One of the participants on the transitional justice study tour that the FNF hosted from the 6th till the 12th of November in Brussels and Berlin was Zimbabwean human rights lawyer, David Coltart. Coltart, who is also a founding member of the political party ‘Movement for Democratic Change’ (MDC), is well-known for the sterling work he did as Zimbabwe’s Minister for Education, Sport, Arts and Culture from 2009 to August 2013.
Coltart had had the good fortune of visiting Berlin before the study tour and has a real soft spot for the city. He now has what he can call a ritual – on each visit to the German capital, Coltart celebrates the fall of the wall by straddling the cobblestones which mark where it once stood and divided people. Doing this, he says, reminds him that tyrants do fall. This is particularly poignant given the book Coltart published earlier this year: The Struggle Continues: 50 Years of Tyranny in Zimbabwe. Living in Zimbabwe, Coltart recounts, one must remind oneself that tyrannies do eventually come to an end.
The study tour, comprising of six strategically selected participants – two from Zimbabwe, two from Tanzania and two from South Africa, started in Brussels with a broad overview of ‘transitional justice’, a field that has been receiving growing attention mainly since the mid-80s and is thus still considered relatively new.
Wikipedia usefully defines the term as follows:
“Transitional justice consists of judicial and non-judicial measures implemented in order to redress legacies of human rights abuses. Such measures “include criminal prosecutions, truth commissions, reparations programs, and various kinds of institutional reforms”. Transitional justice is enacted at a point of political transition from violence and repression to societal stability and it is informed by a society’s desire to rebuild social trust, repair a fractured justice system, and build a democratic system of governance. The core value of transitional justice is the very notion of justice—which does not necessarily mean criminal justice. This notion and the political transformation, such as regime change or transition from conflict are thus linked toward a more peaceful, certain, and democratic future.”
Each country represented has a unique past (or present) of injustice with which it must grapple. The idea behind the study tour was to expose participants to transitional justice measures implemented in dealing with, in particular, Germany’s Third Reich and German Democratic Republic past. The group was also briefed, from a European Union perspective, on the events in the Western Balkans giving rise to the need for very particular transitional justice there. Of course, while each situation is unique, there are many similarities in the types of atrocities committed and so much space for sharing experiences, both around the awful events that unfolded as well as around corresponding transitional justice measures. Ultimately, and very importantly to note, the human experience of suffering is universal.
In Berlin, the tour met with government institutions that deal with the compensation of victims of injustice not only for the loss of property, but for the loss of loved ones (lives lost) as well as for lost freedoms (concentration camps, emprisonment). We also learned about compensation for various consequences injustices have had on the mental and physical health of victims as well as how compensation was and is calculated in addition to such technical intricacies as evidentiary burdens.
Complimentary to the above were our meetings with with organisations involved in what are often termed ‘softer’ (and consequently erroneously underrated) measures such as school curricula and how society more broadly remembers the past (memorials, days of remembrance, public art, museums etc) so that it never repeats itself. Of particular interest was our meeting with the Foundation for Remembrance, Responsibility and Future which fosters a very bottom-up and personal approach to dealing with the past, emphasising the need to ‘dig where you stand’, i.e. to uncover and reflect upon the stories in one’s own neighbourhood.
All in all, the tour offered profound insights and lessons for the study tour group from a multitude of perspectives (the state, civil society and individuals). Of course, members of the group were also able to share their own experiences with the organisations in Brussels and Berlin and, importantly, with each other.
- – FNF Africa
- – Stiftung EVZ (Foundation “Remembrance, Responsibilty, Future”)
- – Memorial site Hohenschönhausen (former Stasi prison, Berlin)
Exposure Program to Germany
An increasing number of people, devices, and sensors are nowadays connected by digital networks which have revolutionized the ability to generate, share, and access information. Data create enormous value for the global economy, driving innovation and growth. At the same time the ever growing amount of data presents a formidable challenge to the privacy of citizens.
In order to better understand the potential of big data for both citizens and organizations while addressing the challenges to individual privacy the Regional Office of Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) organized a study tour to Germany. Digital rights activists, researchers and representatives of business associations from Pakistan, India, Bhutan, and Bangladesh spent one week in Hamburg and Berlin speaking to data protection agencies, think tanks, data scientists and information and communication technology (ICT) companies.
During official appointments participants discussed latest technological developments, how a modern data protection framework should look like, and which ideas could be translated into initiatives in South Asia. The recent European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation which for the first time creates pan-european standards for data protection and a level playing field for companies targeting European citizens made the participants particularly interested.
