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NEW YORK, July 22 (IPS) – Professor Azza Karam is Secretary-General, Secretary-General of Religions for Peace Antonio Guterres believes that “our solidarity, based on the human rights and human dignity of all, supports the crucial role of religious leaders in our communities and beyond.” Citing past public health crises, including HIV/AIDS and Ebola, he noted how spiritual leadership had been a positive benefit in terms of community values, attitudes and actions. The UN High Level Political Forum ( HLPF) came to a conclusion on July 15. Another HLPF, another set of statements, and commitments and concerns from governments.
All of these are beset by the combined pandemics of institutional and systemic failure, increasing violence, global warming that has already killed species and people, and of course Covid-19 and the utter shame that only the rich are vaccinated.
And the results of this high-level political forum?
Not the dramatic changes our planetary existence cries out for. Not even the radical introspection on each of the governance and civic responsibilities witnessed by various human rights and humanitarian disasters in almost every corner of the world. In fact, the HLPF, like so many other summits and inter-government consultations, has ended up with more of the same.
But who am I to challenge or hold accountable? What have I done to try to make a difference?
I wonder that as a person, as a citizen, as a woman, as a believer, like many other things. But most importantly, as the person chosen to serve the world’s largest multi-faith leadership and grassroots organization. I ask as a person who has devoted more than 30 years of studying and working in and at the intersections of religion with international development, democratization, governance and human rights.
Remember when good governance and democratization were such buzzwords? Remember when human rights weren’t just what the United States was trying to claim, it was crucial to its foreign policy, while helping and encouraging the same regimes and groups that liberally abused them, fighting for the victory of liberalism over communism ( what not considered much to care about any of those ideals)?
Remember when NGOs sprang up left, right and centre, ostensibly committed to realizing good governance, human rights and achieving democracy, so that proposals to donor entities for international development and foreign policy were full of “building” and “strengthening civil society”?
And do you remember the days when “truth and reconciliation” represented South Africa’s bloodless transition from apartheid to democracy (as opposed to the painful turmoil we see in the same country and in most countries around the world)?
Do you remember those days?
Can we say with a straight face – let alone data to back this up – that we now have a world where human rights, democracy and good governance reign supreme – or even rule most parts of the world?
If we can claim that, the entire agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and countless treatises, treaties, agreements, resolutions, not to mention NGOs, academic centers and disciplines, policy think tanks, evidence-gatherers and piles of research, etc., might have been a bit unnecessary – to say the least?
Unless, of course, we maintain that democracy and good governance are not meant to ensure a world where every form of inequality and inequality, where war and violence, where epidemics and a pandemic are rampant?
Especially in the last decade we started hearing more about the importance of religion, dealing with religious leaders and the added value of faith-based work and organizations in terms of community outreach, moral status, trust building, conflict mediation and peacemaking, social services (such as health, education, nutrition) and humanitarian aid.
Since the pandemic, we are now hearing about how places of worship and major public health infrastructure are so critical to the Covid response and to vaccine uptake (or lack thereof). Numerous global, regional and national initiatives, in and around the United Nations, regional intergovernmental organizations and agencies, governments, networks, projects, academic degrees and NGOs, are now sprouting in every corner of the globe, all claiming to be related to religion or faith or interreligion.
In the late 1980s and 1990s, democracy, good governance and human rights became almost a commercial matter, with donors vying to fund initiatives and create their own.
Host NGOs and projects — some developed in record time with support from governments with dubious records of democracy and respect for human rights — competed for funding from governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental sources.
Millions of dollars were given and spent. Duplicate efforts – each claiming to be unique – became the norm. A new global NGO elite emerged, getting used to meeting at various conferences in different locations, collecting miles of airlines as they trotted from one end of the world to the other, offering their wisdom, their ‘lessons learned’ presenting their initiatives and their respective ‘approaches’, as well as their ideologies.
Members of this community of democracy and human rights deplored the lack of political will to recognize their unique and necessary added value, the increasing normality of abuses of democracy, the lack of “good” policies that led to an increase in authoritarianism and intrastate conflict, and usually passionately disapprove of the lack of resources to help their work.
Some of these civil society initiatives viciously competed, sometimes under a thin veneer of cooperation and partnership, and even actively undermined each other. Some of these actors collected and condemned human rights violations in regimes and countries, while grappling with similar violations themselves in their own organizations, institutions and networks.
Many demanded responsibility, while they themselves were among the least responsible. Little or no gifts of their own resources to support each other’s initiatives, even if they worked for the same purposes, in the same communities, with the same people. It was every man for himself – mostly – his own.
The need for visibility of the organization or network or initiative in question became more important and decisive than the absolute necessity of the collective struggle for democracy and human rights.
Does it sound familiar? It should be.
Because faith-based and faith-inspired actors, or religion, in various guises, is in vogue today, in the same way as democracy, good governance and human rights were in the 1990s. And what happens in terms of religion, religious involvement, faith-based activities (whatever the nomenclature) is eerily similar to the above scenarios.
And the catastrophe is that this continues to happen amid a global pandemic that should drastically change all of our thoughts and actions.
In the current geopolitical reality of authoritarianism and insecurity amid collapsing planetary infrastructure, the cause of human rights and good governance is clearly teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Religions and religions are the sacred realms for most of the world’s population. None of us can afford the bankruptcy of the sacred.
If Covid doesn’t force us to take a deep dive into overcoming every excuse that prevents us from working together, regardless of the differences between and between our religions or organizations or races or genders, to serve everyone together, then look we’re right into the abyss of that particular hell – which we contribute to create.
© Inter Press Service (2021) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service
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