Humanism: the Cure Asia Desperately Needs

The Vision of the Chairman of IHEYO Asian Working Group

Asia is the largest and most populous continent in the world, but it has very few well-known humanists.

Where are the people (humanists representatives) who look like me, with the dark hair, and dark eyes? — Danielle Hill at Taipei Conference

Even sadder is that in the IHEU Freedom of Thought Report, Asia looks like a dark continent.

Religious extremism and authoritarianism ruthlessly suppress the freedom of speech and thought.

What can humanism change?

After centuries of colonial history, although Asians had liberated themselves from westerners by means of modernization, they also built a larger cage for themselves.

Besides colonialism, the West has also brought about nationalism and modern state systems. Asians combined them with traditional religions and turned them into extremism and authoritarianism. Some regimes even sugarcoated extremism and authoritarianism as “Asian values” or “cultural autonomy”, trying to justify the persecution of their people with cultural relativism. These regimes use Western nationalism and modern state systems to control their people but deny them the freedom, democracy, and human rights that usually come with the system. This kind of cherry picking is disgusting.

Humanism, the gift from the West, stands hand in hand with individualism and liberalism. It was developed in the battle against the power of church and absolute monarchy. This is a perfect weapon against the authoritarianism and its hypocritical relativism.

“Humanism supports democracy and human rights.”
— The Amsterdam Declaration

Cosmopolitanism is the only way out

The environment in Asia seems to be very unfavorable to cosmopolitanism. The diversity of culture, ethnicity, and religion makes it hard for Asians from different countries to find common issues. Extremism and authoritarianism has shut down freedom of speech and thought, making it hard for humanism to develop safely in these countries. However, in my opinion, these are not obstacles for human development in Asia. On the contrary, this has led me to a profound realization: cross-regional cooperation is our only way out.

Rana Amjad Sattar, a humanist from Pakistan, cannot identify himself as a humanist in his hometown, not even to his family. If he does so, he will suffer ruthless oppression from the state and society; he may be imprisoned or even worse his life may be in danger. At Taipei conference, he was able to share his personal experiences and make friends with humanists from Asia. We thought about how to get him out of trouble, including resources, ideas, and administrative assistance.

On international level, it is easier to bypass the suppression of free speech, share resources, and support each other on different issues, so that local humanists can get more help to build their own communities.

Enhancing “beneficial” communication

What we must understand is that cosmopolitanism is only a means; building the local community is the purpose of humanistic development. Cross-nations exchanges have extremely high thresholds, including travel expenses, English ability, and cultural understanding. If the participants can‘t bring any benefit to their communities, it can be said that that event has failed. Through exchanges and cooperation, we will be able to gather energy to obtain more resources and use them more effectively. Just as the Matthew effect says, we should maximize the influence of Asian humanists as much as possible.

For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
— Matthew

Actively participate in IHEU affairs

In the my conversations with the IHEU president and staff in March this year, I was told that Asia will be regarded as a key developmental area and regional cooperation platforms will be encouraged. This coincides with my plan and proves that regional integration is a trend of humanism development.

Furthermore, using the Asian working group as the basis, which has been developing for several years, I encouraged member organizations to participate in the 2018 New Zealand General Assembly, hoping to show the humanists around the world that we Asian team is ambitious to participate in the global scene.

Asia will no longer be the dark continent of humanism but a beachhead that practices humanistic spirits and improves the living conditions of human beings; humanists will not only change Asia, but also use our experience and capabilities to solve the problems around the world.

At least, I believe we Asians can do it.