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Oswald Gracias

Cardinal, President of the Indian Bishops’ Conference

The theme for our discussions is Argument for Co-existence.  It might seem strange to discuss such a topic because the question could be asked whether there are any arguments against co-existence.  Isn’t the need for co-existence self evident?  What is the alternative for co-existence? Of course, there can be phases in this co-existence ranging from a mere “co-existence for tolerance” to a “harmonious living together”.

Beginning from an approach of faith, God has created us as one family. We are all brothers and sisters sharing the same destiny, the same resources of mother earth, and having the same final end!  God  has put us together at  a particular period of time and space so that we could assist each other to live more humanly.

Perhaps, we have moved far from that attitude of faith to a situation where each one lives for himself/herself, trying to achieve as much success as possible, according to his/her own mind set, not minding whether in the bargain, he /she tramples the rights of the other. A mind set that is selfish would lead to greed and exploitation, and the very basis of co-existence would be destroyed.

Let us examine the situation more philosophically and systematically:

1.Despite the fact that today, more than ever before, we realize that we are linked to a common destiny which we have to construct together if catastrophe for all is to be avoided,  the value of tolerance for “the other”, the value of living and working together seems to be under attack almost all over the globe.  For instance, although ethnocentrism is not new, it seems to have become the grounds for conflict increasingly in recent times.  Simultaneously, nationalistic movements have intensified all over the world. Intensifying the problem is the phenomenon of “globalization which has brought people with disparate cultures and beliefs into close contact and even competition with each other. All these realities eventually results in conflict since some people imagine they are getting cheated or exploited; whereas others think their cultures or identities are under attack.”  In fact, in the world of today diversity within nations is now more the rule than the exception and most countries today are facing significant difficulties in responding to conflicts among the cultural, religious, linguistic, ethnic, and political groups within their societies. Furthermore, many of these differences are now being played out at globally and leading, as a consequence, to a world increasingly governed by insecurity and fear.  

2.It is in the light of this scenario that we propose coexistence, as it came to be comprehensively understood,  as an effective and appropriate means to foster greater unity and solidarity in society for the good of all, since, it has come to be understood as a state in which two or more groups live together while respecting their differences and resolving their conflicts nonviolently.  At the core of coexistence, therefore, is “the awareness that individuals and groups differ in numerous ways including class, ethnicity, religion, gender and political inclination. In fact, these group identities may be the very cause of conflicts, or may contribute to the causes of conflicts, or may be solidified as conflicts develop and escalate. A policy of coexistence, therefore, attempts to diminish and eventually eliminate this likelihood.

3.Although the idea of coexistence is not new, the term came into common usage during the Cold War with the policy of 'peaceful coexistence' being used in the context of U.S. and U.S.S.R. relations. Initially, it was a cover for aggression, but then it developed as a tool for reframing the relationship between the two powers. In the late '80s, the policy of peaceful coexistence included principles such as "nonaggression, respect for sovereignty, national independence, and noninterference in internal affairs."  During much of the 20th century the term coexistence was used in international relations and political-science disci¬plines when referring to peaceful but limited relations between states. 

4.However, gradually from understanding coexistence in a negative and a restrictive sense, with an emphasis on nonaggression and noninterference, a new definition of coexistence began to emerge as it now represented the need to positively manage inter-group relations and the growing diversity within communities and nations. Consequently, towards the end of the 20th century, a new and expanded definition of coexistence, which responded to this new reality began to emerge. In 2002, Oxfam Great Britain  defined coexistence as “recognizing each other’s status and rights as human beings, developing a just and inclusive vision for each community’s future, and implementing economic, social, cultural or political development across former community divides.”

5.Consequently, rather than perceiving diversity as a handicap, coexistence challenges us to embrace it for its positive potential. It follows then that for relationships between different ethnic, religious, or social groups to be positive and sustainable it is imperative that equality is actively pursued, interdependence is fostered and eventually goals to regenerate society are spelt out and realized together.  Coexistence would naturally imply that relationships are built upon mutual respect and trust. Consider, for instance, of the 194 nations in the world  “nearly all are ethnically and culturally heterogeneous. The structure of this pluralism varies considerably in terms of the number of ethnic communities, their respective sizes, the depth of their differences and similarities, and their histories of inter-communal relations.” Within them there are about 4,000 ethno-cultural entities. While less than a third have ethnic majorities; some nations, including India and Nigeria, possess over one hundred such groups each. 40% of them have five or more such groups; while some others, including Belgium, Fiji, Guyana, Northern Ireland, and Trinidad and Tobago, are split between two ethnic groups. This is certainly a rich diversity, full of promise and possibilities, and yet, paradoxically, it also presents some of the most common and difficult challenges facing states today. Governments continue to wrestle with coexistence issues such as the dimensions of citizenship, constitutional and political designs that reflect the diversity within national borders, language and minority rights, the management of lane, equality and cultural issues, and democratic participation in government. Furthermore, in the post 9/11 world, tensions between what some see as the demands of state security, juxtaposed with the civil rights of minorities, have led to grave threats to the latter, and unprecedented legal, constitutional, and social challenges for some like the U.S., Canada, and European countries.  Responses to this challenge of coexistence will, in fact, determine whether or not the world has political stability and security in the coming decades. Our ability and our willingness therefore to engage in such work may mean the difference between a future of social harmony, or one of endemic social discontent, highlighted by an increasing number of civil and global wars.