“The different perspectives presented during the study tour were eye opening and I strongly believe some ideas can be implemented in South Asia to combine openness for innovation and safeguards for individual privacy” said Ruben Dieckhoff, Project Manager South Asia who organized the tour together with FNF’s International Academy for Leadership (IAF).
There is rise in terrorism across the world, especially the Islamic State, which have taken over large tracts of territory in Syria and Iraq. This has led to the refugee crisis – millions of people seeking refuge in European countries including Germany, the venue of the seminar. The future of the Eurozone is in jeopardy. The European Union is grappling with one crisis after another. As a reactionary force, there appears to be a rise in right-wing forces in Europe, in countries such as Poland and Hungary, and elsewhere too; the fear being that long-cherished Democratic rights of the people could be a casualty. There are various other developments all across the world which are threatening the very survival of the little man, the little voter, the little citizen – with a free voice.
And against this tumultuous backdrop, a group of young lawyers, politicians and activists from 23 countries descended at Gummersbach for the IAF Seminar on Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights: the Liberal Approach. It was like getting a bird’s eye view of world affairs and then testing the times against the concepts of Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights.
We tend to become too practical and concentrate on actions without pausing to think about and clarify our understanding of concepts which ought to be the driving force behind our actions. What our very skilful moderators and the group discussions did was to clarify my own concept of what Rule of Law means. We learnt the various concepts of Rule of Law, from the thinnest (Rule by Law) to the thickest (Social Democratic Rule of Law or the fattest, as our liberal moderator preferred to call it), Rule by Law having hardly any safeguards and Social Democratic Rule of Law being a point where the State itself assumes the role of the Father, mother, guardian and regulator. The liberal approach is to prefer a liberal Rule of Law where the State is neither too intrusive, nor too withered away. The citizens are allowed to breathe and grow – the State only creating the fertile ground. I seemed to agree to the approach to a great extent.
The work group requiring us to explain the Rule of law and fundamental rights situation in our own countries enabled me look at India, my country, with an objectivity which I hitherto lacked. I returned as a citizen of my country and much in love with it, yet with the awareness of its deficiencies.
The discussions on fundamental rights and the three generations of Human rights was the one I greatly enjoyed. We poured all our ideas on to the floor and with the help of efficient marshalling of discussions by the mdoerators, we educated ourselves about democracy and democracies and rights and their extents and the general world situation of rights. What I learnt was that the liberals vouch for the first generation rights first and later move on to the second and third generation rights. I disagreed with Dr Rolf, our moderator and said that in my opinion, the first and second generation rights should go hand and hand. What the discussion culminated into is not important – but I took away from the debate a far enhanced understanding of the essentials of democratic thought and endeavour and I am much grateful to our erudite moderators. (Doctor and I have promised to continue our debate by email). To aid our understanding we were introduced to the Rule of Law Index published by the World Justice Project and the Bertelsmann Transformation Index, both of which will be of great help to me in future.
The underlying issue which overshadowed the seminar was the refugee crisis. Important questions about the right to freedom of movement (how free and unrestricted is it) were raised and we deliberated on them. Coming from a country having its own share of migrant and refugee problems, I was able to share my inputs. How far should refugees be allowed unrestricted access to countries like Germany? How far will they be able to blend with german culture? What could be the repercussions if they couldn’t. What security risks could be posed by refugees (with reference to the recent Paris Terror Attacks). We analysed threadbare, the problems – and possible solutions – rationing of refugees, establishing camps in their own countries run by the more developed countries. We also considered the legal aspects, which have helped sharpen my own understanding of refugee and migrant issues, being a lawyer engaged in refugee related work in India.
For 12 days, we were like family. It seemed barriers between cultures, religions, territories had all melted and the fact that we were all human beings possessing the same characteristics of humanity took precedence.
The excursions to Cologne and Strasbourg only increased the bonhomie and also gave us a chance to explore new places, meet new people and witness cultures first hand. We also made an interesting visit to the International Institute of Human Rights where we also became aware of the obstacles language could pose when working in the field of human rights. There can be no Rule of Law and fundamental rights without people. The food and lodging were excellent to say the least. Apart from the seminar proceedings, we had freewheeling yet engaging discussions at the bar and while travelling, sharing experiences from our respective countries. In the modern world, learning is exchanging.
The best aspects about this seminar were its emphasis on practical realisation of all that we were discussing and secondly, the freedom of expression it gave us. The world is becoming intolerant towards diversity and conflict thought yet here we were given an absolutely free forum where we could simply explain and express ourselves in the manner we liked.
