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July 29, 2016

Desmond Tutu: Reaching Within Ourselves for Solutions to Global Violence

Photo by Sumaya Hisham

Photo by Desmond Tutu Legacy Foundation

Two knifemen claiming to be acting in the name of God beheaded an 85-year-old priest in Normandy this week.

In Jerusalem, troops destroyed the homes of 11 Palestinian families leading to clashes in which several Palestinians were wounded. In Mogadishu, a suicide bomber killed 13 people outside a United Nations office. In Aleppo, the United Nations called for a “critical” 48-hour ceasefire to ease the desperate plight of 200 000 civilians trapped in Syria’s all-but-destroyed second city. In Florida, two people died and 17 were injured after gunmen opened fire outside a Fort Myers nightclub – the latest in a string of mass shootings stretching back to Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999…

These acts of public violence and terrorism that we are witnessing across the world today are symptomatic of a shrinking global village led by people who prioritise their own interests above those of the rest of the human family.

Morality, our ability to discern right from wrong, and to seek and receive forgiveness, are among the characteristics that set us apart as a species. Love and compassion are in our DNA.

The development of technology has placed us all within reach of one another, but, instead of being led to understand and embrace each other, for our common good, we find ourselves embroiled in the pursuit of much narrower agendas.

Over my long lifetime I have been privileged to witness the advance of the concepts of human rights and universal justice.

But 71 years after the end of the Second World War and establishment of the United Nations, 60 years after the Montgomery Bus Boycott that came to define the US Civil Rights Movement, 49 years after Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and 22 years since the demise of apartheid in South Africa symbolised the end of European domination over Africa, our world faces unprecedented levels of immorality, inequity, intolerance, insecurity, prejudice, greed, corruption – and impunity.

Instead of viewing the ghastly 9/11 attacks on US civilians as a sign of the necessity to build bridges, today, 15 years after the horrendous attacks, we have been led to the edge of the abyss.

Bombs continue to rain from the skies above Syria, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, forcing more and more civilians to flee their homes. People in Somalia and Nigeria are likewise being forced into migrancy. And, on the streets of our cities – from Bagdad to Kabul, from Damascus to Gaza City and from Istanbul to Dallas to Paris to Munich – the global village is lurching from one incident of indiscriminate violence to the next.

Some of the perpetrators claim to be pursuing “just” military objectives; some, spiritual objectives; some acting in opposition to racism, economic or social injustice – and some are responding to their perceived or actual estrangement from society.

They have collectively triggered unprecedented levels of human migration, suffering and insecurity, and are contributing – daily – to a growing sense of immorality and crisis of leadership across the world.

Righteous people are asking: What do we do to turn back the tide of hatred, corruption and destruction? To whom do we turn for peace and security, for morality, and environmental and social sustainability?

Thankfully, we harbour the answers within ourselves, in acknowledging our inter-dependence. In understanding how much we need each other. Whether we are rich or poor, white, black, pink or green, Muslim, Jewish, Christian or Buddhist, from north or south…

When theCold War ended and the world surfed into the new global era on a giant wave of technology, people collectively failed to understand the structural and human impacts. We were quick to identify short-term economic opportunities, new free-trade zones, tax havens and financial tools to enable money to flow freely across the planet, but slow to embrace those members of the family we regarded as “other”. And, slow to comprehend the vacuum in checks and balances created by the reduction from two global super-powers to one.

Instead of entering the global village with grace and in humility – which is what set Nelson Mandela apart after ascending to South Africa’s presidency – some of the politically and economically powerful began to believe they were invulnerable.

The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq that followed 9/11 were breathtaking in their shortsightedness and cost, while the ongoing protection of Israel and the territories it occupies, at the expense of Palestine, is a fundamental cause of global friction, as are access to fossil fuels – and, as climate change begins to bite, to water.

The human family has entered a phase of growing recklessness and willingness to disregard the rights of others, to grab resources and resort to violence to make their arguments or settle their differences.

Humanity is crying out for good leaders, role models with the skills, compassion and sense of justice to hear the cries of their neighbours, to reconcile differences in the human family and share the earth’s resources so that all can eat.

I am very sad.

As a young priest I travelled to the United States to meet leaders of the civil rightsmovement, and rejoiced in their victories over prejudice and discrimination. Today, I battle to reconcile that joy with the disproportionate number of African Americans in prison and being shot in the streets.

I spent much of my life opposing apartheid in South Africa, and was later given the honour of leading the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Today, the reconciliation project is on the back burner, inequity remains pervasive, and our leaders – like those of the rest of the world – have failed to emulate Mr Mandela’s selflessness.

I have had the privilege of being called to travel widely, to interact with leaders and paupers, and contribute where I could for justice and human rights. Today, the fabric of communities and cities is under threat from gunmen and bombers with a total disregard for the rights of anyone else.

Instead of asking how we may be contributing to turning back the immorality pandemic, we seekstealthier weapons, more draconian security solutions, and more economic prosperity for ourselves.

In effect, instead of reconciling anything, we are unravelling the human family. We are closing our eyes to our commonality, to our common purpose and our common interest. We are disavowing the love and compassion with which we were born. We are subverting the fact that we are made for inter-dependence.

Nobody is benefitting.

If you want to make peace, you speak to your enemy. You don’t shoot him or her. You don’t raise your voice; improve your argument, my father would have quite correctly advised.

I am an old man now. I pray for signs before I die of a new type of world leadership that eschews economic, ethnic, regional or religious dominance. I pray for a new cadre of leaders who make peace and equity in the global village, on earth, a priority.

If I don’t see these signs I will die of a broken heart.

(Source: Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation)

July 11, 2016

Our Glorious Diversity: Why We Should Celebrate Difference

Excerpted from a speech to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva in 2001:

desmond-tutuWe inhabit a universe that is characterized by diversity. There is not just one planet or one star; there are galaxies of all different sorts, a plethora of animal species, different kinds of plants, and different races and ethnic groups. God shows us, even with a human body, that it is made up of different organs performing different functions and that it is precisely that diversity that makes it an organism. If it were only one organ, it would not be a human body. We are constantly being made aware of the glorious diversity that is written into the structure of the universe we inhabit, and we are helped to see that if it were otherwise, things would go awry. How could you have a soccer team if all were goalkeepers? How would it be an orchestra if all were French horns?

For Christians, who believe they are created in the image of God, it is the Godhead, diversity in unity and the three-in-oneness of God, which we and all creation reflect. It is this imago Dei too that invests each single one of us — whatever our race, gender, education, and social or economic status — with infinite worth, making us precious in God’s sight. That worth is intrinsic to who we are, not dependent on anything external, extrinsic. Thus there can be no superior or inferior race. We are all of equal worth, born equal in dignity and born free, and for this reason deserving of respect whatever our external circumstances. We are created freely for freedom as those who are decision-making animals and so as of right entitled to respect, to be given personal space to be autonomous. We belong in a world whose very structure, whose essence, is diversity, almost bewildering in extent. It is to live in a fool’s paradise to ignore this basic fact.

We live in a universe marked by diversity as the law of its being and our being. We are made to exist in a life that should be marked by cooperation, interdependence, sharing, caring, compassion and complementarity. We should celebrate our diversity; we should exult in our differences as making not for separation and alienation and hostility but for their glorious opposites. The law of our being is to live in solidarity, friendship, helpfulness, unselfishness, interdependence and complementarity as sisters and brothers in one family — the human family, God’s family. Anything else, as we have experienced, is disaster.

Racism, xenophobia and unfair discrimination have spawned slavery, when human beings have bought and sold and owned and branded fellow human beings as if they were so many beasts of burden. They have spawned the Ku Klux Klan and the lynchings of the segregated South of the United States. They have given birth to the Holocaust of Germany and the other holocausts of Armenians and in Rwanda; the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans and the awfulness of apartheid; and what we have seen in Sri Lanka, in Northern Ireland, in the Middle East, in the Sudan, where there has been a spiral of reprisals leading to counter-reprisals, and these in turn to other reprisals. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Where the law of an eye for an eye obtains, in the end all will be blind. If we don’t learn to live as brothers, we will die together as fools.”

Religion, which should foster sisterhood and brotherhood, which should encourage tolerance, respect, compassion, peace, reconciliation, caring and sharing, has far too frequently — perversely — done the opposite. Religion has fueled alienation and conflict and has exacerbated intolerance and injustice and oppression. Some of the ghastliest atrocities have happened and are happening in the name of religion. It need not be so if we can learn the obvious: that no religion can hope to have a monopoly on God, on goodness and virtue and truth.

Our survival as a species will depend not on unbridled power lacking moral direction, or on eliminating those who are different and seeking only those who think and speak and behave and look like ourselves. That way is stagnation and ultimately death and disintegration. That is the way of people in times especially of transition, of instability and insecurity, when there is turmoil and social upheaval, poverty and unemployment. Then people seek refuge in fundamentalisms of all kinds. They look for scapegoats, who are provided by those who are different in appearance, in behavior, in race and in thought. People become impatient of ambivalence. Differences of opinion are not tolerated and simplistic answers are the vogue, whereas the reality is that the issues are complex.

We need so much to work for coexistence, for tolerance, and to say, “I disagree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to your opinion.” It is only when we respect even our adversaries and see them not as ogres, dehumanized, demonized, but as fellow human beings deserving respect for their personhood and dignity, that we will conduct a discourse that just might prevent conflict. There is room for everyone; there is room for every culture, race, language and point of view.