From Tyrant's Might to Human Rights: Alakananda Ma's 2019 New Year's Letter

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Screen Shot 2018-12-29 at 8.05.30 PM.png

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law...

from the Preamble of Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Greetings dear ones,

This past year, 2018, saw the seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Born of the horrors of two world wars and the Holocaust, the Declaration embodies humanity's determination to start anew, to say 'Never Again' to the horrors of the first half of the Twentieth Century. Its thirty terse Articles encapsulate thousands of years of aspiration for a better world, one of peace, justice and liberty. Within it we glimpse the vision of the Hebrew prophets for a world where justice shall 'run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream,' a world of peace where the lion shall lie down with the lamb. In it we see the aspirations of the Edicts of Ashoka, proclamations of peace, freedom of religion, universal healthcare and an independent and impartial judiciary, set up on stone pillars across India's Mauryan Empire. We see the social vision of Jesus, who lived a life of solidarity with the poor and oppressed, and of Muhammed, who advocated for the right to education, religious freedom and racial equality. "A white person has no superiority over a black person, nor does a black person over a white one, except by piety and good action." The Declaration crystalizes the secular motto of the French Enlightenment, "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité" and draws inspiration from the Constitution of the United States. It accords with indigenous wisdom as well, such as the Great Law of Peace of the Iroquois Confederacy.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was born of the horrors of war. So, to was one of its earliest predecessors, the pillars of Ashoka. The ancient world in which Ashoka lived was one where might was right and tyrants held sway. Siege and starvation were standard tactics of warfare, slavery was normalized, and civilians had no protection. Ashoka himself exemplified this cruelty when his army killed a hundred thousand Kalingan warriors in a war of conquest and drove a hundred and fifty thousand innocent civilians from their homes. His horror and revulsion at what he had done, and his embrace of the nascent Buddha Dharma, drove him to envision a world of justice and peace.

Two thousand years ago, according to the Gospel of Luke, angels announced the dawn of this new world of peace and goodwill. But as the carol by Edmund Sears says,

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring

The promulgation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights sought to bring an end to the "disregard and contempt for human rights (that) have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind." Yet in the past seventy years, barbarous acts have continued, and the nations of the world have remained truer to financial markets and the arms trade than to the ancient human aspiration for peace and justice. Dictators, today's equivalent of the ancient tyrants, have been operating from the same playbook, gunning down, imprisoning, torturing and killing peaceful protestors, bloggers and journalists and forcibly displacing entire regions. Impunity for one tyrant emboldens the rest.

2018 was the year when Sadananda and I decided to take matters into our own hands. The situation in Syria, now in its seventh year, was wringing our hearts every day, as the worst manmade cataclysm of our lifetimes. If 'never again' does not really mean never again, then my relatives died in vain in Auschwitz. If governments could not protect human rights, we, as members of the common people of the world, would have to do so on our own. This mood of mingled desperation and determination led us to start Boulder's Interfaith Initiative for Human Rights in Syria, which takes a contemplative approach to human rights, focused on Syria, but including related causes such as Palestinian rights, the treatment of immigrants at the US Mexico Border and the suffering of children in Yemen. During the course of the year, we have walked in silent solidarity with the Disappeared of Syria in both Boulder and Denver, offered a public showing of Syria, the Impossible Revolution by Anne Daly and Ronan Tyan at Boulder Shambhala Centre, marched with Jews, Muslims and Christians in the Unity March and worked with Jewish Voice for Peace and CAIR (Campaign for American Islamic Relations). Working in conjunction with Amnesty International, we collected signatures for a petition to the UN demanding accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria. We have forged new friendships around the world, both with people inside Syria and in refugee camps and with friends in both in the US and in Ireland, the UK, Italy and Spain who care passionately about human rights in Syria. Many of these doors were opened for us by our new friend, Dr. Nader Hashemi, Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at DU, who was kind enough to come and give a talk at Alandi Ashram.

Dr. Hashemi poignantly told us that if we had a similar meeting about human rights inside Syria, we would all be arrested and many of us would be tortured. Dear friends, tyranny breeds tyranny. If peaceful protestors can be gunned down in Syria, Nicaragua and Sudan, it is only a matter of time before we too lose our freedom of assembly. If Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, can be murdered and dismembered in his own consulate, and Raif Badawi can be flogged and imprisoned for blogging, it is only a matter of time until freedom of speech is dead for all of us.

Seventy years on from the promulgation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this is not the time to sit back complacently trusting that Liberal Democracy will survive without our efforts.

2018 was a year of hope on many fronts. It was the year women stood up and said #MeToo and schoolchildren rose up against gun violence. Let 2019 be the year all of us stand up to protect the greatest achievement of thousands of years of aspiration for peace and justice, the basis of today's international humanitarian law, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. "The advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people," and it is up to us, the people of the world, particularly those of us fortunate enough still to enjoy free speech and free assembly, to work every day to make this aspiration a reality.

I wish you a year of happiness and joy, and may peace and justice prevail throughout our world.



How you can help the work of Interfaith Initiative for Human Rights in Syria:

  • Host a showing of Syria, the Impossible Revolution at your place of worship or organization (reach out to us to organize this).
  • Become informed: Watch Syria, the Impossible Revolution yourself on Vimeo.
  • Invite your pastor, priest or rabbi to meet with Sadananda to discuss our interfaith work for human rights
  • Join us in our contemplative vigils and social media campaigns

303 786 7437

A Rant by Ma

In Syria children are bombed, killed, maimed, gassed, displaced.

In Gaza children are shot at Friday protests

In America children are snatched from parents at the border

Sent away with strangers

Shot for playing while black.

In our world children slave in brick kilns

For the debts of their parents and grandparents

Or work in illegal gold mines

Where tunnels collapse on them.

Children are made into soldiers and forced to kill and maim

Children are sold into sexual slavery

Children live in flimsy tents with no protection from the elements

No door to lock for safety.

Children work for a pittance to help feed their families

Children beg on streets

Children live on streets

Children come to school hungry

Or don't go to school at all.

Children are forced into marriage

Children are thrown off boats by people smugglers

Children live in subhuman conditions

Struggling to cross the border for a better life

A chance at safety.

This isn't even a poem

It's a rant.

Children are our future, our hope our joy, our tomorrow.

Children need rights.

No TrackBacks

TrackBack URL:

Leave a comment


Powered by Movable Type 6.1.2

Follow alakanandama on Twitter

Twitter Updates

    Natural Health Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory

    About this Entry

    This page contains a single entry by Alakananda Ma published on December 29, 2018 7:34 PM.

    Oil, a declamatory poem was the previous entry in this blog.

    Twelfth Night and the Three Wise Poets is the next entry in this blog.

    Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.