My sincere thanks to the Community of Sant’Egidio for inviting me to yet another annual international meeting.
Each year we gather, representatives of different religions, cultures, countries and continents, in some European city or the other.
We dream of a better future for our world.
We share our dreams.
We exchange our ideas.
We also articulate our concerns.
But, friends, 2019 somehow looks gloomier than ever.
It’s as if world is losing its equilibrium, even the basic level of stability required for people to retain their hope in the future.
The old global order is no longer strong enough to survive.
The new global order is yet to be born.
In this period of twilight and transition, the scope for the unexpected and the unpredictable has grown disconcertingly wider.
We can clearly see four developments that have the potential to produce unpredictable ominous outcomes.
The first ominous development is the prospect of a new nuclear arms race, more virulent and widespread than ever before.
Last month, an era in nuclear arms control ended with the United States withdrawing from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia. The reason given by the Trump administration was that Russia was violating it anyway.
At risk is the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty or START Treaty signed in 2010, and due to lapse in 2021. If that treaty does lapse, there will be no pact left to restrain the arsenals of the two major nuclear powers.
What makes this more terrifying is another new development. The world was essentially bipolar at the end of era of the Cold War. Now we have multiple nuclear-armed countries, and several more, like North Korea, want to arm themselves with nuclear weapons.
More alarming is the prospect that one or more nuclear-armed nations may actually break the taboo against the use of nuclear weapons, which has stood since the original sin committed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
The second ominous development is the worsening hostility between India and Pakistan, the two nuclear-armed neighbours in South Asia, which is the most populous region in the world.
Relations between India and Pakistan have never been friendly since India’s partition in 1947, when the British colonial rule ended. As an Indian it pains me to state that our two countries have fought four wars over Kashmir, but the problem has not disappeared. The mutual hostility increased last month, when India abrogated a key constitutional provision that gave Jammu & Kashmir a special status.
India’s defence minister darkly hinted that New Delhi could reconsider its commitment to “No First Use” of nuclear weapons. Pakistan has always explicitly preserved the right to use nuclear weapons first. First use or Second use, what distinguishes nuclear weapons is the irrefutable MAD principle – namely, Mutually Assured Destruction.
Should the land of Islam and Hinduism, of the Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi, fall prey to this nuclear madness?
The third ominous development is the unrelenting tension between USA and China. What appears on the surface as a trade war may actually be a battle over global supremacy.
Can anyone say with absolute confidence that the trade war will not someday get escalated into a hot war?
The fourth ominous development is not a conflict between nations, but an intensified conflict that the human species has collectively waged against Mother Nature.
The global consensus reflected in the 2016 Paris accord on Climate Change has become visibly weaker. In some parts of the world, this indifference has become genocidal aggression against Planet Earth’s non-human species. The most striking example was the recent sight of thousands of fires ravaging the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. This precious gift of Nature produces vast amounts of oxygen and is crucial to contain global warming. What makes these fires more worrisome is the credible suspicion that the Brazilian government itself may be cynically colluding in the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.
If we look at all these developments together, we see one common causative thread. And that thread draws our attention to the theme of our conference in Madrid this year -- ‘PEACE WITOUT BORDERS’.
How can all human collectives – nations, religious groups, ethnic communities – achieve the goal of ‘Peace Without Borders?
The answer, friends, lies in the theme of our session – namely, DISARM THE HEARTS, HEADS AND HANDS.
To the title of this session’s theme, I have deliberately added the word “Heads”, by which I mean “Minds”, and there is a reason for it.
The Preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO rightly reminds us: "Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed."
Peace education and peace activism must begin by disarming the Hearts, Heads and Hands of not only individual human beings but also of human collectives.
Permit me to mention here that Mahatma Gandhi, the greatest votary of peace and nonviolence in modern times, launched a new system of education, which he called ‘Nayi Talim’ or ‘Basic Education’.
