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April 29, 2015

What is “Ubuntu”?

Our work at the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation is grounded in the South African philosophy of “ubuntu”. Many of you have asked of us, “what does ubuntu mean?” In the following video, Reverend Mpho Tutu, youngest daughter of the Archbishop and ED of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, explains.


April 27, 2015

Rescuing Iraq’s Christians from Extinction


In his Harvard International Law Journal Commentary, “Saving an Ancient Community,” Jonathan A. Pride examines the latest danger to Iraq’s Christians, who in recent years have been pushed to the brink of extinction. Mr. Pride identifies three factors that threaten the very existence of Christianity in Iraq: (i) a Western “other” Christian identity; (ii) Islamic extremism; and (iii) a depressed economy that has taken an enormous toll on Iraq’s Christians.


After a brief introduction in Part I, Mr. Pride’s Commentary is divided into three sections. Part II, “Identity Construction,” examines the identity of Christians in Iraq, who are often labeled as the Western “Other” or as “agents” of the West, and whose rights are consequently restricted. Mr. Pride concludes that “[d]isproportionately small representation in government, a constitution that emphasizes the Muslim identity of Iraq instead of minority rights, and laws that can easily be used to implement anti-Christian policies leave Christians on the fringes of the governing process and the national character, thus increasing the likelihood of their treatment as an ‘other’ in Iraqi national life” (p. 201).

In Part III, “From Minority to Refugee,” Mr. Pride argues that in post-Saddam Iraq, “extremists from both the Sunni and Shia communities began to target Christian communities in efforts to enforce stricter forms of Islam … Christians began receiving threats to convert to Islam or leave [their communities], and Christian churches, individuals, and businesses suffered numerous attacks” (p. 201). However, “Christians did not start to truly flee from their homes until their priests and archbishops began to be kidnapped, killed, and sometimes mutilated or decapitated” (p. 201). By 2011, one-third to one-half of the Christian population of Iraq (over half a million Iraqi Christians) fled the country. Despite accounting for only five percent of the total population of Iraq, Christians accounted for “nearly half the refugees fleeing Iraq” (p. 202). Mr. Pride identifies the many factors, including the economic and security situation in Iraq, that hinder Christians from voluntarily repatriating to Iraq.

Mr. Pride argues in Part IV, “Ways Forward,” for a three-prong strategy for encouraging Christians to remain in or repatriate to Iraq. This strategy consists of the following three-point plan:

(a)   The Iraqi government should act to deconstruct the “other” identity of Christians. This can be achieved, for example, by enacting constitutional changes reflecting an emphasis on equal protection and granting minorities a meaningful voice in government, as well as using the post-ethnic conflict reintegration methods that were effective in the Balkans;

(b)    The Christian area in the Kurdistan Nineveh Plain should be given a “safe zone” status, allowing Christian villages to assemble local police forces and governing councils to ensure security; and

(c)    The international community must invest in and help rebuild Iraq’s economy to attract Christians back to Iraq, as “[t]argeted investment in the reconstruction of Christian villages and in general Iraqi industry would go a long way in keeping Iraq a viable option for Christians.” Mr. Pride recognizes that such aid to Christian villages could draw “the familiar trope of Christians as Western agents” and “Christian favoritism” (p. 211), but these accusations make it all the more imperative that the international community clearly communicate that international assistance is targeting the victims of devastating ethnic cleansing and, arguably, genocide (p. 211). International aid targeting Christians in Iraq ought to be no different than the international aid that targeted Muslims in the Balkans a decade earlier; such aid should be victim-based, not religiously driven.

Finally, in Part V, “Conclusion,” Mr. Pride closes by observing that while his proposals do not ensure success, “they create more suitable conditions for the survival of Christianity in Iraq” (p. 212).


Mr. Pride’s piece is particularly relevant to the developments that Iraq has witnessed over the last two years, with the self-styled Islamic State having gained control of significant swaths of territory in Iraq and subjecting Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities to some of the most brutal forms of persecution that history has known, including burning people alive, beheadings, crucifixions and limb amputations, even of women and children.

