- Interlude to the Present
I am currently in northern Thailand giving a series of talks on peacebuilding and human security at the Institute of Religion, Culture and Peace (IRCP) at Payap University. I experienced a wonderful example of the positive/creative language I have been blogging about when Dr. Suchart Setthamalinee, IRCP faculty, invited me to the local mosque for Friday prayers. The message, brought by a student, urged the faithful to “resist retaliation and embrace forgiveness because forgiveness is central to life.” He implored “when someone does evil to you and you retaliate, the evil they have done comes to you. But if you don’t return evil for evil then the evil stays with them.” With those simple yet profound words the Islamic community in Chiang Mai reinforces the tradition of neighborliness and unity which has characterized interfaith relations here.
Chiang Mai Thailand is a place where the major religions have a long history of natural co-existence. As I chatted with the leaders of the mosque, however, I became aware that the historical mutual respect these leaders have toward each other, is under stress from global attitudes and realities. Many times in our conversation the term ‘Islamophobia’ came up.
It strikes me that the normative impulse for humans to get along with their neighbors can be understood as a kind of passive co-existence. The globalization of division, hate and exclusivism is challenging the interfaith sphere in Chiang Mail to become active co-creators of harmonious living. Can we imagine communities where we more than tolerate each other but embrace the notion of thriving together in our diversity? The mosque in Chiang Mai can!