Finally, we were asked to prepare project proposals to enhance Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights. We presented our proposals. The moderators were very appreciative.
I went to Gummersbach as a citizen of India and returned as a conscious and vigilant citizen of the world. My outlook has been broadened, the knowledge has deepened, and seeds of truly liberal thought have been planted in my being. I only expect it to grow and guide me in my actions and endeavours towards making the world a better place for ourselves and others.
I am grateful, IAF.
by Deepan Kumar Sarkar
Some impressions from our excursion to Strasbourg and Karlsruhe
A delegation consisting of seven representatives from the Tunisian liberal party “Afek Tounis” recently came to Germany to participate in a study trip on “New perspectives for Tunisia – EU/Germany relations”. The aim was to discuss the international relations with Tunisia with German experts in order to establish new contacts and networks for future cooperation.
The program covered several visits to institutions and think-tanks in Brussels and Berlin. At the German Federal Foreign Office the group met with Barbara Wolf, director of the Maghreb-division, to discuss the current state and future of German foreign policy towards Tunisia. Among the focal points in the debate were initiatives like the partnership for transformation and Germany’s diplomatic reactions to the revolution. This topic drew lots of questions from members of the delegation who were questioning Germany’s foreign policy strategy in comparison to the U.S. or Great Britain.
At the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development the delegation had the chance to exchange information and experiences with Christiane Bögemann-Hagedorn, Deputy Director General for North Africa, Middle East, South Eastern and Eastern Europe and Latin America. Dr. Martin Henkelmann, director of the German Chamber of Commerce abroad in Tunisia and his colleague, Philipp Simon Andree, head of division for North Africa at the Federation of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK), analyzed the pitfalls and potentials for ever closer economic relations between Germany and Tunisia during a working lunch. The topic was continued during a discussion with the experts Alexander Knipperts, Patrick Meinhardt and Rainer Ptok from the trade association (Unternehmerverband Deutschland).
German, European and American policy towards Tunisia was intensively examined from a scientific perspective during a meeting with Isabelle Werenfels, director of the study group on the Middle East and Africa at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, SWP).
Ulrich Niemann, head of the international division of Friedrich-Naumann-Foundation for Freedom and Beate Apelt, director of regional division North Africa, Middle East and Eastern Europe, welcomed the group in the FNF-headquarters and gave a presentation on the international work of FNF in North Africa and in the world.
Enlightenment, participation and progress—these three powerful words were not just the title of the workshop on Education at the IAF. They also represented what the participants felt were the key objectives of education in the 21st century. And in light of increasing intolerance and radicalization, they added a fourth—peace.
Heated arguments, passionate discussions and intensive sharing characterized the event that brought together 18 participants from 15 countries, an event that hoped to find some light at end of the tunnel on a topic that was very much close to their hearts. While 11 of the 15 countries had adult literacy rates of over 90%, the quality left much to be desired. The event didn’t begin in Gummersbach but online almost three weeks before. The online phase enabled participants to connect not just to each other but also with the topic in a deeper way. Participants shared their perspectives on the fundamentals of education, collated relevant country wide data on education, and also offered ideas on how they would address the most critical problems they see in their countries.
Overall the participants were connected by their anger and frustration about the existing state of education in their countries and general mistrust in the state as the only solution—the low and declining standards, lack of quality education universally available to all, low quality teaching, low prestige and lack of interest in supplying vocational training services and the lack of political will to improve education systems. At the same time they were hopeful about innovative civil society solutions (from small budget private schools to publicly listed education providers) and reviving the tradition of civil society provision of education (something that was wiped out with the advent of compulsory education by the state 1)James Bartholomew, Education Without the State: British private and charitable schooling in the 19th century and beyond and James Tooley, RTE & Budget Private Schools-What would Gandhi Think? ). Almost every region showcased inspiring stories of edupreneurship (India, Egypt, Brazil)—individuals who despite the domineering state and the existing conditions were breaking new ground and showing that quality and cost do not always mutually exclude each other.
The WHY AND WHAT of education: purpose of education is primarily self development!
Apart from equipping people for employment in a constantly changing environment dominated by technology and information (the information society), very important functions of education include the ability to learn and think for oneself, to develop one’s powers of reason, to be able to interact with other members of society peacefully and productively, to be able to resolve conflicts using peaceful means, to participate in democracy and public decision-making processes, to share knowledge and work cooperatively in groups. So education serves to meet ALL three objectives—social, political and economic. Seen together, these transcend the classroom and education can thus be seen as part of a life-long learning process with equal importance attached both to early childhood education and adult education. Therefore, the objectives of education are manifold, there cannot be a single definition of “quality” or the “best school or university”.
In order to be successful education must also be a pleasurable experience. More attention needs to be given to incentives not only for learners but for all stakeholders. The focus of all educational institutions should be to encourage independent thought, innovation and excellence.
Liberal Values: The Foundation of a Good Education System
Participants agreed that education plays a very important role in liberal thought and that all values that are important for liberalism have implications for education. For instance, tolerance often needs to be taught. When you talk about choice you cannot exclude education (Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “…Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children”). There is no one “best school” for all. Subsidiarity as a liberal value implies a decentralized system of education. Reason demands that pupils and student develop their ability to think critically. The idea that every one is equal under the law implies that access to (quality) education must be open to all.
The desire for the respect for individual rights also raised some questions. Can the parents’ judgment about their children’s education always be trusted? Must the state make choices instead, choices for the purported good of children? What if parents send children to schools that are academically poor, but offer other important things like safety, community spirit? And what if parents don’t want to send their children to school and teach them privately instead? Such questions suggest a paternalistic approach liberals do not share. Choice for liberals is an important end in itself even though it may not always lead to the “desirable outcomes” social engineers would like to see. The liberal approach is “to let many flowers bloom.”
The HOW of an Effective and Efficient Education System
The education system of the 21st century must satisfactorily tap into the number of opportunities for education, opportunities that technological and economic progress bring forth in terms of greater demand for skills, greater financial resources for investment, the emergence of edupreneursip, greater access to content, specialization, and an increase of diversity in the classroom. At the same time there are worrying threats to education today that need to be addressed: increasing costs, declining standards, extremism, radicalization, technology overload.
No matter how much one believes in the role of the state in education, private schools and universities are a reality and also reflect parents making conscious choices towards accessing quality education for their children. Teachers of tomorrow, in responding to such challenges, will have to play a greater role as facilitators, coaches, mediators and mentors.
Though there was universal agreement on the objectives of education, it was in the HOW that differences lay: How much of a role should the state and civil society play in critical functions of education? There are radical approaches, e.g. privatization and decentralization of the education system and moderate approaches that are incremental in nature, e.g. how to increase competition in the interests of increasing quality. This is something that was emphasized by Sascha Tamm, an expert working for the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF). There was an overwhelming agreement that the state has an umbrella role in policy making, financing and regulation and that civil society, on the other hand, must play a leading role in the delivery, curriculum 2)An example of government indoctrination of children from Argentina highlighting the danger of government’s role in curriculum design and assessment. Overall the state and civil society need to work together and cooperate in using each other’s experiences and know how, even in matters such as teacher training.
There was agreement that the principle of subsidiarity must apply to education. There are many examples showing that successful schools are schools that cater to local needs. This is also the case of Germany where school facilities are provided by the municipalities and the legal framework, curricula, and teachers are provided by the individual state governments. The federal government plays a very minor role.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||James Bartholomew, Education Without the State: British private and charitable schooling in the 19th century and beyond and James Tooley, RTE & Budget Private Schools-What would Gandhi Think?|
|2.||↑||An example of government indoctrination of children from Argentina highlighting the danger of government’s role in curriculum design|
On October 20, 1989 the United Nations General Assembly approved the Convention on the Rights of the Child, CRC. On September 2, 1990 it became effective. This document defined for the first time a worldwide standard for child protection and rights. 195 out of 197 countries endorsed the convention. An approval that largely outreaches all other UN conventions. Thus the convention acquired almost universal relevance.
The legal scenario, threats and protection possibilities regarding minors were also core elements of the course held this year on international law in terms of human rights delivered by the René Cassin International Institute for Human Rights (Institut International des Droits de l’Homme– René Cassin) in Strasbourg. This 3-week course allows each year the conveyance of current knowledge and topics concerning international law in terms of human rights, based on international conventions and mechanisms. Around 300 participants from numerous countries attended this meeting that offers each year a venue for intense learning and engaged debates. The Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom invited 9 experts in human rights from Egypt, Morocco, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Mali and Turkey to take part in the course and acquire updated knowledge. The purpose is that knowledge and contacts should be useful for those projects in which participants are actively engaged.
In the topic courses the notion of “child” was addressed from the most varied perspectives: children in violent conflicts, protection of children against sexual exploitation, religious practices and children’s rights, children as victims of human rights abuse in wars and civil wars, children’s rights and criminal law related to young offenders, legal scenario regarding international kidnappings, protection of non-accompanied children during migration, child protection and new technologies, fight against forced labor of minors.
Particularly current in the last decades was the issue concerning the recruitment or forced use of “child soldiers”. Unfortunately, many countries and militias involved in war or civil war conflicts do not want to leave the practices of recruiting children and teenagers for fighting purposes. The UN child convention prohibits their direct and active engagement in violent conflicts. However, their provisions are not accurate, mainly as to age limits. This was one of the reasons why the USA, almost in solitaire, did not endorse the convention. (Another reason probably lies on the prohibition of death penalty for children.) The practice of military schools to recruit extremely young candidates would particularly collide with the convention.
The core question “What is a child?” is replied in the convention with a “mild” answer. A child is a person who has not reached 18 years of age, provided the states’ national laws do not determine otherwise. Establishing an age limit is thus left to discretion of the national law, which –regarding the recruitment of child soldiers– leads to extremely unsatisfactory results. Some verdicts of the International Criminal Court and other courts have restricted even further the engagement of children and teenagers in combats. According to the statute of the special court for Sierra Leone, engaging child soldiers is considered a war crime.
A few years after the Convention was approved, it was generally agreed that protection-related provisions were not enough to control the acute threats faced by children. Therefore, three additional protocols were signed:
1. Additional protocol against child exploitation, child prostitution and child pornography (2002)
2. Additional protocol about children in armed conflicts (2002)
3. Optional protocol on individual appeal procedures (2002)
An interesting aspect in the evolution of documents refers to the fact that –unlike the Convention– the additional protocols were endorsed by the USA.
From the extensive provisions set forth in the Convention, five basic core rights for children are derived:
– The right to survival
– The right to development
– Non discrimination
– Advocacy of children’s interests in all relevant decisions thereof
– The right to participation
All the contractual parties in the Convention are committed to use their available resources to enable the children’s development (education, instruction, health) and gradually engage them in social processes.
The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1969) considers the possibility that a state could ratify a treaty without granting its agreement to the contents, but only “under reserve”, which restricts the engagement. This option has led to a generalized practice of restricting the rights granted by the Convention by means of extensive restrictions. Thus Iran endorsed the Convention on the Rights of the Child, with the condition that the sharia and the national criminal law should remain unaffected. That is why a 9-year-old child in Iran can still be sentenced to death. Singapore endorsed it with the exception of its national law; Saudi Arabia did it under reserve of the sharia. In Brunei, the Convention is only valid if it does not interfere with the Constitution and Islamic law. That means, a generalized tendency to subordinate the bonding nature of the international conventions to national law can be perceived. An evolution that does not precisely benefit the children’s development opportunities and that infringes the Vienna Convention’s spirit. There is still a lot left to do!
For the Foundation’s participants, efforts have resulted worthwhile. Despite a heavy workload under summer temperatures of up to 44 ºC and in spite of Ramadan, which Muslim attendants abided by, almost all the participants passed the difficult final test.
by Dr Gabriele Thöns
A delegation consisting of eleven representatives from the Public Relations Bureau of the Ministry of Law and Human Rights went to Germany on a Study Trip on “Democracy, Rule of Law and Human Rights: German International Cooperation”.
After arriving in Germany the delegation was greeted with an opening dinner attended by H.E. Dr.-Ing. Fauzi Bowo, the Indonesian Ambassador to Germany. The Ambassador welcomed and supported the study trip as Indonesian trade with Germany is one of the most active one to date.
The program covers visits to the German Federal Ministry of Justice, the Berlin Constitutional Court, the Head Office of Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung für die Freiheit in Potsdam, a dialogue with the Indonesian diplomats at the Indonesian Embassy in Berlin, a discussion with a former German Human Rights Commissioner, and a city tour of Berlin.
At the Federal Ministry of Justice, the delegation was greeted by the Head of a Department at the Ministry, Mr. Mathias Hellmann, followed by a dialogue on the topic of ‘International Legal Cooperation and Rule of Law.’
At the Berlin Constitutional Court, the delegation had a discussion with the Vice-President of the Berlin Constitutional Court Dr. Robert Wolfgang Seegmüller on the topic of ‘The Role of the Judiciary: How to Ensure the Rule of Law’.
