Understanding others, rejecting racism and hatred | Sunday Observer

Understanding others, rejecting racism and hatred

We are all members of the great family of humankind, but each of us is unique, heir to our history but also author of our own life. Our physical appearance, our cultural practices, our religious beliefs, our geographical origins and our position in society are all characteristics – just points on an infinite spectrum – that differentiate us from one another. (Us and Them – From Prejudice to Racism)

What defines us and them? What makes ‘us’ any different from ‘them’? The question may be what defines ones identity. The premise of race, nationality, religion, language, caste, gender, political opinion, place of birth while defining identity had often been the very basis of division among human beings. So much so that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on its 28th session of the General Conference, from 25th October to 16th November in Paris noted that the nations were alarmed by “violence, terrorism, xenophobia, aggressive nationalism, racism, anti-Semitism, exclusion, marginalization and discrimination directed against national, ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, refugees, migrant workers, immigrants and vulnerable groups within societies, as well as acts of violence and intimidation committed against individuals exercising their freedom of opinion and expression - all of which threaten the consolidation of peace and democracy, both nationally and internationally, and are obstacles to development.” In a bid to curtail this trend amongst the nations the UNESCO session declared 16th of November as the International Day for Tolerance.

Since 1995, the year of declaration, the world commemorates the International Day for Tolerance on 16th of November, each year.

“Tolerance is an act of humanity, which we must nurture and enact each in own lives every day, to rejoice in the diversity that makes us strong and the values that bring us together,” noted Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO in her message for the International Day of Tolerance 2017. Tolerance is neither passivity nor apathy; instead the active involvement in taking up the responsibility of upholding the human rights, pluralism, democracy and the rule of law. In the 21st century society; the world is at ones doorstep, and pluralism the basis of every facet of life. We encourage our youth to achieve the four core skills – the four ‘Cs – critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. However, one supersedes them all. If regarded a skill; ‘tolerance’ could be the most essential for one to achieve success. Living in a multi cultural, multi religious, multi ethnic and multi lingual society for Sri Lankans it is imperative that we practice tolerance. As a nation we have borne the brunt of intolerance through a three decade long civil war. A decade thereafter, the country still suffer the consequences. As the country progresses from post war effects towards peace, democracy and development, tolerance is a ‘must have’ ingredient in the soup of Sri Lankan society.

However, the present global society is one that instigates intolerance. “We see today the rise of exclusive politics and discourses of division. We see diversity being rejected as a source of weakness. We see myths of ‘pure’ cultures of lore being gloried, fuelled by ignorance and sometimes hatred. We see others being scapegoated and repressed. We see barbaric terrorist attacks designed to weaken the fabric of ‘living together,” states the UNESCO Head. She appeals individuals, communities, civil organizations and the governments for action to mitigate intolerance. “Tolerance is a struggle for peace. This calls for new policies that respect diversity and pluralism on the basis of human rights. Most of all, this calls on each of us, women and men across the world, to act for tolerance in our own lives, in seeking to understand others, in rejecting all racism and hatred, including anti-Semitism.”