July 31, 2005

”Ignorance may end in a crash of civilizations”


Interview to Baruj Tenembaum
President of the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation

”The one, who saves a life, is as the one who saves the whole world”. Baruj Tenembaum (Las Palmeras, Argentina, 1933) is the President of the foundation which main purpose is to make known the life of the Swedish diplomat who during the Second World War fulfilled tens of thousands times the principle of the Talmud and saved Jewish from the Nazi extermination camps. Tenembaum believes that Raoul Wallenberg’s behavior can be taken as an example to overcome the tensions of the current world. The president of the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation (with subsidiaries in New York, Buenos Aires and Jerusalem) proposes to look for heroes and take them as examples, instead of deepening divisions and controversial figures.

Question: Do you suggest that there has to be tolerance among religions?

Answer: I do not like the word ”tolerance” at all. I think it gives a negative idea. One may tolerate a pain, but if I have to tolerate somebody that means that I do not consider him my equal, i.e. he has something that has to be overcome. The Wallenberg Foundation is the projection of an idea that came into life in the 50′s. It was when we initiated an approach among different groups. A true communication (yo pondria dialogue). It is not a question of fostering the coexistence of different ethnic or religious groups, but that they know each other, because ignorance is our greatest enemy. We have to make people know so that they can understand each other. Knowledge is achieved through approach and study.

Q: Is present time fostering encounters?

A: Certainly not. We talk about understanding and knowledge from both sides. It is not enough that one party makes efforts to understand the other. If it were the case, this would not be the aggressor but the attacked one.

Q: How is the world divided?

A: For the first time, at least in my generation, we began to talk openly about the problems of a religion: the Islamism. Till few weeks ago, there was a kind of shyness with the generalization of a group. Coincidentally, almost all terrorists come from groups claiming a certain religion. But we have to be able to distinguish those who are terrorists from those who are not. It is a very difficult issue. So difficult, that many people tend to give their opinion. Many people are giving their opinion and this causes confusion.

Q: How can these divisions are solved?

Fifty years ago, we began (including Islamic people) to look for concrete issues for believers, agnostics, Jewish, Catholics so that we can work together. That’s why we wanted to take the example given by the righteous, which saved Jewish but also saved gypsies and other minorities. I mentioned the example of the Holocaust. It is so terrible that many people do not believe that it had really happened. And when we try to explain the holocaust to a young man, he rejects to look at pictures of the wires in the concentration camps, the dead bodies or the uniforms. In every situation there are lights and shadows, and we rely on heroes. Young men are attracted towards heroism and people get surprised by the quantity of heroes.

Q: Don’t you think that it is a useless task considering the current world situation?

A: The fact of being a minority does not mean to be wrong. We have to make our efforts to do the right thing. We are not longer a lonely voice in the desert. When we began the dialogue, we were an exception but now at least there are some talks about it. We have to look for the heroes. For example, in the case of the missing people in Argentina it is always mentioned the tortures, the people threw into the river, but there are not any mention to the heroes who saved people.

Q: Do you think that the governments are convinced of the necessity of education?

A: I do not know. I cannot judge anybody. My perception is that education is not considered a top topic, and I am not talking of culture, but about reaching children at the most far ends of civilization.

Q: Does ignorance may turn real the crash of civilization?

A. Absolutely. We live in a kind of Tower of Babel. When the messages from the countries are confusing and are not understood, they thought that are being attacked. When we experience the same things that others we take their places and understand. The problem is the lack of understanding. Looking again the figure of Wallemberg, it is necessary to find an example for our children and fight, but fight for positive things. Otherwise, we are animals.

Traducción: Cristina Mendez