Monday, July 27, 2009

Katherine Marshall's article, entitled "Human-land Security, Faith in Action", was published in Georgetown/On Faith, a section of on 27 July.

Read the article online here >>

The Swiss village of Caux has become a watchword for reconciliation across the fiercest kinds of bitterness and hatred. It was at Caux that French and German leaders warily came together after World War II and emerged with a sense that human beings, not monsters, were their neighbors. Today, Pakistanis and Indians, Israelis and Palestinians, Sudanese and warring groups from many parts of Africa and Asia come to the Mountain House in Caux, perched high above Lake Geneva, searching for a similar understanding.

Now the leaders of Initiatives of Change, successor organization to a movement born in the 1930s in Oxford, England, that came to be known as Moral Rearmament, are hoping for something bigger -- a global coalition that will work for human security. Caux is their headquarters and I was part of a Human Security Forum aimed at translating that idea into action.

Prince Hasan bin Talal, for many years Crown Prince of Jordan, today roams the world speaking out in an inimitable style on hard truths (who else would refer to the "Futile Crescent" in the Middle East and assert that our failure to respond to climate change shows we are all "lobotomized"?). He was in high form as the Forum's keynote speaker, calling on the gathering to build a movement founded on a global ethic that draws the best from all faith traditions.

Human security means different things to different people, but at its heart is an effort to breach some of the disciplinary walls that keep the "security" people separate from those concerned about other issues. As Cornelio Somaruga, former president of Initiatives of Change, said the dual goals of freedom from want and freedom from fear are the essence of human security. They are intricately linked: poverty, conflict and terrorism feed one another. Add to that what Rajmohan Gandhi called the peril to our "overcrowded, abused, and kicked-around planet" and you have four imperatives: fighting poverty, reconciliation and conflict prevention, addressing climate change, and just governance.

Depending on where you sit, the threats to human security look rather different. Several Africans argued that hunger takes precedence over climate change, and peace seemed to many far more urgent than democracy. Two stars of the event were Ruthie Gopin and Felix Finkbeiner, all of 13 and 12 years old respectively. For them, climate change is the central challenge because of its potentially devastating impact for their generation. Their messages were crystal clear: the facts about urgent dangers ahead can't be denied, and individuals have both the power and obligation to act. Ruthie has started an organization (Carbon Free Kids), focused on personal responsibility for reducing carbon footprints. Felix, inspired by Wangari Matthai, has launched Trees for Climate Justice and urges all citizens, young and old, powerful and less so, to "stop talking and start acting".

Caux is a community that prides itself on its history, its ethic, and its spirit of personal and collective responsibility. It would be a stretch to suggest the Human Security Forum launched a global movement but there's no doubt that the different threads that it weaves together and its willingness to look facts in the face took us a few steps along that road.

Katherine Marshall is a senior fellow at Georgetown's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, a Visiting Professor, and a senior advisor for the World Bank.

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