Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Unity in diversity

His Holiness Pope Francis is currently visiting Myanmar, and is urging that every ethnic and religious group be treated with respect. His visit is being watched closely by the international news media because of the situation of the Rohingya minority. It is now estimated that over half a million of the Rohingya people have escaped over the border from Myanmar into Bangladesh. These people have found themselves on the wrong side of a cultural, ethnic, religious and political fault line. Although the language they speak is not Bengali, they share many cultural and religious affinities with the majority population of Bangladesh. Both groups are Muslim and are Indo-Aryan peoples.

Myanmar (or Burma if you prefer) has a large Buddhist majority.  Most of its peoples speak Sino-Tibetan languages and do not resemble the Rohingyas in appearance. The Arakan coast of Burma, the area now renamed Rakhine State, was ruled by Muslim leaders for centuries, which is the reason why over a million Muslims still live on the Burmese side of the modern border. The “solution” to this “problem” identified by the Burmese authorities was to pronounce these people illegal immigrants, declaring that they are in fact Bangladeshis, and that therefore they have no rights whatsoever. They have been banned from the public schools, which means that many of them are not even be able to speak the national language. They are banned from jobs such as the civil service. Over the decades, many have left, not to another homeland somewhere, but scattered throughout other countries across the world. And during this summer (not for the first time), some decided to fight back, and attacked military personnel.

Vengeance was swift. Both soldiers and local mobs have burned down the Rohingya villages and randomly killed people. Landmines, now prohibited by international law, were laid at the border, to kill or maim yet more people as they try to flee.

But there is a solution. It is unity. In fact, it is unity in diversity. Mankind is varied in skin colour, in height, in hair characteristics and eye colour, and there are thousands of different ethnic groups in the world. Each group should be valuing the others, and nurturing them, as every people contributes to the overall whole. It states in the Bahá’í Writings: "O people of the world, ye are all the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one branch.” Bahá’u’lláh said that the governments of the world should choose one language, to be taught in all the schools of the world: “The day is approaching when all the peoples of the world will have adopted one universal language and one common script. When this is achieved, to whatsoever city a man may journey, it shall be as if he were entering his own home.”

Another part of the solution is to recognise that all the major religions of the world are from the same source. Both Islám and Buddhism lay out codes of behaviour by which people should treat one another. Both these religions teach upright and civilised conduct towards other human beings, and teach forbearance. We should be looking past the differences in clothing and observances, and concentrating on this oneness of purpose in religion. Bahá’u’lláh, talking about the Divine Messengers of the past, such as the prophet Muhammad and Gautama, the Buddha, said: “If thou wilt observe with discriminating eyes, thou wilt behold Them all abiding in the same tabernacle, soaring in the same heaven, seated upon the same throne, uttering the same speech, and proclaiming the same Faith.”

All over the world there are groups of people living on the “wrong side” of a boundary line. We need to think beyond a world of borders, and think of the world as becoming one. In the words of Bahá’u’lláh, “The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.” If we had a world in which every people saw every other people as part of the human family, we would have unity, in diversity. I am sure that Pope Francis would readily and enthusiastically welcome this.


I wrote about the Rohingyas in an earlier blog, making some different points, and pointing out that every single people on the planet is a minority on the world scene: