The days after a mass shooting in the United States have become a national ritual of helpless grief and anger. On Monday, the Dalai Lama joined the conversation by urging a Washington audience to build a world without violence — a topic that is even more prescient after early Sunday’s massacre in Orlando, Florida, which killed 50 people celebrating LGBT pride in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
The Dalai Lama believes that a lasting peace is best achieved by empowering young people. As part of that, he told his audience at the U.S. Institute of Peace, people must approach and befriend others from different backgrounds and religions, and voiced skepticism about the effects of prayer if it is not coupled with “serious action.”
Asked about the Orlando shootings, the Dalai Lama said when people create bloodshed they are “no longer a genuine practitioner of Islam.” He added, “The very meaning of jihad is not harming others, but to combat your own destructive emotion.”
He called the “sad event” in Orlando a symptom of a larger problem of a “self-centered attitude” that creates a “lack of a sense of oneness of human brothers and sisters.”
But he also criticized U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, saying many problems in the region could be traced to the U.S. response to the 9/11 terror attacks. “American military power,” he said, “easily can crush. But American military power cannot change others’ mind or emotion.”
In May, the Tibetan Buddhist leader held a conference in Dharamsala with 28 youth leaders from areas of conflict or violence around the world. Soukaina Hamia, one of the youth leaders who was there, has for years sought to change the minds of vulnerable youth in Morocco to prevent them from turning to terrorism. After terrorist bombings in Casablanca in 2003 and 2007, she began working at a new cultural center in Sidi Moumen, the city’s largest slum, and where all of the attackers in the two blasts had lived.
Hamia, who is now the deputy director of the center, saw a connection between the lack of opportunities for youth and terrorist acts. Before her center opened, vulnerable youth in Sid Moumen had no outlet to express themselves. “They don’t have a sense of belonging, that they are citizens, that they are Moroccans, so it was their way to maybe make the world hear them,” she told Foreign Policy.
When events like the Orlando shootings happen, she tries to process the events with the youth at her center, which she said can be difficult for people from conservative backgrounds who are not used to thinking or talking about LGBT people’s rights.
“What we do is we focus more on the human factor,” she said. “People use religion as a pretext to justify their acts, but [violence] it is an act against religion.”
Speaking of the Orlando shootings, she added: “It doesn’t matter if you are Muslim or not, this is an act against humanity.”
This story has been updated.
Photo credit: United States Institute of Peace/YouTube