'Never give up on humanity and on the progress that is possible when we treat one another with dignity and respect.'
On July 2, 2016, a great light of the world died. He was hailed as a "messenger of mankind" and was a witness of justice. Elie Wiesel was a Holocaust Survivor whose life and words I studied in college and law school. He didn't just speak out against anti-Semitism, but all forms of hatred, intolerance, racism, bigotry and discrimination. He became one of my heroes because his beliefs were the same as mine: that as humans we were one. He lived his life asking us to see ourselves in each other and to have empathy and compassion for our fellow man.
Around the same time I discovered Elie Wiesel, another light came into my life, an Indian female writer who affected me deeply. Arundhati Roy had been famous for writing a book called The God of Small Things, but it was her books Power Politics in 2001 and War Talk in 2003 that moved me more. Her voice on the crises in India was a voice to be reckoned with. Her honest discourse and alarming revelations of the human rights and government atrocities, happening in the country I was born in, were eye opening, mind-altering and life changing.
India is a country I am proud to call the land of my birth and home of my parents and ancestors. In recent decades, however, more unnecessary brutality and violence have occurred in my homeland than I thought could be possible. Right now, in Bangladesh police are arresting journalists and "opposition" supporters and deliberately shooting them in the knees and legs to maim them. Victims describe police shooting them in custody and then falsely claiming that they were shot in self-defense or during violent protests.
These writers and speakers, along with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, are my personal heroes. These messengers of mankind and witnesses of justice have refused to remain silent in the face of injustice and inequality. They passionately advocate for the rights and lives of all, especially for those who are suffering. In their vein, I follow.
Elie Wiesel was someone "who changed the world more as a citizen of the world than those who hold office or traditional positions of power. His life, and the power of his example, urged us to be better. In the face of evil, hate and cruelty, to summon our capacity for good, to love and to live with empathy and compassion." U.S. Pres. Obama, Statement from the White House.
"We must never be bystanders to injustice or indifferent to suffering. Just imagine the peace and justice that would be possible in our world if we all lived a little more like Elie Wiesel." ~ U.S. Pres. Obama, July 2, 2016.
After his experience in the Holocaust, Elie told Pres. Obama "we had the right to give up on humanity, but we rejected that possibility. We said, no, we must continue believing in a future." Elie Wiesel, as Pres. Obama said, "never gave up on humanity and on the progress that is possible when we treat one another with dignity and respect."
As human beings, we are capable of great love and kindness, but buried within us is also the ability and capacity for hate and selfishness. We must never give into the hate within us or to the voices of hate we hear around us. Our capacity for good, outweighs our capacity for evil. The strength lies within us to choose.
Many live in fear of those who hate them for the color of their skin, their ethnicity, their perceived privileges, different customs, religions, societal norms and contrary ideologies. Many witness atrocities but stay silent. Silence allows evil to flourish.
The worst human atrocities have occurred when one man or one woman, one segment of society or nation, rise up against another, to enforce their own views and lifestyles on other sovereign beings. All life, all beings are equal and it is only our selfish ego that fail to recognize the intrinsic beauty and equality in all.
The "madness" that swept through Holocaust Germany, as Pres. Obama said in his 2012 remarks at the U.S. Holocaust Museum, is seen over and over again in all parts of the world today from the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. "They shock our conscience, but they are the awful extreme of a spectrum of ignorance and intolerance that we see every day; the bigotry that says another person is less than my equal, less than human. These are the seeds of hate that we cannot let take root in our heart."
Right now, we are facing a crisis unlike anything our world has seen in decades: the refugee crisis. So many are willing to turn their backs on the plights of these men and women, but that is what people who saw what was happening to the Jewish people in Nazi Germany did.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on countries on June 18, 2016 to respond to the migrant and refugee crisis with a humane and human rights-based approach, instead of border closures, barriers and bigotry. He spoke of refugees he met who had lived through a nightmare and whose nightmare was not over, but some of whom, on the Greek Island of Lesbos, had found relief from war and persecution. The Greek islanders had opened their homes, hearts and wallets to support people in need.
Mr. Ban said the refugee families shared their hopes with him: school for their children, jobs to provide for their families and the opportunity to give back to their communities; they yearned to go home but knew such was a distant dream. The UN was doing all it could to mobilize support, he said, but across the region, refugee conditions were worsening, with many becoming destitute, girls forced into early marriage, half of all refugee children out of school, many forced to beg on the streets, or become victims of exploitation, including sexual abuse.
Every month, Mr. Ban said, 450 people lose their lives in the Mediterranean. He urged the international community to do more to resolve conflicts and address the factors causing so much suffering and upheaval, and called on the countries of Europe to respond with a humane and human rights-based approach. “Detention is not the answer,” he said. “Let us work together to resettle more people, provide legal pathways and better integrate refugees. I recognize the difficulties. But the world has the wealth, the capacity and the duty to meet this challenge.”
"Developing countries host 90 per cent of the world’s refugees," Mr. Ban stated. "It is time for the world to share fully in this responsibility. That is our political and moral obligation. That is our humanitarian imperative. It is what we must do as a human family. One of the most beautiful words in the Greek lexicon is philoxenia - friendship towards strangers.”
The world would be better off if we, men, women, communities, nations and our leaders listened to the wisdom and examples set by Elie Wiesel, Arundhati Roy and Ban Ki-moon.
I am a Christian and I was taught when I was little, "Do Unto Others as You Would Have Done Unto You." How can we call ourselves Christian and not reach out our hand to help those who suffer? Who will reach out to help us when we are suffering? Is it only different when we are the ones suffering? The Refugee and Migrant crises are not going away, nor hate, bigotry, racism, religious intolerance and persecution unless we speak up and act for change. The world and we as a people do indeed have the capacity and the duty to meet this challenge. It is indeed our moral obligation, our humanitarian imperative and what we must do as a human family.
I have made it part of my life's work, through my pro bono and volunteer works as lawyer, a writer and entertainer, to not just remember the atrocities, to not just watch as tortures, murders and hateful acts happen before my eyes, but to speak and bare honest witness and act for change. We must not just remember the atrocities, we must not just watch as they happen before our eyes: we must speak and bare honest witness and act for change.
- Nishi Rajan | Leading Light Foundation
"For the dead and the living, we must bear witness." - Elie Wiesel, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
“Remembrance without resolve is a hollow gesture. Awareness without action changes nothing.” - U.S. Pres. Obama, April 2012.
The Book of Joel: "Has the like of this happened in your days or in the days of your fathers? Tell your children about it, and let your children tell theirs, and their children the next generation." That’s why we’re here. Not simply to remember, but to speak."
"We must tell our children about a crime unique in human history. The one and only Holocaust, six million innocent people, men, women, children, babies, sent to their deaths just for being different, just for being Jewish. About the millions of Poles and Catholics and Roma and gay people and so many others who also must never be forgotten. Let us tell our children not only how they died, but also how they lived, as fathers and mothers, and sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters who loved and hoped and dreamed, just like us. We must tell our children about how this evil was allowed to happen -- because so many people succumbed to their darkest instincts, and because so many others stood silent." U.S. Pres. Obama, April 2012, Statement at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
Leading Light Foundation is a legal non-profit devoted to global affairs and international human rights efforts. It was founded in 2008 by New York attorney Nishi Rajan. It is staffed by pro bono attorneys, writers and volunteer contributors.