6.In practice, therefore, coexistence  would include a whole range of initiatives necessary to ensure that communities and societies can live together in peace and harmony. This would include conflict prevention and management, post-conflict and conflict transformation work, conflict-sensitivity, peace-building, reconciliation, multicultural, and pluralism work. Furthermore, many types of activities or strategies could also fall under the nature of “coexistence work.” These would include: mediation or reconciliation of conflicts, people-to-people programmes, advocacy around issues of immigration, ethnic, or cultural rights, coexistence-related research, and development of coexistence-sensitive policies at the local, national, regional, or international levels. Thus coexistence practice and policy activities should emerge from initiatives taken by governments and governmental institutions, IGOs, NGOs, community-based organizations and foundations, as well as business, work, cultural, social, and religious institutions .

7.Many Institutions are further postulating that a complementary approach  will contribute even more effectively to the establishment of peaceful, just, and sustainable societies. Interchangeable terms for a complementary approach include a ‘holistic approach’, an ‘integrated approach’, or a ‘meta-approach’. What these terms highlight is that achieving sustainable coexistence in divided societies requires complementary efforts across relevant fields. For instance, enhancing linkages between coexistence and related fields, such as development, education, the environment, governance, human rights, security, the arts, etc. will contribute to the peaceful, just and sustainable world that all these fields aspire to. While this belief does not necessitate that all practitioners or policymakers employ the same tactics, or share identical perspectives; it makes a case for an increased awareness of the elements of the vision, knowledge and strategies needed to achieve harmonious and just relationships among different groups in society. In concrete terms, this means ensuring that agencies operating in these fields use a `coexistence lens’ through which they can view and evaluate their policies, in addition to, for instance, a gender or environmental lens. Without such a lens their work on development, security, or education, etc., may perhaps divide, rather than connect communities! Also since no single individual or institution is able to address change at all levels, a wide variety of agents need to be involved locally and internationally with complementary roles.

8.The “coexistence of religions is another fundamental challenge in European countries, and in countries all over the world”, so stated Jonas Gahr Støre, the Minister of Foreign Affairs at the 7th Annual North South Europe Economic Forum (ANSEEF) in Oslo on 28 September 2006.  However, he reminded the participants that unfortunately the positive aspects of coexistence, the mutual, fruitful enrichment of society that continues to take place across religious and ethnic dividing lines unfortunately very rarely reach the headlines although these are daily happenings! The media generally plays out incidents of tension, intolerance, discrimination and violence, which are equally real and need to be dealt with. He also declared that many politicians and researchers in the 20th century imagined that modernization and globalization would cause religion to fade away, and society to become more and more secular. However, this has not happened and we paradoxically perceive today a growing interest in and involvement in religion.  We also observe that religion is becoming increasingly important in the political sphere. And sometimes shrewd politicians have manipulated religion to suit their political ends.

9.However, in practice, it is not religions that meet, rather it is persons with a faith and a commitment inspired by a religion that meet. All religions are, in fact, potential bearers of peace and reconciliation. And so we need to find creative ways of utilizing this potential. At the same time, we also realize that it is us human beings, who have lost their religious moorings, who are responsible for bringing about hatred, fear and violence through intolerance, exclusion of others, discrimination and prejudice. For instance, in the context of the tension in the Middle East we need to highlight more clearly that the politics of Israel and the religion of Judaism are two separate issues. Jews around the world must not be held responsible for the situation in the Middle East. Similarly, we cannot hold Muslims responsible for the acts performed by radical Islamists. Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are two faces of intolerance that our democratic society must fight to the end. It is a challenging task to raise awareness of this complex and multifaceted issue, and to find ways of engaging people in meaningful discussions.

