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Parliament of Religions Stirs up a Hornet's Nest: Limelight on World Without Borders Event in Chicago

on 2013/9/22 3:06:00 ( 1974 reads )


TEXAS, September 18, 2013 (India Herald, by Seshadri Kumar): The 150th birth anniversary celebration of Swami Vivekananda scheduled to be held in Chicago on Sept. 27 and 28 under the banner "World without borders 2013" is in limelight for the wrong reason. Chicago-based Council for World Parliament of Religions has withdrawn its support for the celebration, apparently on the urging of some Muslim and left wing groups.Swami Ramdev is among the invited speakers at this event.

The groups such as the Coalition Against Genocide have been accusing Gujarat Chief Miniter Narendra Modi and Vishwa Hindu Parishad in India of committing genocide against Muslims in the state.

The executive director of the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions, in an abrupt manner, released a statement withdrawing support to the event.

Dr. Mary Nelson, the vice chair of the Board of CPWR, and Executive Director, had issued the following statement:

"The council, 501(c)3 organization, is a 120-year-old peace building organization whose mission, like Swami Vivekananda's, is to promote peace and interreligious harmony. We honor Swami Vivekananda and that legacy he left creating interfaith cooperation to build a just, peaceful, and sustainable world. Our organization was not informed that an event we were asked to co-sponsor was also co-sponsored by organizations promoting controversial political positions.

While we do honor and promote the ideals of Swami Vivekananda, we respectfully withdraw our name from any co-hosting or co-sponsorship of the "World Without Borders" event and any connection to this event or its other co-sponsors."

This announcement is believed to have first appeared in, a website devoted to issues concerning Muslims in India.

Dr. Shamkant Sheth, president of the VHP of A, Chicago chapter, said he was shocked and surprised by the announcement as the council did not even directly communicate its decision to the event organizers first.

The Chicago chapter of VHP-A has sent a letter to Ms. Nelson:

"It is with great regret that I write to you about the withdrawal of CPWR sponsorship from the World Without Borders 2013 event. While this news came to us as a shock, it was even more disconcerting the way we first came to know of this withdrawal - through your website, and, in a maligning press release from another organization. We would have hoped that CPWR would have shown us the common courtesy of informing us before going public with this.

"While it is puzzling to us that you decided on this action, we would like to understand the reason for your withdrawal. To quote from the statement on the your website, you said: Our organization was not informed that an event we were asked to co-sponsor was also co-sponsored by organizations promoting controversial political positions. We would like to know which of our cosponsoring organizations that are 'promoting controversial political positions,' and what those 'controversial political positions' are.

"Please realize that your unilateral action has done significant and tremendous harm to our cause. Many of our co-sponsors and our own members are wondering what these organizations are, and what political positions they profess. As a US-based nonprofit, religious and cultural organization that is not interested in politics, we ourselves are curious to know the specific reasons for your actions. We hope that you take this matter seriously and reply to us as soon as possible so that we can do damage control before our upcoming event."

Meanwhile, Ms. Nelson, responded to an email inquiry from India Herald. Ms. Nelson said:

"We appreciate your interest in this matter, which is currently under board consideration. Our processes for sponsorships and affiliations are being revisited and are under review. We look forward to openly sharing this information in the near future. We have no further comments at this time."

Ms. Anju Bhargava and Dr. Anantanand Rambachan, members of the board of trustees of the council, have issued a joint statement regarding the World without Borders 2013 and CPWR.

"We, Anju Bhargava and Anant Rambachan, found out on September 14th, through media reports, that the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions (CPWR) had withdrawn its participation in a Chicago event World Without Borders, celebrating the 150th Birth Anniversary of Swami Vivekananda. We were not consulted about this decision. Once we found out, we requested an explanation for the Parliament's decision. We have also formally requested the Parliament to reverse its decision to withdraw from co-hosting/co-sponsoring the Chicago event. We are working with Parliament to get this issue resolved harmoniously."

Anju Bharagva is a member of President Obama's Inaugural Council on Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, founder of Hindu American Seva Charities, and President of Asian Indian Women in America.

Dr. Anantanand Rambachan is Chair and Professor or Religion, Philosophy and Asian Studies at Saint Olaf College, Minnesota, USA.

Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid is the Chair of the Board of Trustee of the CPWR.

India Herald had raised the following questions with Ms. Nelson:

Is it true that your decision was made without a formal consideration of the board of trustees of the Council for the World Parliament of Religions?

As stated in your email notification, what are the "controversial political positions" and which organizations are responsible for them?

Who told you or how did you come to know about this questionable association of organizations?

Do you believe organizations with different political views can agree on honoring Swami Vivekananda? If not, why not?

Do you believe your action has strengthened the inter-religious harmony, one of the stated goals of the council?

Some Hindus feel that your action supports the anti-Hindus among Muslims. Would you agree?

Hindu American Foundation has also sent a formal letter to the CPWR asking for a dialogue and reversal of the decision.

Suhag A. Shukla, executive director and legal counsel for HAF, noted in her letter to Ms. Nelson that "It is imperative that CPWR reverse the decision to withdraw as a co-sponsor in order to secure a reputation of being a fair and transparent organization not only promoting inter-religious engagement towards the ends of peace, pluralism, and mutual respect, but functioning in a manner that does the same."

"Your statement on behalf of the CPWR, that CPWR reneged on a commitment because organizers of World Without Borders 'promote controversial positions' will be seen as ironic at best, and institutional hypocrisy at worst since CPWR is seen to have capitulated in response to a letter from controversial actors belonging to a manifestly political and highly polarizing web portal," Shukla added.

The HAF letter also raised some questions:

How does CPWR define "controversial political positions? Is being vehemently opposed to gay marriage controversial? If so, does CPWR avoid attendance or sponsorship with organizations holding such views?

What about positions that are anti-Israel or anti-Palestine -- are they controversial, and as such, organizations supportive of either barred from CPWR partnership or support?

How about organizations that support separatists movements in other sovereign nations -- are they promoting controversial political positions?

If so, will CPWR engage or work with them?

"I am left with the impression that an unknown segment of CPWR took what can only be seen as a capricious, unilateral decision without respect for democratic process, and of greater concern, without any regard for the understanding of the Hindu community that Dr. Rambachan and Ms. Bhargava would have provided -- the latter omission violating every core principle of interfaith dialogue, engagement and respect," HAF's letter said.

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