Saturday, June 16, 2007
GUS DUR HOSTS RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE CONFERENCE
n interfaith conference on religious tolerance was held earlier this week on the Indonesian island of Bali, sponsored by the Libforall Foundation and its patron, former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid -- affectionately known in his country by the nickname "Gus Dur."
The one-day conference brought together figures from the world's major religions, including Hindu spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Director of the Pardes Institute of Jewish studies Rabbi Daniel Landes, a Jesuit priest and Buddhist teachers, as well as other moderate Indonesian Muslim leaders and a survivor of the Nazi holocaust in Europe. Victims of jihadi violence in Indonesia also attended.
The remarkable thing about this event, is that it took place at all. The organisers, clearly concerned about what mischief hard-line Islamist groups might get up to -- given the participation of Israelis -- were careful not to publicise the event in advance to the Indonesian media. In fact, since hearing about this event earlier in the week, I've been watching MetroTV news for any coverage at all -- there has been none. Certainly if the "Islam Defenders Front" and other like-minded groups had gotten wind of this beforehand, there would have been demonstrations aimed at denying visas to -- at the very least -- all the Jewish invitees. Only a month or two ago, Israelis had to pull out of participation in a parliamentary conference to which they had been invited, for that very reason.
The purpose of the conference was to discuss the larger issue of religious freedom and mutual acceptance, however Gus Dur applied another layer to the event's agenda by making it the "contra-Ahmadinejad, Holocaust-denial rebuttal" conference.
The Iranian president is by now famous for his Holocaust-denial shindigs in Teheran, and bigotted anti-Jewish editorial cartoon contests. Gus Dur, acknowledging that Ahmadinejad is a "friend," nevertheless firmly stated that the Iranian was absolutely wrong on this issue. Gus Dur is a longtime member of the Tel Aviv-based Shimon Peres Peace Institute (since 1984), and has been an advocate for normalising relations between Israel and Indonesia. For which he of course gets a lot of flack from some of his radical detractors in Indonesia -- a situation which leaves the nearly blind Muslim leader absolutely undeterred.
The conference heard from a survivor of Europe's Nazi genocide, Sol Teichman, who had lost 70 members of his family in the death camps during World War II. He said that it was Ahmadinejad's Holocaust-denial conference last December which made him want to "push a little harder to meet Muslim leaders." The Simon Weisenthal Center was a co-sponsor of the event.
"All too often, hatred and violence replace peace as religion is manipulated for political purposes," the conference wrote in a final statement.Earlier in the week, Indonesia refused to sign a UN Security Council statement condemning the Iranian president for making statements that encourage the destruction of Israel. The government had experienced severe criticism in parliament from Islamist-oriented politicians (and the usual thuggish street gangs) for having supported an earlier UNSC resolution against the Iranian nuclear weapons programs.
It said religious leaders have a special obligation to reject such manipulation and to "mobilize their communities to not only respect, but also defend the rights of others to live and worship differently."
Gus Dur is a real Muslim leader who stands on truth, and has no inclination to be afraid of fanatics who use religion for political purposes. He remains a moral and spiritual leader for the great majority of Indonesian Muslims, and remains as the most respected figure in the largest Muslim social organisation in the world, the Nahdatul Ulama, with over 30 million members. You can find out more about him, including articles about him in the international press, information about the Wahid Institute, as well as his own writings (and jokes!) at GusDur.Net.