Special Correspondent

"People from religious institutions played a vital role in civil rights movement"

CHENNAI: The centre of gravity for consensus building in the American society lies in civil society, not in government, according to Akram Elias, founder-president of Capital Communications Group Inc, a Washington-based organisation, focussing on public diplomacy and cross-cultural communications.

Instead of the Government initiating the policy-making process, it is civil society citizens, non-governmental organisations, advocacy groups and lobbyists that exercise influence on the government to frame policies. This is because the founding fathers decided to limit the powers of the government, Mr Elias told a discussion on religion, civil society and governance, organised here by the Centre for Security Analysis (CSA).

In the US, non-profit NGOs were engaged in a wide range of activities, from education to scientific research to charity. It was more of self-governance. People from religious institutions played a vital role in the civil rights movement.

Rowena Robinson, associate professor in the department of humanities and social sciences at the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, spoke on insecurity experienced by Indian Muslims in with regard to life, property and peaceful pursuit of livelihood. Vilification of an entire community for incidents of terror would not help in understanding the problem but would only lead to misunderstanding, he said.


Expressing concern at the "discrimination" against Muslims in different levels of social life, Dr. Robinson said a "great deal of ghettoisation" was happening in urban centres such as Mumbai. Secularism was increasingly seen as a favour to the minorities but democracy and the rule of law were intrinsically linked to secularism.

David T. Hopper, Consul-General of US Consulate General, said there was freedom of religion and separation of religion from the church in his country.

V. R. Raghavan, president of the CSA, said that in Indian experience, religion was part of statecraft.

Earlier, participating in an interactive session organised by Chennai chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, Mr Elias said that after the terrorist attacks in New York in September 2001, the concern over the increasing threat from radical groups forced the U.S. administration to invade Iraq. The administration was governed by the factor of "strategically influencing the environment" from which the groups emanated.