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 Global Perspective

January 22, 2004
Vol. 1, No. 41

Global Perspective
Fr. Francis Gonsalves is a Jesuit in the Gujarat Province, India. He lectures in systematic theology at Vidyajyoti College of Theology, Delhi, and has published many articles on theology, spirituality and social justice.



Participants sought a "new world" that will, hopefully, be safer, more secure, shared, sacred and sensitive to human diversity and the earth's frailty.

Making A 'Mother World' Possible

By Francis Gonsalves, S.J.

MUMBAI, India -- "Another world is possible" was the slogan that united more than a hundred thousand participants from more than a hundred countries at the World Social Forum 2004 (WSF) held in Mumbai from January 16 to 21, 2004.

The World Social Forum is not an organization, not a united front platform, but "…an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences and inter-linking for effective action, by groups and movements of civil society that are opposed to neo- liberalism and to domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism, and are committed to building a society centered on the human person." (From the WSF Charter of Principles).
Trade unionists, displaced tribals, slum-dwellers, celebrities, migrant workers, social activists, Dalits (former untouchables), transvestites, freedom fighters, child laborers, sex workers, religious leaders and socialists raised voices of protest through rallies, seminars, debates, workshops, dramas, songs, and dances. Everyone -- speaking in what seemed, initially, a Babel-like babble -- sought to smash that threatening tower in our global village called by many names: globalization, imperialism, militarism, patriarchy, and fundamentalism. Participants sought a "new world" that will, hopefully, be safer, more secure, shared, sacred and sensitive to human diversity and the earth's frailty.

A safer world
"Get out of Iraq, Uncle Sam!" screamed hundreds of banners pressurizing for an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Anti-Bush/Blair feelings ran high among the majority of participants. "Bush believes in playing police to an unruly world," said Booker prizewinner and social activist, Arundhati Roy, who called for "bolstering the Iraqi resistance by globally boycotting the transnational corporations that will profit from the rebuilding of Iraq."

Blair's lying to Britishers that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction angered doctors Kamzai Boomla and Anne Livingstone. "Where are those weapons?" they queried. "Bush and Blair must face charges for crimes against humanity."

Japanese and Koreans expressed concern over increasing US stockpiling of arms across their borders. "I have come here to tell the USA that we do not need protection," said Moon Sang In from South Korea who wonders what can be done to rebuild Iraq. The Tibetan and Palestinian issues received great sympathy.

A secure world
Citizens feel secure not mainly during the absence of war but primarily when governments enforce people-centered policies. Joseph Stiglitz, former senior vice president of the World Bank and chairman of the U.S. Council of Economic Advisers in the Clinton administration, pointed out the grave risks involved in economic liberalism. "Privatization of social security has triggered great insecurity, worldwide," he said, "especially evidenced in South Asian and African nations."

Iranian Nobel peace laureate, Shirin Ebadi, painted a bleak picture of human rights' violations that affect the weaker sections of society: women, children, aboriginals, minorities, and other poor. Many speakers exposed the nexus between globalization and fundamentalisms.

Dipak Dabhi and Praveen Gamit, activists in the Indian state of Gujarat bemoaned that transnational corporations, politicians and religious fanatics not only colluded in the '2002 Gujarat genocide' against the Muslim minority but continue efforts to hide evidence and peddle lies to the public.

A shared world
"I am because we are, and we are because I am!" is an African proverb quoted by Donald Kasongi of Tanzania who stressed that familial, tribal, and communitarian cohesion is characteristic of African communities. "Globalization wrecks African communities, impoverishes our people and fosters exclusion and individualism."

Colombian Hildebrando Velez Galeano too is critical of neo-liberalism. "Colombia faces acute problems due to consumerism and a polarization between a few rich and the majority poor," he said.

There is increased awareness that promises about a "global community" are pipe dreams since large sections of the world's poor suffer greater marginalization than ever before. "The only community that is flourishing today is the centralized community of capitalists who are united in plundering the planet," warned Egyptian academician Samir Amin. Without people's participation and formation of truly human communities, there can be no justice, no peace, Amin said.

A sacred world
Ecological concerns emerged through the intervention of groups who campaigned for care of the planet and conservation of the earth's resources. Native American Tom Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said that the "world is sacred" and lamented the loss of his ancestral natural wealth.

"The rural sector is threatened by the privatization of water resources and the production of genetically engineered seeds," complained Gloria Compte from Barcelona. Discontent with globalization is not limited to the struggling South but affects rich countries too.

An exhausted Trent Schroyer, professor of ecology, economics, and ethics expressed a foreboding of rampant "evil" that plagues the United States. "Many Americans experience a spiritual void in our secularized world," said Schroyer. He felt that a sense of the sacred should sustain societies, and regarded India "not merely as a nation, but a spiritual civilization lighting up paths to spirituality."

A sensitive world
In a world ruled by repressive regimes, groups of people are asserting their cultural and religious identities. Ningreichon Tungshang of Manipur, eastern India, appealed for recognition of her Naga culture reeling under the imperialism of the Indian state. "The colonizing British as well as the Indian state destroyed our culture to conquer us. Our cultural differences must be respected."

Justine Nkurunziza of Burundi who campaigns for the rights of AIDS patients expressed concern about increasing intolerance among people. "The Christian churches, too, are insensitive to the needs of the victims of society," she said. Her statement struck me. And stuck.

Whither WSF?
Post-World Social Forum 2004, life will probably go on unaltered for most of the 'victims' who visualized a utopian future. In my 'motherland' Mumbai (where I was born and my mother lives), the pavement-dwellers who swept the grounds of the World Social Forum venue and could not afford to pay the World Social Forum registration fees will continue to rummage in garbage bins for food. My tribal friends in Gujarat will continue to suffer the attacks of fundamentalist forces. Participants of the "Mumbai Resistance, 2004" -- an alternative World 'Socialist' Forum -- will snigger and say, "Didn't we tell you that things won't change by melas (fairs)?"

I went unaccompanied to the World Social Forum, although fellow Jesuits of South Asia mobilized more than 1,500 victims of various regions. In encounters with global citizens I introduced myself as "lecturer, researcher, journalist, social activist," and occasionally as "Jesuit." I was aware of the Society of Jesus' 34th General Congregation's mandate (decree 3, no. 52): "We intend to journey towards ever fuller integration of the promotion of justice into our lives of faith, in the company of the poor and many others who live and work for the coming of God's Reign."

Many church dignitaries pooh-poohed the World Social Forum (and the Mumbai Resistance). Justine, the Burundi activist's criticism hurts. The Bible traces peoples' movements from Babel to Pentecost where one Spirit-filled speech was intelligible to a hundred diverse peoples. The World Social Forum and the Mumbai Resistance engendered a thousand protesting, prophetic voices. Sri Lankan Jesuit Paul Casperz said, "Another world is truly possible - a 'mother world.'"

Can Christians worldwide help create a "mother world" wherein every person will feel safe, secure, supported and suckled by mother earth and sensitive to the needs of all others?

Editor's Note: This story was first posted on Jan. 21 as a breaking news story.

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