10.Pope Benedict XVI in his message for the World day of Peace (2011)  pointed out that in a globalized world marked by increasingly multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies, (the great) religions can serve as an important factor of unity and peace for the human family. On the basis of their religious convictions and their reasoned pursuit of the common good, their followers are called to give responsible expression to their commitment within a context of religious freedom. Pope Benedict XVI spells out categorically the significant role religion has in society and the positive contribution it can make to build culture. He declares: “The contribution of religious communities to society is undeniable. Numerous charitable and cultural institutions testify to the constructive role played by believers in the life of society. More important still is religion’s ethical contribution in the political sphere. Religion, therefore, should not be marginalized or prohibited, but seen as making an effective contribution to the promotion of the common good. In this context mention should be made of the religious dimension of culture, built up over centuries thanks to the social and especially ethical contributions of religion. This dimension is in no way discriminatory towards those who do not share its beliefs, but instead reinforces social cohesion, integration and solidarity.”   And so a “common code of ethics” is the need of the hour. This would consist of norms based not merely upon consensus, but rooted in the natural law inscribed by the Creator on the conscience of every human being (cf. Rom 2:14-15). The Holy Father pertinently asks, “Does not every one of us sense deep within his or her conscience a call to make a personal contribution to the common good and to peace in society?”

11.In 2004, on the occasion of his message for the World Day of Peace, Pope John Paul II, in the   context of the new threat of terrorism,  pointed out that the scourge of terrorism has grown more virulent in recent years, producing brutal massacres, as well as putting obstacles in the way of dialogue and negotiations. While acknowledging the use of punitive measures to redress the situation, the Holy Father was quick to also add that these efforts need to be accompanied by a courageous and lucid analysis of the reason behind the terrorist attacks. Consequently, at both the educational as well as at the political levels, we need to recognize and eliminate the underlying causes and situations of injustice which drive people to more desperate and violent acts. This also implies that we seek to inculcate in people a deep respect for human life. It is precisely in generating the prerequisites of peace, namely, justice and forgiveness (and other related values) in the hearts of people that religions can contribute to a culture of peace.  We recall the insightful words of Pope John Paul II who, in his message for the World Day of peace in the year, 2002, for the establishment of a lasting peace in the world, declared “that justice must complemented and completed by love. Indeed, there can be no true peace and harmony without forgiveness. A forgiving spirit has the ability to heal and rebuild troubled human relations from their very foundations. Incidentally, forgiveness is in no way opposed to justice; it is rather the fullness of justice, and eventually leads to the healing of wounds which might be festering in our hearts. Hence, both justice and forgiveness are essential for a complete healing”.

12.Promoting positive coexistence thus between nations and between peoples is a major challenge for the 21st century.  There are fortunately movements, both within society and religion, which have begun to grapple with these issues, both at the international, national and the local level as well. In fact, this experience of co-existence at the grass-roots will enable us to build a multi-faceted approach to respond to issues thrown up by society at large.

13.We summarize our discourse with the prophetic and inspiring words of Pope John Paul II uttered more than a decade ago. He declared that “Dialogue between cultures, a privileged means for building a `civilization of love’, is based upon the recognition that there are values which are common to all cultures because they are rooted in the nature of the person. These values express humanity's most authentic and distinctive features. Leaving aside ideological prejudices and selfish interests, it is necessary to foster people's awareness of these shared values, in order to nurture that intrinsically universal cultural "soil" which makes for fruitful and constructive dialogue. The different religions too can and ought to contribute decisively to this process.”

Before I end, may I give you an example of my own country and my own city.

I come from India, a mosaic of different religions, cultures, and languages. Moving from East to West and North to South in this country of over a billion, one would wonder whether one is travelling in the same country.  Yet there is an Indianess among us.  We all feel as Indians.  We are part of one big diverse country in spite of our differences, and we all work for the progress of this nation.  There are differences and even difficulties among people belonging to different religions, but, thank God, this seems to be on the decline.  We have come to realize the necessity, nay the inevitably of a harmonious co-existence.

In my own city of Mumbai, it is a city of over 16 million, officially some say 19 million in reality, everyday a couple of hundred migrants come to the city in search of work and opportunity and they make it their home. It has thus become a place where there co-exists  people of different backgrounds, religion, languages and situations.  We had had what I would call “moments of madness” in our city, when we have had very serious violence on the basis of religion.  But, we are beginning to come back from the brink to feel as one big family.  Surely, it is not the best city in the world; the roads are badly managed, the traffic is impossible, the civil facilities are not the best by western standards, and yet in the midst of all this, we are happy to be there.  No Mumbaikar would want to leave it to live elsewhere for long.  We have learnt the value or is it the necessity to happily co-exist.  As  a child, I grew up with one neighbor a Hindu, another a Muslim and a third a Christian.  We grew up together, studied together, played together and fought together.  We had discovered the joy of co-existence.  There was no need for discussions on arguments for co-existence.  We just took it for granted. Thank God for that.  And thank you for listening to me.