01.19.09

Writers and Human Rights

Posted in Events, HH Dalai Lama, Writers at 9:52 am by Marion

Today so much to write about, but it’s first fitting to give tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday is celebrated as a national holiday today (His real birthday is Jan. 15).

Fortune gave us this great leader and if there is a place for national pride these days, it is in the teachings and culture that created such a man. We can look back to Thomas Paine, and even before him, to understand the seeds of equality, and from Thom Paine straight to Henry David Thoreau, who refused to pay taxes that supported slavery and war against Mexico. For this he was jailed.

His essay, today known as On the Duty of Civil Disobedience, gives us a sense of solidarity with others throughout history who feel that any collusion with inhumanity is intolerable … that any time our actions support injustice, we are just as guilty as the direct perpetrators. (Albert Camus dealt with our collective guilt in his monumental, but readable, work La Chute, or The Fall.)

Mohandas Gandhi showed us a revolution by Civil Disobedience, as did Dr. King. It still jars to remember how people once were treated in this country based on their skin color; yet Dr. King’s message is even broader than our own tortuous Civil Rights odyssey.

Dr. King says that if we judge a person by skin color, what’s to prevent us from judging … constraining, censuring and imprisoning … based on other factors, as well? What’s to keep us from sequestering others based on their religion? The fact that their ideas are different from ours? What’s to keep us from sterilizing and killing them?

While Dr. King is surely a powerful individual within the context of this nation’s Civil Rights struggle, it’s critical to understand Dr. King in a larger context of the entire stretch of human history. That he stands among the prophets of all time … with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Gandhi and Nelson Mandela … and with the holy leaders of the past millennia.

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Illustration by Gustav Dore

Today it’s also important to note the birthday of the American writer Edgar Allen Poe, creator of the short story, the detective story and author of such great passion. Born in Richmond, buried in Baltimore, his 40 years gave us milestones in New World letters … Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Mask of the Red Death; and poetry Annabel Lee, Eldorado.

TOMORROW: His Holiness the Dalai Lama delivers the Madhavrao Scindia Memorial Lecture on Non-violence.

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