The Psalmist said three thousand years ago, “Seek peace and pursue it.” The rabbis of the Talmud added two thousand years ago, “Seek it in your own place, and pursue it to other places,” which I guess I understood to mean, “pursue it to other places that are the most risky that you can imagine.”
This passage from Rabbi Marc Gopin’s new book, To Make the Earth Whole, summarizes Gopin’s mind-frame during his January 2005 journey from Jerusalem to Damascus, a journey that would initiate a citizen diplomacy effort between partners in Syria and the United States over the course of several years. After a chance meeting with Syrian-Canadian attorney and peace-activist Hind Kabawat at the World Economic Forum in May 2004, Gopin, the celebrated educator and author, and Chair of Tanenbaum’s Religion and Conflict Resolution Program Advisory Council, traveled to Syria under the banner of interfaith diplomacy. There he engaged with Ms. Kabawat in a landmark set of public dialogues, addressing challenging issues within Syrian society as well as relations between Syria, the United States and Israel. Writes Gopin, “We were raising publicly. . . the subject of peace in the Middle East with Syria’s immediate neighbors. But this is the important point. We raised these issues indirectly and only through the lens of culture and religion, a less threatening approach than pure political discourse.”
To Make the Earth Whole is described by Kevin Avruch, the pioneering scholar of culture and conflict and Gopin’s colleague at George Mason University, as being “at once a study of the role in militant religion in intractable conflicts, a look inside the complexity of contemporary Syria and Syrian-U.S. and Israeli relations, a primer on social network theory, a sophisticated discussion of the ethics of third parties who are outsiders to other peoples’ deadly conflicts and, like so much of Gopin’s work, a deeply felt account of his life’s journey in peacemaking and peacebuilding.”
In addition to being the latest volume contributed by Rabbi Gopin to the growing library of works on religious peacemaking, we are thrilled by the centrality that his work with Hind Kabawat, Tanenbaum’s 2007 Women’s Peace Initiative awardee, plays in the book. We are writing just days after U.S. Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell visited Damascus and met with President Assad, where Mitchell confirmed the Obama administration’s belief that Syria holds a “fundamental” role in achieving a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. In this atmosphere, Gopin’s book serves as a powerful reminder of the impact that religious peacemakers and citizen diplomats can serve in laying the groundwork for the renewal or reinvigoration of Track One diplomacy.
We congratulate Marc on his new book! And we encourage friends of Tanenbaum not only to read it, but also to find creative ways to support the ongoing work of this important voice in conflict resolution, religious peacemaking, and citizen diplomacy.