United Nations official comes to CSUN for world peace talk

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The spirituality of United Nations leaders and the misrepresented relationship between religion, ethnicity and violence are keys to unlocking greater world peace, said Audrey Kitigawa, a U.N. official who gave two lectures on campus Nov. 17.

Kitigawa, who is an adviser to the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict at the U.N., said that instead of religious and ethnic conflict being at the root of much of the world’s violence, it is the private interests of corrupt political and business leaders who make power plays at the expense of civilians, especially women and children.

“It really is about power, domination and control,” she said.

Her first lecture at 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Whitsett Room in Sierra Hall focused on the U.N.’s role in world peace from the perspective of spirituality, focusing on the suffering children and women have endured at the hands of corrupt leadership.

Her second lecture was given at the University Student Union and focused on the U.N. in the frame of women’s development.

Both lectures were part the Global Village Forum, a “laboratory for genuine dialogue based on a careful understanding of the inter-connectedness of our common humanity and a careful understanding of the major challenges that our world faces,” according to organizers. The GVF schedules scholarly panels and discussions using intercultural and inter-religious dialogue throughout the semester. Mutombo Nkulu-N’Sengha, religious studies professor and friend of Kitigawa’s, heads up the Global Village Forum with art history professor Peri Klemm and women’s studies professor Florence Kyomugisha.

Nkulu-N’Sengha, who opened Kitigawa’s lecture with a brief commentary, said because only between 15 and 20 percent of the global population considers themselves atheists, world conflict must have some strong correlation to people who consider themselves religious or Godly.

“If we have chaos in the world, the atheists are not to blame,” Nkulu-N’Sengha said.

Kitigawa said that while many historians and experts on world violence have painted religious and ethnic strife as a primary cause of it, oftentimes the real root of suffering is something much more tangible and economically driven.

With the world population about doubling in the last 50 years, the scarcity of natural resources has caused a violent competitiveness for what exists, according to Kitigawa, who said this contributes to the complex political interplay that is really at the root of violence.

She used Africa as her primary example of this disconnect. Africa, rich with natural resources such as oil and minerals, features some not all of the world’s poorest people, and some of the richest leaders on Earth, she said. She expressed curious frustration at this fact.

“(Does it make sense that) the world’s wealthiest continent has the world’s poorest people and the world’s most prolonged conflicts?” she said.

Kitigawa said that in Nigeria, for instance, there has been violence blamed on the presumed conflict between the Muslim and Christian populations there. Kitigawa said she and other U.N. delegates who traveled to Nigeria saw international oil companies spread across the country, causing a struggle between those who benefit from it and those who do not.

“Far from being a positive force, (multinational oil companies) act as a destabilizing force,” Kitigawa said.

In the age of globalization, she said, it is harder to not be aware of the violence and suffering that takes place across the world.

“We (used to) lead isolated lives,” she said. “That isolated life sometimes shielded us from the suffering of other people,” an opportunity people no longer have available to them.

But now that people have more access to information, such as the three videos Kitigawa showed during her first lecture on world peace and the suffering of children who are forcibly recruited for military work, people can no longer hide from what is happening.

“We really have to bring home the suffering of our brothers and sisters all over the world,” she said.

Kitigawa later said the U.N.’s origins involve a great deal of spirituality, from its “spiritual visionaries” to its charter’s preamble, which she said sets forth deeply spiritual principles. She also used a short video to reinforce the U.N.’s ties to spirituality, and several times described her own spirituality as being a driving force in her life.

Lanae Maeda, an elementary school teacher from the Los Angeles area, said she came to the lecture because of her relationship with Kitigawa, who acts as a “spiritual mother” to her and other members of a spiritual group who traveled to CSUN for the event.

Maeda said Kitigawa, who is often busy with her work in the U.N., helps guide her and the other spiritual group members in their daily lives. The group members also sometimes travel with Kitigawa on overseas trips, such as a recent trip to Ghana, she said.

Still, Maeda said lectures like this give her more perspective on Kitigawa’s U.N. work, something that group hears less about than their spiritual connections.

“I’m flabbergasted at the things she’s doing out there with (the U.N.),” Maeda said.

After her lecture during a brief question and answer session, an audience member asked Kitigawa if accomplishing world peace was really possible, and whether U.N. leaders and civilians are really capable of making the necessary sacrifices to achieve that.

“Can we? Yes. Will we? That’s up to you to decide,” she said, referencing the sacrifices of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Theresa and Mahatma Gandhi.

Ryan Denham can be reached at editor@csun.edu.