The optimism that greeted the end of the Cold War and the prospect of the creation of a new world order quickly dissolved, to be replaced by an overriding impression of global disorder. While initiatives continue in the quest for new and more inclusive ways of ordering global affairs, these must be backed up by a constant and unrelenting effort to maintain and enhance freedom and democracy. But this is impeded by what might be termed a "slide toward fundamentalism," which takes the forms of ethnocentrism, chauvinism, racism and a dogmatic adherence to various ideologies, including those of the market, as well as religious fundamentalism.
Restoring people and humanity to the role of central protagonist is the key to confronting and halting this slide toward fundamentalism. This requires a ceaseless spiritual effort and is the essence of the kind of humanism our times require. Buddhist humanism is inspired by the bedrock determination to respect all people--understanding that not only sectarian differences but also differences of ideology, culture and ethnicity are never absolute. These differences, like the order and organization of human society itself, are only relative and should be treated as flexible, fluid concepts to be constantly renegotiated.
What is required is that people--and not abstract principles--be accorded centrality. In the realm of religion this calls on us to tackle the challenge of the "humanization of religion." We cannot permit this challenge to remain unanswered: to do so would be to allow religion to be a factor in conflict and war, to undermine its potential as a force for the construction of peace.
Does religion make people stronger, or does it weaken them? Does it encourage what is good or what is evil in them? Are they made better and more wise--or less so--by religion? These are the questions we need to ask of all religions if we are to succeed in fully "humanizing" them. By rising to this challenge, we must ensure that religion always functions to elevate and enhance our humanity, contributing to the realization of human happiness and peace.
The twentieth century--in which ideology attained the status of an absolute value, and fanaticism of all kinds stirred storms of war and violence--offers painful testimony to the fact that the smallness and frailty of individuals make them act against that which is human, thwarting our attempts to be the protagonists in the creation of history.
With regard to religion, with its tragic legacy of fanaticism and intolerance, nothing is more vital than dialogue--dialogue that transcends dogmatism and is predicated on the exercise of reason and self-mastery. For any religion to relinquish dialogue is to relinquish its reason for being. To manifest our true worth as Homo loquens requires that we bring forth our highest virtues as human beings: our goodness, strength and wisdom. Religions must offer us the means for unleashing these qualities: they must promote positive change in human beings.
Human rights education
This year will mark the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which gave voice to a universal vision of human rights and established the goal of bringing into being a world free from fear and free from want. To make this anniversary substantive, it is vital that governments and civil society work together to actively promote concrete programs that bring human rights education to all.
To that end, an international conference--organized by civil society and specifically dedicated to the theme of human rights education?should be held with a focus on civil society and its contributions.
Ecological integrity is the shared interest and concern of all humankind, an issue that transcends national borders and priorities. Any solution to the problems we face will require a strong sense of individual responsibility and commitment by each of us as inhabitants sharing the same planet.
The United Nations is the global institution that can serve as the focus for such efforts: global environmental issues will constitute one of the UNÂfs principal missions in the twenty-first century. To this end, the United Nations Environmental Programme should be strengthened and upgraded to the status of a specialized agency, enabling it to exercise strong leadership toward the resolution of global environmental issues.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is one area where global participation is vital, particularly in creating a new framework to replace the Kyoto Protocol, a framework that includes countries not presently participating. Combating climate change is a challenge that requires governments to break away from the negative approach of minimizing national obligations and burdens and instead adopt a positive focus on the achievement of larger, global objectives. Specifically, the major emitters need to actively support the efforts of other countries.
We need to focus on the transformation toward a low-carbon no-waste society. The first step toward this must be the promotion of renewable energy and energy conservation measures. The proactive setting of goals and commitments will unleash the kinds of positive thinking that take, for example, the form of technological innovation. Japan has a wealth of experience and achievement in this field and needs to play an active role.
It is crucial to broaden grassroots engagement and empower people toward collective action. Empowerment through learning brings out the unlimited potentials of individuals and creates currents that can fundamentally transform the world. The UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development exemplifies this belief in the power of learning. To make the Decade meaningful, it is vital that individuals perceive the irreplaceable value of the ecosystem of which they are part, and make a commitment to its protection. This awareness is best developed through hands-on experience, such as tree-planting projects like the Billion Tree Campaign. We need to think about what we--on the individual, family, community and workplace level--can do in our immediate environment to build a sustainable future, and work together to this end.
The Soka Gakkai International (SGI) is committed to playing an ever more active role in building an action network for a sustainable future, which need not be limited to environmental issues but can embrace such areas as poverty alleviation, human rights and peace, to build the foundations of a common struggle to resolve the shared problems facing humanity.
Infrastructures of peace
We need to establish consensus regarding the fundamental illegality of nuclear weapons. The proposed establishment of an Arctic Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (NWFZ) is one element of this. There is an urgent need to prohibit military activity in the Arctic region and build a legal regime to conserve it as a common heritage of humankind.
NWFZs serve as a powerful curb against nuclear proliferation and also help strengthen momentum toward the outlawing of nuclear weapons. More than half the governments on Earth have become signatories to these agreements, thus expressing their view that the development and use of nuclear weapons is or should be illegal under international law.
A similar approach would be effective in terms of nuclear nonproliferation in Northeast Asia. Japan should reaffirm its uncompromising commitment to its own nonnuclear policies and deploy its full diplomatic resources toward the more encompassing goal of establishing a NWFZ covering the whole of Northeast Asia.
A treaty banning cluster bombs would greatly enhance the infrastructures of peace. Such a treaty, as called for in the Oslo Process, should be signed and in place by the end of this year. The success of such efforts, with strong civil society support, will have a definite and positive impact on momentum toward disarmament in other fields.
The century of Africa
The future of Africa is critical in building a global society that upholds human dignity. An African Renaissance will herald a renaissance of the world and of humanity. African nations, which have refused to succumb under the historical burdens of the slave trade and colonialism, are striving to forge solidarity as they unleash their potential and confront their common challenges.
The Fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD IV) is an opportunity to center on concrete measures to ensure the empowerment of youth. A program for African youth partnership should be established as one of the pillars of TICAD, helping foster the talents of the young people who will play a critical role in creating a brighter future for Africa.
This year, designated the Japan-Africa Exchange Year, provides the opportunity for the creation of a network of and for youth, facilitating ties of exchange between the young people of Africa and the youth of Japan and countries throughout the world, as a platform for confronting the challenges faced by Africa and the world.
Ultimately, young people hold the keys to the future: humanity is in their hands. All the members of the SGI are determined to maintain a focus on youth and young people, fostering their limitless potential as we strive to build grassroots solidarity to resolve the complex issues facing our planet.