Can people of different faiths co-exist?
Author, peace-keeper, refugee worker, human rights activist and now political candidate for the Indian Parliament, Shashi Tharoor straddles several worlds of experience.
Chairman of Dubai-based Afras Ventures and former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dr. Shashi Tharoor was the official candidate of India for the succession to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2006, and came a close second out of seven contenders in the race. His career began in 1978, when he joined the staff of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva, and included key responsibilities in peace-keeping after the Cold War and as a senior adviser to the Secretary-General, as well as the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information.
Dr. Tharoor is also the award-winning author of nine books, as well as hundreds of articles, op-eds and book reviews in a wide range of publications, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the International Herald Tribune, Time, Newsweek and The Times of India. He has served for two years as a Contributing Editor and occasional columnist for Newsweek International. Since April 2001 he has authored a fortnightly column in The Hindu and since January 2007 in The Times of India.
Born in London in 1956, Dr. Tharoor was educated in India and the United States, completing a Ph. D. in 1978 at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where he received the Robert B. Stewart Prize for Best Student. At Fletcher, Shashi Tharoor helped found and was the first Editor of the Fletcher Forum of International Affairs, a journal now in its 31st year. A compelling and effective speaker, he is fluent in English and French.
In January 1998, Dr. Tharoor was named a "Global Leader of Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He is the recipient of several awards, including a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and was named to India’s highest honour for Overseas Indians, the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, in 2004. He serves on the Board of Overseers of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, the board of trustees of the Aspen Institute India, and the Advisory Boards of the World Policy Journal, the Virtue Foundation and the human rights organization Breakthrough. He is also a Fellow of the New York Institute of the Humanities.
Question: Can people of different faiths co-exist?
Shashi Tharoor: Well Hindu notion is, of course, if you accept that the other guy’s faith is as valid as yours – the other guy’s way of reaching out to God is as valid as yours – then you have no choice but to co-exist because you have no basis to decide that your way of life is superior or your faith is superior. A lot of the tragedy in terms of Hindu-Muslim violence in India today comes from Hindus not being sufficiently Hindu – from using Hinduism as a badge of cultural identity rather than acting from the tenets of this supremely tolerant faith. I think tolerance exists when people learn to see others in the way they see themselves. When you see that this strange person has a strange way of worshipping, or living, or dressing, or praying, or speaking, or eating has a set of beliefs that as true to him as my set of beliefs are to me. And once you learn to acknowledge that – as I said, I think Hinduism does equip you to do that if you follow the tenets of the faith – then co-existence is not only relatively simple; it’s the only way of being. Because attacking somebody else because of his or her convictions and faith would be a betrayal of what you yourself stand for and believe in in your own life. So I believe very strongly in co-existence. In fact I prefer the word “co-existence” – which I’ve used a lot today – to “tolerance”, because tolerance almost implies a position of superiority. You tolerate somebody else because you feel you’re in a position to tolerate or not tolerate him. Whereas co-existence doesn’t have that implication of superiority. It simply says you are, he is, she is, we are connected. We work together in the same space, the same world, breathe the same air, hopefully dream the same dreams.
Recorded on: 9/18/07
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