In addition to Mr. Pride’s suggestions for combating the extinction of Christians in Iraq, there is a desperate need for peace-loving Muslims to engage sectarian Islamic armed groups from within the framework of Islamic law. Because these armed groups refuse to acknowledge the validity of non-Islamic international humanitarian law and the protections that it affords civilians, they should be challenged on the basis of the very Islamic laws that they claim to implement. This can be achieved by Islamic scholars and Imams, operating from within the framework of Islamic law, challenging armed groups’ interpretations of the sacred texts they use to justify attacks on Christians and other civilians, debating the apologists of jihād and highlighting the discrepancies between these armed groups’ acts and the acts strictly forbidden by Islamic law—looting, the mutilation of corpses and the murder of non-combatants in times of war, to name a few. Imams and other leaders of Muslim communities ought to emphasize and re-emphasize the Islamic proof texts that provide for the protection of women, children and other civilians, including the aḥadīth whereby the Prophet Muhammad expressly forbade the targeted killing of women and children, including the ḥadīth where he declared that it is “not permissible to kill women and children, even if the enemy uses them as human shields” (see Yusuf al-Qaraḍāwī, Fiqh al-Jihād, Volume I, Bab VI: The Islamic Army of Jihād, its duties and ethics and constitution, Faṣl 5: The Ethical Constitution during war in Islām).

Yet it is not enough that “establishment” Imams and clerics voice these views. For example, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia (Al-Asheikh) and other establishment religious leaders each day issue statements published in the Saudi Gazette and Arab News condemning extremism as contrary to Islam, yet extremists do not heed these calls as they view these establishment clerics as agents of the very regimes that they aim to abolish. Rather, it is the local clerics and leaders in remote and poor regions of society that can get through to Muslims who might otherwise succumb to the recruiting efforts of extremist armed groups.

Because challenging Islamic armed groups on the basis of international law often does not make headway, Islamic law itself may serve as an effective—albeit under-utilized—tool in engaging them. Such an approach may yield stronger results in increasing the respect for the protection of unarmed civilians, including Christians and other minorities, in times of armed conflict.

Mr. Pride’s Commentary is available at http://www.harvardilj.org/2012/04/online_53_pride, or as a downloadable PDF from http://www.harvardilj.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/HILJ-Online_53_Pride.pdf

April 23, 2015

Archbishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama Visit the Tibetan Children’s Village

Dharamsala, HP, India, 23 April 2015 – The Upper Tibetan Children’s Village School was host to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, his good friend Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Team Joy this afternoon. As they drove there from His Holiness’s residence the streets were lined with smiling people eager to catch a glimpse of them.

Reverend Mpho Tutu comforts a young Tibetan girl as she emotionally tells the story of her journey from Tibet to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu during their visit to Upper Tibetan Children's Village School (TCV) in Dharamsala, HP, India on April 23, 2015.

On arrival at TCV His Holiness and the Archbishop were escorted into the small library adjacent to the basketball court. Amidst the neat bookshelves and displays of projects the children had done writing about ‘joy’, several students, girls and boys, recounted their own journeys from Tibet to the school. The first, who had come with her grandmother, leaving the rest of her family behind, broke down in sobs and tears. Archbishop Tutu’s daughter, Mpho, stepped forward to hug and comfort her. She completed her tale, but when the next student too was overcome with emotion His Holiness intervened, suggesting:

“You should think about how as a result of coming here you have been able to receive not only a modern education, but also to learn about our rich culture. You’ve been able to study our language. This is the best language for explaining the profound traditions of Nalanda University. This is something to be proud of. And yours may be the generation that can rebuild Tibet.”

The final student to make a presentation spoke of his appreciation for what he had received and how he tries to take joy in everything.

The children, who filled the basketball court, sang a song in Tibetan celebrating His Holiness’s 80th birthday as he and Archbishop Tutu emerged to take their seats in the middle of the throng. They then followed it up with a Tibetan rendition of ‘If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.’

When His Holiness was invited to address the gathering, he turned to the Archbishop and said that since he teases him so much about his English, on this occasion he would speak in Tibetan. He stated that although our various religious traditions have different philosophical viewpoints, they share a common message of love and compassion. This is clearly reflected in the Archbishop and is why he admires him.

Commenting on the hardships faced by the parents of the students who were present His Holiness said:

“We received immense help from the Indian government. The world helped us. Because of the kindness we have received you have the opportunity to study today. Please, work hard. We Tibetans are going through a very difficult time, but we still have our own language and culture. Please take full advantage of your educational opportunities.”

Archbishop Tutu acknowledged His Holiness, the beautiful children and those in the crowd who were not children.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu's taking questions from students during their visit to Upper Tibetan Children's Village School (TCV) in Dharamsala, HP, India on April 23, 2015.

“It’s a great honour and privilege to be here. You are beloved throughout the world and we want to say to you, young people, that it might not seem possible to you that you will one day return to a free Tibet. But we in South Africa lived for many years under a system of injustice and oppression. Many of our leaders and young people went into exile. It seemed as if the chains of oppression would never be broken, that our prisoners on Robben Island would never come home. And yet,” and he let out his characteristic high pitched chuckle, “it happened.”

“In 1995, our beloved Nelson Mandela and the others were released and the exiles came home. One day, you too, all of you, will see your beloved Tibet again. You’ll be free of the oppression that has driven you here. The Chinese government will discover that freedom is actually cheaper than oppression.”

He spoke of the deep honour he feels to count His Holiness as his friend and that the world feels the same way. He continued:

“I want to thank the Indian government and the Indian people who opened their arms to welcome you, because they preserved for us a great treasure that would otherwise have been lost.”

Looking round at the students, he exclaimed:

“Look how beautiful you are! One day you’ll be dancing and singing in the streets of Tibet.”

Students were then able to put questions to the two spiritual leaders starting with one to His Holiness asking whether we can ever hope to live in a violence free world. He replied that there are many different kinds of violence, including exploitation and corruption.

“If you are thinking about serious physical violence involving war and people killing each other, then yes, I think we can eliminate that if we make the right effort.”

Archbishop Tutu was asked his advice about the way people seek happiness in material things. He answered that more and more people are realizing that they will not get real satisfaction from things alone. He said you can have many possessions while your heart remains empty.

“I meet many young people from well-off homes who go out to help others and find a much greater satisfaction in that.”

When His Holiness was asked about how he controls his anger in daily life, he replied that when he’s angry he shouts. He told a story of an occasion in 1956 when he was watching the driver and mechanic who looked after one of the cars that had belonged to the 13th Dalai Lama. While working on it he accidentally banged his head on the car. In anger he then deliberately banged it against the car again and His Holiness wondered: “What’s the use of that?” He remarked that anger destroys our peace of mind.

Some of the younger students listening to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archibishop Desmond Tutu during their visit to Upper Tibetan Children's Village School (TCV) in Dharamsala, HP, India on April 23, 2015.

“Reciting ‘manis’ won’t help, even reciting the refuge prayer won’t help. Training our minds is the only solution.”

Asked whether joy could really be a source of world peace, His Holiness replied:

“I think so and that’s why people should have a clear understanding of how to create joy. Doing to harm to others may bring some temporary satisfaction, but being helpful to them is the only real source of lasting joy.”

Archbishop Tutu was also asked how true joy and happiness can be achieved and he answered:

“If we think we want joy for ourselves that’s short-sighted and will only be short-lived. Real joy is the reward of acting to bring joy to others. Deep joy is what happens when you show love, care and compassion to others. You can’t get it any other way. You can’t buy it.”

In reply to a final question about the environment, the Archbishop said:

“We have to remind people that this is our only home and if we treat it badly we’re done for. The ice caps are melting. The summers and winters are too long. We need to say ‘Yes, something is wrong’. People are beginning to hear what many religious leaders are saying, that this is our only home and we have to care for it.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu dancing to all the children singing 'We are the World' during his visit with His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Upper Tibetan Children's Village School (TCV) in Dharamsala, HP, India on April 23, 2015.

A band on the stage led the whole crowd in singing, ‘We are the world’. Archbishop Tutu got to his feet, dancing and swaying to the music. At the end he took the microphone and led everyone in singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to His Holiness as a large cake ablaze with candles was placed before them. He called for children to come and help His Holiness blow the candles out. The cake was cut and as it was distributed among children and guests, His Holiness, the Archbishop and Team Joy returned to McLeod Ganj.

This article originally appeared on the Dalai Lama’s web site: http://www.dalailama.com/news/post/1268-his-holiness-the-dalai-lama–archbishop-tutu-at-tcv

Photos courtesy of Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL