In May, EASTCONN welcomed two world-class activists who shared warnings and inspiring personal stories, as they called for new ways to resolve religious, political and cultural conflicts.
The forum, “Peace, Diversity and Human Dignity,” was presented by EASTCONN’s Student Services division, and drew nearly 100 participants. They heard presentations by Arun Gandhi, founder of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Non-Violence and grandson of the legendary Mohandas K. “Mahatma” Gandhi, and by Aida Mansoor, a well-known Community Chaplain and former president of the Muslim Coalition of Connecticut.
As advocates for non-violence and respect for all cultures, races and religions, Mansoor’s and Gandhi’s personal insights captivated the audience, which included 30 high school students.
“Poverty, anger and ignorance are among the greatest threats to world peace,” Gandhi said. “I don’t think any country can live in peace if the rest of the world is living in poverty. The stability and security of any nation depends on the security and stability of all nations … otherwise, a destructive cycle of resentment and anger among the poor threatens the entire world.”
After himself experiencing prejudice and hatred under South African apartheid, Gandhi said his grandfather taught him about the importance of seeking non-violent alternatives.
“To build a culture of non-violence, we must first understand violence, and then work to find solutions.” His grandfather taught him to practice mindfulness, which helped him transform his outlook and find peace.
“Because we live in a culture of violence, we tend to respond to every situation with violence,” he said. “But when you have control over your mind, you can use your energy constructively and then share non-violence across the globe, among all races and religions.”
Aida Mansoor’s presentation explored the facts about Islam and the Muslim religion, as she clarified misperceptions and identified false narratives that incite hatred and fear, but that are rampant across mainstream Western media and the intranet.
“Why must we choose a group we love to hate?” she asked. “There is so much misinformation out there. It’s important to educate ourselves about the Muslim faith and Islam and to dispel the myths and misinformation.”
Distressingly, acts of terrorism that are attributed to Muslim extremists are often reported as though the extremists are devout, practicing Muslims, she said.
“In fact, the main pillars of the Muslim faith direct us to love God and love our neighbor,” Mansoor said. “Not everything a Muslim does is based on religion, and not every Muslim is religious. Violence is about issues of control, not issues of religion.”
Mansoor’s presentation was by turns serious and humorous, as she underscored the challenges facing practicing Muslims in America today.
“We all need to know the facts. We need to break down walls. We need to learn how to bring communities together. We desperately need to know. We should rejoice in our diversity.”