News from Sydney, the Solomons, London and the World of Farming
01 December 2004

‘A few extremists are highjacking the agenda but the majority (whether Muslim, Christian, or Jewish) are desperate to talk to each other. The trouble is, they haven’t had the venues to allow them to do so. We are trying to change that.’

FIFTEEN hundred people have taken part in a series of three community dialogues between Muslims and Christians in Sydney, Australia, over the last year. The dialogues, in Greystanes, Cromer and Castle Hills, were organized by Initiatives of Change in partnership with the Catholic Bishop of Parramatta, Kevin Manning, Keysar Trad, a director of the Lebanese Muslim Association, and Wendie Wilkie, Associate Secretary of the Uniting Church General Assembly.

The gathering in Cromer, in May, was hosted by the local Catholic and Muslim communities, and chaired by the Mayor of Manly, Peter Macdonald, who welcomed the occasion to ‘build bridges not walls’.

One of the initiators, Abdalla Eissa, told the Manly Daily, ‘A few extremists are highjacking the agenda but the majority (whether Muslim, Christian, or Jewish) are desperate to talk to each other. The trouble is, they haven’t had the venues to allow them to do so. We are trying to change that.’

Bishop Manning spoke of the way Christian-Muslim dialogue in the English-speaking world had been galvanized by the events of 11 September 2001. ‘The fact that we are gathered here at all may be the product of terrorism, but it is also a defeat for terrorism. Instead of closing minds and closing doors, your presence here today moves our communities towards opening minds, doors and indeed hearts.’

In September Barbara Perry, MP for Auburn, commended the ‘work and vision’ represented by the dialogues to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. A fourth dialogue, in the inner south-west suburbs, is scheduled for the new year.
David Mills and Peter Thwaites


FOLLOWING A ‘Winds of Change’ conference in the Solomon Islands last June (see FAC Aug/Sept 2004) members of the Royal Solomon Islands Police held a workshop in September. Opening it, Assistant Police Commissioner Johnson Siapu called for ‘a great revolution of character’ to overcome division in the world.

Among the participants, from different communities, were people who had suffered in the Islands’ recent conflict. Workshop themes included family values, trust, forgiveness and corruption, with such speakers as the Governor of the Central Bank, Rick Hou, who had turned down massive bribes, and Joseph Wong, a plantation manager who had paid back the equivalent of US$500,000 in unpaid taxes.

Gradually an atmosphere of honesty and trust developed. One who had been badly beaten during a coup in 2000 on the island of Malaita and rescued by the Red Cross spoke openly about his trauma for the first time. He ended by saying that he was ready to forgive. The next day three officers who had been involved in the coup apologized for their role, adding that they owed the whole police force an apology. In a ceremony of reconciliation the different ethnic groups embraced each other with many tears.

The participants have decided to meet every two weeks.
Mike Lowe


José-Carlos León Vargas (right) welcomes a visitor to the Initiatives of Change/For A Change stall at the 2004 European Social Forum at Alexandra Palace in London recently. Some 20,000 people visited the three-day forum in which over 200 organizations took part.


IN 2002, Hindu-Muslim riots in Gujarat saw around 2,000 Muslims killed. The spark was the burning of a train carriage in which, it was reported, 50 Hindus perished. Since then it has begun to emerge that the ruling pro-Hindu party in Gujarat may have orchestrated the pogrom for electoral gains. The Supreme Court of India has recently ordered the reopening of cases against the perpetrators that were ‘closed’ by the Gujarat State government.
Last March a group from the Action for Life, a programme of Initiatives of Change, went to Vallabh Vidyanagar, an exclusively educational township with 34 colleges started during Gandhi’s Independence Movement. The township lies at the heart of Gujarat’s Kheda district, from which the state government draws much of its support.

Two of the visiting group were Muslims from Kashmir. Their presence inspired CL Patel, the head of Charotar Vidya Mandal (CVM), which runs the 34 colleges, to offer ten full scholarships at any of their university colleges. By August, seven Kashmiri Muslims had already enrolled.
Suresh Khatri

A GROUP of senior business executives has come out strongly in favour of abolishing agricultural subsidies in rich nations. The Caux Round Table (CRT) group welcomes the recent decision ‘to seek an end to national subsidization of agricultural production’, made at the Doha Round of negotiations on trade liberalization. The CRT says this decision lives up to the fifth of its Principles for Business, which calls for trade liberalization ‘and to relax those domestic measures that unreasonably hinder global commerce’.

The world trade negotiators ‘have moved the global system of commerce closer to a noble ethical ideal of providing opportunities and benefits for all’, comments the CRT.

Domestic protection ‘eliminates market opportunities for farmers in poor countries’, says the CRT. ‘Only through agricultural production, and the export of such production to waiting consumers, can those farmers and those poor nations earn income sufficient to fund a course of sustained economic growth, reducing poverty and improving lives.’
Michael Smith