Faith: The Journal of the International League of Religious Socialists

Winter 2002 Edition (HTML Version)

Previous Editions
Forgotten People of Europe Harry Watson
An Appeal For Peace: Statement from Cristiani Sociali del Lazio
Seyyed Hashem Aghajari and ‘Islamic Protestantism’
ILRS To Take Part in World Social Forum in Porto Alegre

Forgotten People of Europe

Harry Watson

ILRS Vice-President Harry Watson tells of the plight of Europe's Roma people living in the Balkans.

It is a strange experience visiting and observing the appalling living conditions of houses of cartons, wood and pieces of corrugated metal of the Roma People who are known as IDP (Internal Displaced Persons) and walking away, feeling helpless to change what is a massive humanitarian problem for a forgotten people. There are 800,000 Roma in Serbia and are the largest national minority in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, many of which escaped from Kosovo.

Gypsies, or the Roma as they are known in Central and Eastern Europe, are thought to have left India about 1,000 years ago. Ever since, they have faced persecution and discrimination.

I recently visited two sites on a lovely hot summer day, one site Veliki Rit had almost 3,000 people and the conditions in the winter with rain, mud and snow must be unbelievable, with no electricity or toilets. Children are plagued with all sorts of skin diseases and diarrhoea is a constant problem. I will never forget the disabled child with flies tormenting his small face. Because of the distance from the city of Novi Sad, only a small number of children attend any school and for most of the children there are additional problems, including their lack of suitable clothing and equipment, and very often they become victims of racism and intolerance. Nobody really looks after the children, thus most children tend never to start school. The few who do, tend to give up.

There are almost no adults over 40 years old and they survive by going to the city to collect materials such as cardboard for recycling. They also collect leftover food from dustbins "Here is chaos. No one cares about us. I have no power, water, nothing" stated a Roma person.

There was one sign of hope from a Roma university student who has set up a kindergarten in a community called 'Bangladesh' and women and children are learning basic educational skills. A water pipe and toilets have been provided for this site from the Ecumenical Humanitarian Organisation of Novi Sad but it is in a remote area out sight and out mind.

I have met with Richard Howitt EMP and it is my view that it needs a political solution at a European level. If every reader of this article was to write to their European Member of Parliament and send a copy to their own nation's foreign minister, maybe something will be done.

An Appeal for Peace: Statement from Cristiani Sociali del Lazio

The following statement comes to us from members of our Italian member organisation, Cristiani Sociali, in Lazio.

We are a group of people engaged into various associations of Christian inspiration, dealing with social, educational and political issues. We have joined together to express with one voice our no to war – particularly to this war that seems to get closer everyday – and our desire for peace and understanding between the peoples of the world.

Our dissent is rooted in the principles of the Old and New Testament, in the teaching of the Church and The Second Vatican Council, in the numerous pleas of men of faith that through their witness have made us realise how important it is to act in favour of Peace, and how valuable are its benefits.

That’s why we decided to write an ‘appeal against this war’ that we will submit to the Secretary General of the United Nations, the Congress of the United States, the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, the European Commission and the European Parliament, the Italian Government and the Italian Parliament, the Governor of Region Latium, and all Mayors and officers of the local authorities in the Region. We want to urge them to exert their responsibility and powers to prevent an unacceptable tragedy that will not solve out any problem, will turn brutal dictator Saddam Hussein into, won’t stop terrorist rage – rather, it’s likely to foster it — possibly turning the Mediterranean area into a huge field of war.

We want to interact with the institutions, without fearing that our words might be considered useless, without accepting the humiliating silence that ordinary people are sometimes condemned to, when problems are so huge that they seem far beyond reach.

We are aware that our words will not stop the decisions of those who already want, and already decided to have war at any cost; however it is our conviction that making our voices heard is a just witness that might help many inattentive people care more about a tragedy that will have consequences in everybody’s life.

We want to be heard especially by those that we hold for our interlocutor in the institutions: we believe indeed that it is the logic of democratic and transparent institutions what marks the difference from those dictatorships that may put at risk the destiny of mankind.

We demand a reaction from our representatives, because we regard these institutions as our political home, as a collective framework of rights that draws life from our opinions and our commitment. We’re here and we belong to these communities, to our Country and to such international communities as the EU and the UN. Their voice is also our voice. This war cannot be decided by few. We want to have a say on that.

For these reasons we demand:

  • a) That all political, institutional, social and economic powers be mobilized to stop this uncontrolled rush to a military action;

  • b) That all those we are addressing make themselves heard, on behalf of the widespread dissent that has been made manifest to those political leaders that hold the power to start the war;

  • c) That any political action to take at international level be unconditionally put under the juridical and political umbrella of the United Nations, the only institution that can claim ultimate legitimation to take decisions on international controversies involving the risk of a conflict;

  • d) That, should this reckless war begin, all initiatives be taken and all resources be spent to bring relief to affected peoples;

  • e) That Italy refuse to give its economic, military and political support to war;

  • f) That all possible effort be made to turn institutions into durable instruments of peace and dialogue between peoples.

    We also demand:
  • g) That any further negotiation be undertaken for a solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ensuring respect of UN resolutions and of basic human rights for both peoples;

  • h) That international treaties (on nuclear and biological weapons, on environmental protection, on torture, on war crimes and the International Court) be more carried out with more conviction and thoroughly respected, as they are the basis of an effective peace keeping.

  • i) That a new international policy of investments for development and international co-operation be relaunched, in order to balance the distribution of wealth and accomplish a sustainable development.

Nobel Prize winner Jimmy Carter is right to say that 'a unilateral war against Iraq is not an answer to our problems', and if the expression 'our problems' applies to the USA, it also applies to Italy.

A war against Iraq would not only be ineffective against terrorism, but it would rather give it new boost, and possibly a worldwide diffusion.
'Before to the calamity created by man which is war, we must claim over and over again that this is neither inevitable nor irreplaceable. Humanity is not doomed to self destruction.' This said Pope John Paul II in his speech held in Hiroshima on 25 February 1981. And he has repeated it more than once, even in these dramatic days. We completely agree with these words.

We say no to war because we are convinced that there is always further room to change things and that recourse to violence is already a defeat. When weapons prevail over politics, that means that some errors must have been made at an earlier stage, and not everything has been done to avoid the tragedy.

We strongly believe that Article 11 of the Italian Constitution ('ltaly rejects war as an instrument of aggression against the freedoms of others peoples and as a means for settling international controversies') states an utmost refusal of war, an ultimate condemnation.

We think there’s no such thing as a preventive war that might save the rest of mankind. Every war is preventive in the opinion of those who start it. But we’re even more convinced that 'every war is a civil war: those who have died bear resemblance to those who have survived, and they demand a reason for this.' (C. Pavese)

15 October 2002

Seyyed Hashem Aghajari and ‘Islamic Protestantism’

On 8 August of this year, Dr. Seyyed Hashem Aghajari, a history professor in Teheran, was arrested for a speech he made on 19 June, in which he called for a religious renewal in Islam, that would result in Muslims no longer ‘blindly following religious leaders.’ Aghajari’s speech was entitled ‘Islamic Protestantism’, and it echoes other voices that have been raised in the Islamic world in recent months which have expressed admiration for the social and theological effect of the Protestant Reformation on Christian societies in Europe. Historically, ‘protestant’ or ‘reform’ movements in Christianity and Judaism have by their existence opened the door for all members of those faiths to express more liberating and democratic ideas in society as well as within their faith. Against the backdrop of Islamic fundamentalism, many Muslims feel that the need is greater now than ever before for a reformation within Islam.

On 6 November, Dr. Aghajari was sentenced to death for his comments. An international campaign is now being undertaken to demand that the Iranian government reverse this sentence and release Dr. Aghajari.

We are publishing the entire text of his speech here, in the interest of promoting the freedom of thought that is necessary in any faith in order for it to truly serve its adherents.

To appeal to the Iranian government for Dr. Aghajari’s release, click here.

To read for yourself the speech made by Dr. Aghajari on 19 June, click here.

ILRS To Take Part in World Social Forum in Porto Alegre The ILRS will be represented at the upcoming World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. ILRS Secretary General Andrew Hammer will be a delegate to the forum as well as facilitate a workshop on 'Confronting Religious and Political Extremism'. The World Social Forum, created in 2000 as a grass-roots response to the annual Davos meetings of representatives from the world’s most affluent nations, will attract over 25,000 people from some 4500 local, regional, and international organisations throughout the world.

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