Dear President Obama:
When you gather your foreign policy advisors to consider issues of national and global security, I would like you to keep in mind a few lessons from religious peacemaker-practitioners working on the ground.
The first lesson is from Peacemaker Andrew White, working in Iraq: Where religion is part of the problem, it must be part of the solution. The war in Iraq is not the first time that the U.S. overlooked the power of religion to the detriment of its interests – and countless lives. I urge you to reform U.S. policy to ensure that it includes the religious dimension of statecraft. Please enable your administration to tap the critical resources of religious peacemaker-practitioners on the ground.
The second lesson is from Peacemakers Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa of Nigeria: Just as your cabinet has diverse voices, draw multiple actors into peace and reconciliation efforts. Because we are religious leaders in a highly religious country, we have authority with the people that INGOs do not. Because we ourselves have made the transformation from violence to conflict resolution, we have credibility that many politicians do not. Bring us to the table, and we can help to build sustainable peace processes.
And finally, consider a lesson from Peacemaker Azhar Hussain in Pakistan: You publicly stated that you will speak with those on “the other side” – please don’t lose sight of that commitment. For many years, the only people talking and listening to madrassa leaders were those who chose violence and sought recruits. Offer respectful engagement with madrassa education – as a historic and sacred Islamic institution for development – and a willingness to see its leaders as potential peacemakers and allies of the West. In this way, you can establish a foundation for the diplomacy that will stabilize this region and enhance global security.
These individuals will continue to risk their lives in their work; they will continue to build bridges of hope because that is what needs to be done. But your administration offers an opportunity for more. I have heard many people speak of a new paradigm, even a new world order. Religious peacemakers have much to contribute to such change.