Gandhi’s system of education rested on the principle that, for human beings to become nonviolent, there should be coordinated development, right from childhood, of three Hs: Heart, Head and Hand.
This is because Gandhi understood, and popularised, Peace and Nonviolence in their broadest and most comprehensive sense.
A truly nonviolent human being or human collective is one who harbours no ill-will or hatred towards others in emotions and feelings, in thoughts and words, and in actions.
Moreover, he defined nonviolence itself in a positive way – not as the absence of violence but as the forever presence of love.
Love of others, Gandhi said, is the active form of nonviolence.
When we love others, we immediately feel the pain and suffering of others as our own pain and suffering.
One of Gandhi’s favourite prayer songs begins with these words in Gujarati language – “Vaishnava Janato Tene Kahiye Je peed paraayi jaane re”. Composed by a 15th century saint, Narsi Mehta, it means – “A truly religious person is one who feels the pain of others.”
I must also add here that Gandhi conducted all-religion prayer meetings each evening, in which prayers from all religions around the world used to be recited with equal devotion.
After all, peace, nonviolence and love are the common teachings of all religions, all prophets, all saints and all humanistic social reformers.
Furthermore, Gandhi affirmed that, just as we should Disarm the weapons of violence from our Hearts, Heads and Hands, we should arm them with Truth, Nonviolence, Love and Fellow-Feeling.
This is because, for him, insistence on Truth and Nonviolence – Satya and Ahimsa, what he called ‘Satyagraha’ – was the ‘Moral Equivalent of War’.
In other words, we should propagate peace and love with the same courage, fearlessness and the uncompromising will to win that we see in a true soldier on the battlefield.
There is a specific reason why I have mentioned Gandhi repeatedly in my speech.
This year, 2019 – October 2 to be specific – marks the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
I believe that the peace movement around the world will benefit by studying and propagating Gandhi’s philosophy of Truth and Nonviolence.
Let me briefly state how his philosophy has a direct relevance to mitigate the four ominous developments I mentioned earlier.
One: After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, He said that the very making of nuclear weapons is a “sin against humanity”.
Therefore, the global peace movement must intensify its demand for complete, irreversible and universal nuclear disarmament, and also elimination of all other weapons of mass destruction.
Two: Gandhi had the audacity to proclaim his profound respect for Islam and all other religions, and also to claim that both India and Pakistan are “my country”. He was in fact assassinated in 1948 by a Hindu extremist for his mission to promote Hindu-Muslim harmony and India-Pakistan peace.
Therefore, the leaderships and peoples of both India and Pakistan today should recall Gandhi’s sacrifice, resolve all disputes, including the dispute over Kashmir, peacefully, and live as good neighbours. I also appeal to the peoples and governments of all other countries to urge the leaderships of India and Pakistan to prevent another war, which could well be a disastrous nuclear war.
Three: Gandhi analysed the lessons from the two World Wars and emphasised that competitive instincts in powerful nations for global domination inevitably lead to conflicts and wars.
Therefore, the world community must intervene and urge both USA and China to settle their disagreements and disputes peacefully.
Four: Mankind’s suicidal aggression against Mother Nature is a relatively new historical development. Nevertheless, Gandhi in his own time had warned that “Mother Nature has enough to satisfy every human being’s need, but not everyone’s greed.” He was in fact one of the earliest advocates of Green Development.
Therefore, peacemakers around the world must strengthen our voice that the Cry against Climate Change is actually a Cry for Changing the Basic Purpose of our Economies – reorienting them away from greed to need; away from excessive and unhealthy consumerism to equitable and healthy consumption; away from harmful exploitation of the environment to harmonious co-existence with all the creations of God Almighty.
It is up to us to change the course of the turmoil gripping the world today. If we don’t act collectively, the world will continue to become even more unstable and dangerous. Together, we must help fashion a new and better world order – one that is inspired by the principles of Mahatma Gandhi and all other great Teachers of Humanity, one that truly believes in peace without borders – to replace the old crumbling one.