During the visit to FNF Head Office, the delegation was greeted by the Desk Officer for Southeast Asia, Mr. Wolfgang Heinze, who gave a presentation on the international works of FNF in the world and in Asia.
The Dialogue with the former German Human Rights Commissioner, Mr. Markus Löning, focussed on the how Germany maintains its fulfilment of citizen rights, including safeguarding tolerance and pluralism. This is a topic that drew lots of questions from members of the delegation who were curious about how Germany manages religious tolerance.
The study trip is one of the activities set out in the cooperation between Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung für die Freiheit and the Ministry of Law and Human Rights of the Republic of Indonesia, and was the first activity within the scope of the cooperation this year.
Jakarta, 19 May 2015
Participation, mobilisation, human resources, fundraising, communications and branding
In November we want to compile the best projects and ideas liberals have come up with! Do you want to inspire other liberals from around the world with your ideas? Can you tell us your success-story in a few short sentences with some additional pictures, links or videos? With a bit of luck, there might even be a prize in it for you!
Here’s what you have to do:
- Sign up for our free international online conference “Best Practices in Political Management” here: http://bit.ly/bppm14. Share the conference with everyone you think should take part.
- Prepare your idea, compile the pictures, videos and files you want to share with other conference members. Have a [insert your favorite non-alcoholic beverage] and give our server 5-10 minutes time to process your conference booking.
- Go to http://bit.ly/bppm_DB and add your entry into the database.The conference starts on 03/11/2014 and is open for everybody. We will keep you informed via E-Mail. Looking forward to your ideas!
Virtual Academy & International Academy for Leadership (IAF) of
Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom
Our prizes have to do with creativity. Stattys are re-usabel electrostatic moderation cards from Germany
- First prize: Stattys Business Travel Set + FNF Info Set
- Second prize: STATTYS STARTER SET + FNF Info Set
- Third prize: Stattys Test Kit + FNF Info Set
Our jury will pick the 5 best database entries and put them to the vote on our conference page.
Please understand that: There will be no cash disbursement and/or replacement of the prizes. There is no right of appeal.
The International Academy for Leadership – or IAF – is the most valuable and arguably also the most popular of the many international programs sponsored by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF). Over the years, a large number of young and also senior leaders from India have attended the courses in the Western German city of Gummersbach. FNF New Delhi’s Omair Ahmed was invited to join the recent workshop titled “Religious Power in Politics. Political Power through Religion?” as a co-moderator. We asked him to share his impressions.
“The seminar was filled with argumentative, boisterous and convivial discussions.”
This was only to be expected with such a sensitive topic, and with people from the Arab Spring countries like Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt, as well as from countries as varied as Mexico, Malaysia, Russia, Tanzania, the United States, Ukraine, the Palestinian Territories, and India. All of the participants felt strongly about the issue, some of whom asserted that they were ‘fundamentalist’ in their interpretation of faith, though not in a militant sense, while others stated their own ‘fundamentalist’ belief in atheism or non-theism.
The discussion was ably assisted by Arno Keller, a former country director for the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF), and assisted by Sagarica Delgoda, another former country director for FNF. They brought in a great deal of personal experience, from countries as diverse as Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Germany, trying to get at the root of the idea of secularism and what it means in the modern world. Referring to the multiple ways that ostensibly secular countries such as the United States, Germany, France and the United Kingdom have official religions, collect religious taxes, have religious political parties and a host of other practices, Mr Keller demonstrated the confusion on the very idea of “secular” for most everyone. Instead he encouraged the participants to discuss the issues and get at main principles and themes. Ms Delgoda spoke about Buddhism as a meniator of values, and how even such a religion could be manipulated for nationalistic sentiments.
While participants from the Arab countries, who had seen revolution and radicalisation recently, were often vocal in their fears and opinions, the important stories of the experience of minority communities in Malaysia and the role of religion in war-making rhetoric in the Ukraine-Russian crisis also figured in the discussion. An exercise by the participants, in which five groups were asked to list the basic values of liberalism, Christianity, Islam, non-theistic Humanism, and Hindu & Buddhist thought threw up a host of overlaps, showing the participants visually how much they had in common. The exercises were an important part of the seminar, as was the trip to Cologne and an interaction with the Rabbi of the Synagogue there. Each member of the group pledged to complete a particular assignment within three months of the end of the seminar, and when they parted, it was with a great deal of new thoughts, as well as with a number of new friends from across the world.
by Omair Ahmed, Delhi/India
This article first appeared on www.southasia.fnst.org: “Religious Power and Politics: An international liberal debate in Germany”,
7 October 2014.