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Gandhian way to mark 9/11 in Washington, DC

By Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
September 11, 2006 12:05 IST
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A group of Gandhians will hold a rally at the Lincoln Memorial grounds in Washington, DC to commemorate two ideologically opposed events: the fifth anniversary of 9/11, and the 100th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi's first-ever use of satyagraha.

The Memphis, Tennessee-based MK Gandhi Institute, which is organising the rally, will also participate in an inter-faith 'Unity Walk' on Embassy Row to mark the terror attacks.

Arun Gandhi, the Institute's founder and the Mahatma's grandson, said the rally to commemorate the September 11, 1906 non-cooperation movement was envisaged to be "a day of prayer, peace, and reconciliation against terrorism and other forms of violence worldwide."

"While for all American people, September 11, 2001, is a black day of mourning and hopelessness, it can be transformed into a day of hope and harmony," Arun Gandhi said of the reason why it was important to commemorate Gandhiji's launching of satyagraha, 100 years ago that day, as an alternate weapon to fight oppression.

The rally will be preceded by a day-long conference themed 'Nonviolence in the Age of Terrorism: In Gandhi's Footsteps', to be sponsored by the Institute and held at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.

The conference is designed to bring together policymakers, mediators, activists, educators, game developers and others to explore how diverse peace actors can work together to increase their impact, Arun Gandhi said.

He will open the conference with a speech titled 'What Would Gandhi Do Today?' Other topics include 'Nonviolence in the Age of Terrorism,' 'Imagining the World of Nonviolence,' 'Engaging and Building the Next Generation of Peacemakers,' 'How Do We Make Peace?' and 'How can the strands of the peace movement be better coordinated?'

The event will draw a galaxy of speakers, including Dr Scott Atran, visiting professor, Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan; Dr Paula Banerjee, Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Kolkata; Asaf Burak, artist and co-producer, PeaceMaker video game; Peter Burleigh, former ambassador and Deputy Representative of the United States to the United Nations; Dr Adhip Chaudhuri, professor of economics, Georgetown University; Jack Duvall, president, International Center on Nonviolent Conflict; Dr Hillel Levine, professor of sociology and religion, Boston University and president, International Institute for Mediation and Historical Conciliation; Carolyn McAskie, United Nations Assistant Secretary General for Peacebuilding; Ambassador Harry K Thomas, Jr, Executive Secretary, US Department of State; and Dr Wallace Warfield, associate professor of Conflict Analysis, Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University.

The conference will also launch the Institute's call for a programme on nonviolence in middle and high schools across the US, as part of their standardised curriculum.

Arun Gandhi will also be among several national leaders drawn from a number of faiths who will participate in the 'shoulder-to-shoulder' Unity Walk, down Massachusetts Avenue Northwest, also known as Embassy Row, to mark the fifth anniversary of 9/11.

Marchers will include community and religious leaders from the Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jain, Jewish, Baha'i, Buddhist, Mormon, Sikh and Zoroastrian faiths.

Christians, Evangelicals, and Jews will speak and Jewish cantors will sing at Washington's largest mosque, while Muslims will speak at DC's largest synagogue. Famed Muslim singer Salman Ahmad will perform at the Washington Hebrew Congregation.

The event, which also features Sister Sledge singing the anthemic We are Family at the Washington National Cathedral, will end at the Gandhi Memorial Statue, opposite the Indian embassy.

Marching alongside Arun Gandhi will be the likes of Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Apostolic Nuncio to the US (from the Vatican); Reverend Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals; Reverend Mpho Tutu, Bishop Desmond Tutu's daughter; Akbar Ahmed, leading Islamic scholar at American University; Rabbi Bruce Lustig, Senior Rabbi of the Washington Hebrew Congregation; Episcopal Bishop John Chane of the Washington National Cathdral; Catholic Archbishop Donald Wuerl, who will be making his first appearance since his appointment; Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations; and Lodi Gyari, Special Envoy of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC