Mr. Doudou Diène is the Special United Nations Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. He works together with the Commission on Human Rights. During his stay in Auroville he gave a lecture on dialogue and conflicts between civilizations. Auroville Today spoke to him about his work, his interests and his perceptions of Auroville.
AV Today: In your lecture you said that intolerance and racism are on the increase everywhere in the world.
Doudou Diène: Sadly so. There has been an alarming resurgence of conventional racism and insidious new forms of discrimination and racism. I recently submitted a report to the Commission on Human Rights on contemporary forms of racism and xenophobia directed against Muslim and Arab peoples in various parts of the world.
We found that there have been increased attacks and assaults on these people, their property and their places of worship in several parts of the world, particularly in the United States of America and in Europe . Also, the legislation adopted in several countries to strengthen national security and combat terrorism has had a negative impact on Muslims and Arabs. In several non-Muslim countries, political and media figures publicly defame Islam and equate Islam with violence, terrorism and cultural and social backwardness. A culture of violence, discrimination and fear of the other is being nourished in the popular imagination by the press, books, television and film; and there is the re-emergence of the concept of the foreigner as an alien.
This all is a direct, proven and recognized consequence of the events of 11 September. But it can also be seen as a sign of the beginnings of a conflict between civilizations. We have issued a number of recommendations to the Commission on Human Rights to stem the tide.
Can you highlight some of these recommendations?
We advised the Commission to take preventive measures to guarantee that Muslims and Arabs can freely exercise their religion and culture, and that their cultural sites and places of worship are protected. We also recommend that their fundamental rights are protected, such as the rights to equality before the law, personal integrity and a fair trial. Equally important, we advised the Commission to pursue a strategy to root out the culture and ideology of discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance. The dialogue between cultures, civilizations and religions should be promoted and centre on three main objectives: to enhance mutual awareness of cultures, civilizations and religions; to encourage cultural, religious and ethnic pluralism; and to create conditions that will lead the followers of religions and spiritual traditions to reflect on their shared values. Another recommendation was that states should pay special attention to the way in which history is written and taught.
Why this stress on the teaching of history?
When we talk of a dialogue of civilizations, we usually approach this ideologically or politically. But it is also very important to go back to history to understand the interactions and contacts between people through the ages. For example, there are many ancient connections between the Dravidian people of South India and people of Africa, Dravidians appear to have migrated thousands of years ago from the south of Africa to India . It is also known that there have been African kingdoms long before the Han dynasty in certain parts of China and Russia . So when you are speaking about human unity, you can look at the political and spiritual dimensions, but you should not forget the historic dimensions. The last frontier that is being researched now is tracing the genetic origins of mankind. This shows, for example, that 27% of the Chinese are genetically African.
The spiritual dimension of human unity is close to the heart of Auroville.
(Smiling) Sri Aurobindo is one of my teachers. When I started to become more sensitive to spirituality and higher values, Sri Aurobindo was one of those whom I read and who very profoundly influenced me. I have read many books of Sri Aurobindo, and in my talk I quoted one sentence of Sri Aurobindo which I read over 20 years ago, and which still guides me: “I see my soul travelling through time.”
What were your perceptions of your first visit to Auroville?
I read about Auroville after having read Sri Aurobindo many years ago. But whatever I read had not prepared me for this experience! Here there is a vibration, a vitality both in the commitment and the engagement of the residents, but more importantly also in the interactions between the human beings living here and nature. Your attempt to translate spirituality into practice cannot be grasped if you don't come here and see it. Auroville for me is not something you can read about. Auroville is an experience.
This being said, I hope that we, the members of the International Advisory Council, will be able to help Auroville in two directions so that the Auroville experience will not be an isolated light. Firstly, we will help to make the ideals of Auroville better known to the outside world. This we will do both individually and collectively. Secondly, we are going to promote more cultural and spiritual pluralism in Auroville, because we think that important parts of the world are not represented here: for example, almost all countries in Africa and the Middle East, many countries in Latin America, and the Far East. For the Auroville experience to be meaningful, Auroville has to reflect the diversity of the world. Lastly, we want to promote the interaction between the different organs of the Auroville Foundation: the Governing Board, the International Advisory Council, and the Residents Assembly. These bodies have to be put in a dynamic interaction, so that all of them within their own mandate can help Auroville.
Auroville is also fragile in the sense that the interaction between the Auroville residents and the local people has to be stronger on all levels. Auroville should be aware and sensitive to the risks of a social divide between the wealthy and the poor which may weaken the ideals of Auroville and the unity which is being practiced. The example of Auroville will also depend on the way Auroville connects to the outside world, is informed and sensitive to what is going on there and relates to it.
Will you be coming to Auroville more often than once a year?
To assume our mandate, one meeting a year is not enough. The half day meeting this time was ridiculous! I proposed to my friend Aster that the IAC have at least two meetings a year that would last at least two days. Also our meeting should be coinciding with the meeting of the Governing Board, so that we will be informed of what they want to do. We also want to meet with the Residents' Assembly.
I may add on a personal level, if God allows me with my life and my health, and if my impossible job gives me time also, I would like to come here not as a member of the council but as someone who really would like to grow. I have been very impressed by the general atmosphere. Since I discovered Matrimandir, I have been going there every day to meditate.