since the shock of September 2011, we have learned to think twice before travelling to London or Madrid or Paris or Brussels or Nairobi or Istanbul or Cairo – to name a few. Since the collapse of 2008, we have learned to think twice before trusting our bankers. Then we learned that cyclists and athletes have used drugs to cheat and that football’s governing body may have been rife with corruption. Over the last few years we in the UK have discovered the shameful reality of decades of sexual abuse hidden behind the glamour of TV personalities. The most recent murder of British MP, Jo Cox, was an attack on the very essence of democracy.
How can we respond? Airports have increased security checks and systems; banks have put in new checks and standards; institutions have put in checks before anyone is allowed to work with vulnerable people. Of course, we need all these, and indeed value them. However, there is no getting away from the fact that we will never legislate our way to security and peace. The key to peace is people: how people think and feel and live. The reality we have to confront is that the “enemy” is no longer “out there” – the enemy is inside: inside our countries, inside our society and inside our own hearts and minds. If we want to build security and cohesion here in Europe, I believe we have to start by rebuilding integrity in people and trust between people. Consequently, this discussion must tackle first the roles of culture and religion and then the role of cooperation.
Culture and religion
I don’t think religion on its own can or will make a good world. No individual or institution has value on its own. I do think that religions have the potential to make better people, and that good people can make a good world. We also have tremendous resources in the diverse cultures of our world: one that comes to mind is the film, Bridge of Spies, where the key character’s enemy calls him “Standing Man”, a classic example of integrity. And, as I am sure will have been discussed in the previous panel, the family is pivotal to the transmission of values.
Each of the world’s faiths has produced its fruit – in the form of individuals and institutions. I am thinking of individuals whose attitudes and behavior display exemplary qualities; people like Mahatma Gandhi, Florence Nightingale and Mohammad Ali. I say fruit because the key factor here was not a belief system itself but rather a passionate response to the conscience which turned these people into such influential leaders. It was his conscience rooted in his faith that inspired William Wilberforce to oppose the established church and campaign for an end to slavery. Many of our modern institutions, such as hospitals and universities, have their roots in one faith or another. Ten years ago in Lebanon, soon after the short war with Israel, I accompanied a group of American and Lebanese Christians and Muslims to visit Rabab Sadr, whose Shia Muslim foundation runs 8 hospitals, 2 mobile clinics and an orphanage for over 1100 children.
Lived religion provides a deep well that can empower the greatest peacemakers. Often we worry about what we have to do to bring peace. A recent UPF event in London featured Lord Eames, former Primate of All Ireland. Speaking of his role in the peace process, he referred to years of fruitless efforts, which all changed one day when one side came knocking on his door. “We want you to be involved in the process,” they said. “We trust you.” Why? Because he had listened, and listened, and listened. Britain’s former chief rabbi, quoting the anthropologist, Malinowski, says that when we listen, we are telling the other person, “I am here for you.”
Our world is full of people whose primary identity is religious. Religion at its best strengthens identity, transmits values and provides an extended community where trust is present and values are reaffirmed. It has the capacity to instill in a person the attitude and character that will resist corruption, reject immorality and refuse to treat a stranger unkindly. It is precisely because they have experienced these qualities that so many respond to today’s atrocities with what appear to be platitudes, like “Ours is a religion of peace” or “They have demonized our religion.” I am ashamed of my countrymen when English fans are imprisoned for violent behavior in France, but that doesn’t mean I stop watching football or condemn the country. As we say, don’t let’s throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Cultures, too, have fundamental keys for peace, security and cohesion, most evident of all in the family and extended family. Do you know the Korean way of addressing an older man in the community? Ajussi, which means uncle. How about the Arabs? What do they say? Aammo, which means uncle. What did they use to say in Italy? Papa-nonno, which means “daddy-grandpa.” In the Scottish countryside, tradition has it that one should welcome a stranger “as if he were the Christ”. Arab hospitality is legendary. “Ahlen wasahlen,” roughly translated, means “May the way be smooth for you.” It is traditions like these that have promoted a sense of trust and community. The best of such traditions are often preserved in cultural performances, which convey examples of the greatest values to generations to come and cultures afar.
Interreligious cooperation is sometimes seen as a club for God-talkers. That’s not what the world needs. What we need are people who can uncover the strengths of the world’s religions (and cultures) and communicate them; so that each can flourish and contribute to a global environment. We need to see and understand the best of each other’s culture and, like different members of an orchestra or sports team, play our part in the bigger picture. If this is done well, we develop greater trust and a wider sense of community. A case in point might be the Middle East and Europe. The Arab world sadly lacks a tradition of civic values, one that would allow people of differing views or factions to peacefully coexist on a national level; yet Europe, which has a developed tradition of democracy, is rapidly losing a sense of the value of the family, particularly the extended family. That is one of the strengths of the Arab world. We need to learn from each other!
Let me give some examples of programs which reflect this spirit – of promoting understanding of one another’s culture and religion.
Have you heard of the Little Angels of Korea? They are a group of children who perform traditional Korean dance and songs in brightly coloured traditional clothes. They were formed in the 1960s when Korea was known as a war-torn country. Father Moon’s intent in founding them was to show the world the beauty of Korea’s historical culture. In 2010 they did a thank you tour of the nations who had sent troops as part of the UN force to protect Korea. I was there in Istanbul when they performed in front of weeping Turkish Korean war veterans, who had lost 900 of their colleagues in that war. The day beforehand the nation saw them performing at President Gul’s private residence, singing a traditional Turkish song. The smile on the president’s face was matched only by the enthusiasm of the group of young Turks who helped us organize the event the next day: they were from the “Love Korea” society.
In October 2001 I was in New York. IIFWP, the predecessor to UPF, had organized a conference, which, following events in September, we chose to go ahead with, renaming it “Global Violence: Crisis and Hope.” Over breakfast with Abdurrahman Wahid, then present of Indonesia, UPF’s founder, Sun Myung Moon, proposed a conference in Jakarta, the main intention being to show the world the true face of Islam. This conference, held immediately after Ramadan, followed a long line of programs, including the 1982-5 Youth Seminar of the World’s Religions, which took young people from the world’s faiths on a tour of holy sites while they learned and studied about each other’s faith. Designed to open their eyes to the good in all faiths, the annual project clearly did so for at least one recent prime minister. The Religious Youth Service (RYS) has for over 30 years brought together young people of all faiths to provide practical service in needy communities, from Sri Lanka to Jordan to Tatabanya in Hungary. This project sows seeds of respect in the hearts of the participants, primarily because they witness each other serving others; it makes peacemakers.
Let me expand the scope to include projects I have so far only read about. Some of you may know more than I do about these. From tanenbaum.org I read of Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye, religious leaders who live in Kaduna, a city in northern Nigeria. They both suffered acute personal loss in conflict in 1992, but went beyond the initial desire for revenge to form an interfaith mediation centre which now counts 10,000 members.
The Feast is an interfaith initiative in Birmingham, England. I quote: “At the heart of The Feast is a desire to bring together teenagers of different faiths to build friendships, explore faith and change lives. We do this by inviting them to take part in encounter events where they can meet peers from other faiths…. We encourage young people to take the lessons learned from The Feast into their everyday lives. We are proud to see this diverse group of young people making such positive change in their families, schools and communities.”
Near Neighbours is a project in different parts of England. “The idea behind Near Neighbours is to bring people together who are near neighbours in communities that are religiously and ethnically diverse, so that they can get to know each other better, build relationships of trust and collaborate together on initiatives that improve the local community they live in.”
These are projects which directly tackle the dangers of community isolation.
Here are some examples of real interfaith leaders. Over 10 years ago I met with Monsignor Batikha, a Syrian Catholic leader in Damascus. He said to me: “I often call us the Church of Islam. We cannot go to God except through our brother." A Syrian Sunni sheikh I know sees God in other faiths and loves to repeat, “There is no monopoly of salvation.”Almost 3 years ago in a conference in Amman, a Muslim participant from Egypt spoke of Egypt’s Coptic Pope Tawadros, who, on hearing of threats to churches, said: “If you burn the church, we will come and pray with you in the mosque. If they burn the mosque, we will pray together in the street.” These words melted tensions and won deep respect from Muslims in Egypt.
There are many, good initiatives. Coming closer to home, the Women’s Federation for World Peace in Jordan recently conducted a drama-related character education program with Jordanian youth performing in refugee camps around the country. Building on previous experience with a UPF spin-off, Play Football Make Peace, a Peace Club trains football coaches in Jordan, enabling them to pass on values to the young players they train. Also in Jordan, Prince Feisal Al Hussein has established Generations For Peace, “a global non-profit peace-building organisation that uses sport, art, advocacy, dialogue and empowerment activities as conflict transformation tools in communities affected by conflict and violence.”
I would like to return to what I consider to be the heart of the matter: people, good people. Even the religiously motivated ones do not make an impact because of their beliefs; rather it is because they reflect the simple essence of all religion – to live for others. Florence Nightingale, who reformed nursing in the UK, did it because, sitting in her parents’ garden, she felt a call from God to serve others. My landlord in Scotland is a good man. He is popular because his shop serves others. He is also the only Muslim in the village. He is a living example of integration. I don’t live in London but I’m pretty sure the new mayor was not elected because he is a Muslim; he was elected because he obviously cares about the city.
Our world needs people who care, people who listen, people who keep their word. We need to feel understood, included, valued. Recently our family visited a Syrian refugee family in Scotland. When the father heard my daughter speak, he burst into a broad smile. “You are Syrian!” he said. They have the same accent.
Author: Mr. David Fraser Harris
Secretary General, UPF Middle East and North Africa
From 1990 to 1997, Mr. Fraser Harris served the International Religious Foundation (IRF) as the director of its European office in Rome. In this capacity he was responsible for the promotion of IRF’s interfaith programs in Europe, which included both conferences and the international projects of the Religious Youth Service, many of which were held in Eastern Europe following the fall of the Berlin Wall. From 1997 to 2012 he and his family lived in Damascus (Syria), where he taught English and travelled frequently to support UPF programs in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and other parts of the region. He continues to support such programs from his home near Edinburgh.