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 Global Perspective

February 19, 2004
Vol. 1, No. 45

Global Perspective
Edmund Chia is a Malaysian working in Thailand as executive secretary of the Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences. His e-mail address is



A commitment to justice means more than simply defending our own group when it is victimized. It means advocating and working for justice for all.

The American dream is a nightmare for many

By Edmund Chia

Once when Gautama Buddha was about 12 years old and was playing in the garden, he saw a beautiful bird fall from the sky. He rushed to the bird, picked it up, and saw that an arrow had hit the bird. He ran home with the bird in hand and was nursing it when one of his male cousins came rushing in. The cousin said: "Gautama, give me the bird. This is my bird." Looking astonished, Gautama asked: "What do you mean when you say that this is your bird? I just saw it fall from the sky." The cousin replied: "It is mine because I hit it with an arrow." Gautama understood what his cousin was saying and the logic behind it. He thought for a while and then replied: "You wanted to kill this bird, which means you are its enemy. How can I give the bird to its enemy?"

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Kamla Bhasin, an internationally renowned activist of India's Women Network for Peace, recounted this story during an address to the Interfaith Peace Forum in Bangkok, Thailand. The story was employed in reference to the present American government's agenda of control and dominance over the rest of the world.

The Interfaith Peace Forum was organized in conjunction with the Asian Muslim Action Network's (AMAN) Assembly. A Muslim-Christian dialogue on the theme of conflict and peace studies was co-organized by AMAN with the Asian bishops' ecumenical and interreligious affairs office and the Christian Conference of Asia, respectively the largest Roman Catholic and Protestant institutions representing the churches in Asia.

AMAN, which means "peace" in Arabic, is an umbrella gathering of scholars and organizations subscribing to a "progressive and enlightened approach to Islam." Its membership includes some of Asia's foremost Muslim theologians, such as Asghar Ali Engineer of India and Chaiwat Satha-Anand of Thailand, as well as non-Muslims, such as Fr. Michel. Its aims at promoting "the eternal values and principles of truth, justice, compassion, freedom and equality as embodied in Islam."

Like the Buddha, AMAN's mission is to give life and it does this through promoting critical resistance to structures that are the enemy of the people.

Under the guise of promoting democracy, the "American dream" of George W. Bush has been a "nightmare" for many around the globe, she said.

Kamla refers to this as the "Bushful thinking" of the U.S. administration, which demands "two eyes for one eye," which "punishes innocent people," and which "first creates and funds terrorists" only to then have to "destroy whole nations and civilizations in an effort to find and kill the terrorists."

"Hegemonic masculinity," she said, is at the root of these conflicts. Peaceful voices "are drowned [out] by guns and bombs in the hands of the Bushes and bin Ladens," most of whom are men. In speaking about peace, "it is essential to think about men and masculinity," she said.

"But not only men," she added, "Many successful women are becoming masculine."

Malaysian professor Chandra Muzaffar expounded on political hegemony in greater detail. Chandra, president of the International Movement for a Just World, focused on the ascendancy of the American "Empire." He said this empire poses the greatest threat to humankind today and is being built up on a variety of fronts: Corporate America attacks from the economic front, Hollywood attacks from the cultural front, Bush and his neo-conservative attack from the political front, and the Christian right and evangelists attack from the religious front. All of these have the full backing and protection of the Pentagon and its military might, which has more military might than combined military strength of the next dozen countries in the world.

This is the tragedy of today's politics, Muzaffar said. Never before in human history has a single nation been so overbearingly powerful. To make matters worse, the empire has tentacles all over the world. Washington can count on not only London and Madrid to do its bidding, but also Riyadh, Kuwait, Kabul, Manila and Singapore. In the name of promoting freedom and democracy, the rights of the ordinary citizens and the powerless are slowly being emasculated. Many people, especially those in the global South, suffer under this hegemony.

In a world torn by war, "peace will never be achieved so long as great masses of people are living in misery, while others have more than they need," said Jesuit Fr. Thomas Michel, co-secretary of the Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences. Desperate people with nothing to lose can be driven to destructive acts, he said.

"Think of how the $5 billion a day, that the U.S. government acknowledged was spent during the combat period of the Iraq War, could have been used for education and health programs for the world's poor." Michel suggested. Michel, an American who belongs to the Indonesian Jesuit province, urged everyone to press their governments for greater democratization and commitments to justice. With deeper democratization, governments would better represent their people and respond to their needs, he said. A commitment to justice, he said, means more than simply defending our own group when it is victimized. It means advocating and working for justice for all.

That was the clarion call of practically all the speakers at the Interfaith Peace Forum.

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